CHICAGO, Ill., July 11, 2001 - When veteran race car driver Dave Marcis announced his plans to retire next February, long-time NASCAR fans felt a void forming in their