Birthdate: March 1st, 1941
Hometown: Waussau, WI
Top 5s: 94
Top 10s: 222
Best Points Finish: 2nd (1975)
Shoes: Wing Tips
During the early and mid 1990's, it became the "in-thing" in NASCAR to be an owner AND a driver. Alan Kulwicki, Darrell Waltrip, and Ricky Rudd are all great examples. Today, that role is seen as more of a hindrance than anything else. We have all seen in recent years the struggle of drivers who are burdened with having to wear the owner's hat as well as a helmet. Kyle Petty has seen better days behind the wheel, Robby Gordon runs well on occasion, and need we even mention Michael Waltrip and his trials and tribulations as of late? One owner-driver stayed the course however, and although he didn't enjoy the success of others, he did it longer than almost anyone, and did it on his terms. This weekend at Phoenix, former owner-driver Ricky Rudd will tie the 2nd all-time career starts record by the driver we profile this week, Dave Marcis.
Growing up, I didn't know much about the state of Wisconsin. I just knew that they made cheese there, the Detroit Lions would go there once a year (twice if by the grace of God they somehow made the playoffs) to play the Packers, and that it was really, really cold. The only other thing I knew about it was from Ken Squier, who would routinely inform us there was a city called Waussau, and that Dave Marcis was its most famous citizen. Dave was born on March 1st, 1941, in that small town, located in north central Wisconsin, . Other Waussau notables include Scott Wimmer, NFL stars Jim "OO" Otto, Dave Kreig, andâ€¦Liberace? Truth is stranger than fiction, and it is also a well known truth that Dave shunned Nomex footies or even the cowboy boots favored by The King, for a pair of Wing Tip shoes. He wasn't making so much a fashion statement, as he was finding a way to keep from blistering his heels on the floorboards. If you have ever seen a photo of Dave minus his Goodyear hat, please, guard it with your life. It may be one of only a few known to exist.
Dave began his racing career in the 60's, driving the Wehrs’ Chevrolet out of Bangor, WI. He made his very first start in the 1968 Daytona 500. The fact that he even made it to the race let alone competed in it was a miracle, as well as a testament to Dave's do-it-yourself fortitude. On the way down to Daytona, the truck he was using to tow his car (no multi-million dollar haulers back then, just a heavy-duty pickup truck, trailer, and a tool box) broke a rod. As Kenny Schrader would say, "one of the really important pieces inside the engine". Dave got under the truck and started working on the engine. On the side of the road. After performing some quick and dirty battlefield surgery that included literally duct-taping the engine together, he made it to the track. Looking more like Jed Clampett than a professional racecar driver as he rambled through the tunnel, legendary owner Smokey Yunick took pity on him, and offered the services of The Best Damned Garage In Town to help repair his wounded rig.
As Speedweeks wore on, many thought his efforts were pointless. Running a two year old car in the biggest stockcar race on the planet against the likes of Petty Enterprises, Holman-Moody, and The Wood Brothers was a daunting task, especially considering what it took to even get down there. Dave's perseverance and blue collar Midwest work ethic proved them wrong. He brought the car home in one piece with a 20th place finish. While being 25 laps down might not sound so great, back then this wasn't exactly unheard of. There were only 4 cars on the lead lap to begin with. The whole Daytona story set the stage, and became a microcosm of his career: Doing more with less, and doing it himself.
He would run a few more events for Larry Wehrs in 1968. In 1969 he would primarily drive the Dodge Chargers of Milt Lunda. Dave would often qualify well, but would rarely finish a race due to some sort of parts failure. Taking matters into his own hands, Dave drove his own #30 Chargers and Daytonas for the 1970 season. The performance increase was remarkable. He closed out the year with several Top 5s, and finished 9th in points. While he didn't win a race that year, consider who he was driving against. It was only the likes of Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, and Bobby Allison. 4 of the top 5 all-time win leaders, 14 Championships between them. This was in the day of full-on factory racing involvement as well, versus some guy from cow country, wrenching on his own cars in a poorly lit garage with no AC.
The following year he would win his first poles at Richmond and Hickory, and while he didn't win a race running only half the schedule, he did finish 2nd to Richard Petty at Malta (New Yorkâ€¦.not in the Mediterranean) as the season wound down. The next few years were more of the same; running well, running mostly for himself as owner, but not yet winning. He would place as high as 6th in points in 1974 before he finally broke through with his first win in 1975. Ironically, it wouldn't be for his team, but rather for Norm Krauskopf, who had fielded cars for Buddy Baker and 1970 Cup Champion Bobby Isaac. He would win the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville that September. Dave and the #71 team were getting things figured out as the year wound down. Winning 4 poles in the last 11 races, and leading laps, finishing out of the top 5 only twice in the last 7 races, enroute to a a runner-up finish in the final point standings to Richard Petty.
1976 started off where 1975 left off, posting a win at Richmond, and winning 6 poles in the first 12 races that season. He went on to win the Talladega 500 from the pole, and posted another win at the end of the year at Atlanta. Engine woes plagued the #71 team the majority of the year, but they still managed to finish 6th in points. For most people the late 70's sucked becauseâ€¦.well, it was the late 70's. Unless you liked feathered hair, bowl cuts, dopey shirts, ugly cars, bad TV and bad music. The late 70's were good to Dave Marcis though. In 1978, driving for Rod Osterlund, out of 30 races started, he finished in the top 10 an amazing 24 times, posting another top 5 finish. He would abdicate the ride at the end of the year. Some guy named Dale from Kannapolis would end up taking over driving duties.
I state this onslaught of information and figures for a reason. Many fans have no idea who Dave Marcis is. The growth of the sport has highlighted those who have won a ton of races and championships, but has missed those who helped build it to what it has become today. Even most fans who have been watching maybe for the last 10 years or so might only recognize Dave as the old guy with the glasses who would be running 6 laps down every week. A lot of people have a misconception of competitors like Marcis, and aren't aware of just how good these guys were in their prime, running against absolute legends of the sport, not just driving for an owner with the biggest checkbook and a car with the most downforce.
Dave would go winless from 1977 through 1981. Driving for mining magnate (and racecar magnate, pretty much EVERYONE drove a J.D. Stacy car at some point in the early 1980's) J.D. Stacy in 1982, Dave won at Richmond and ended the year 6th in points. From 1974 to 1982, he finished out of the top 10 in points on only two occasions. In 1983 he finished 11th. From there on, the struggle became more intense. Larger teams, more technology, more resources, and more money began to funnel into NASCAR. What was once an underground regional sport, was now being broadcast to every house with cable television. As the 80's and 90's wore on, the performance dwindled. Top 10 years replaced by finishes of 18th in pointsâ€¦.then 25thâ€¦.then 35thâ€¦..began to take it's toll. He was able to survive as long as he did with some help from his friends, like Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress.
In reward for helping test cars for them, Marcis would be supplied cars, engines, technology, spare parts, and even sponsorship. With all of the testing Marcis was doing for Childress, this left precious little time to do work and apply knowledge gained to his own effort. Marcis returned favors to his hunting buddy Earnhardt as well. At the final IROC race in 1999 at Indianapolis, Dale Earnhardt hit the wall hard, damaging his car. Falling way back in the pack, Marcis would not pass Earnhardt, keeping his position behind him to ensure that he would win his 3rd of 4 IROC titles. Marcis also did most of the testing for IROC, along with fellow Wisconsin natives Dick Trickle and Jim Sauter.
Dave would finally hang up the wing tips in 2002. Qualifying 14th on the strength of a strong 7th place effort in the Gatordate 125 mile qualifying race, he would end it where it all started. The #71 Real Tree Monte Carlo would coincidently suffer the same fate his pickup truck did on it's way down to Daytona almost a quarter century earlier, leaving him with a 42nd place finish.
Today Dave is still building racecars out of his small shop in Asheville, North Carolina. Streetrods by Dave Marcis specializes in hooking up hotrods with Chevrolet Nextel Cup engines. You might not catch him at a track, but you might find him at a walleye tournament somewhere in Wisconsin. Just look for a dark blue Goodyear hat with a red Chevy bow tie pin on it.
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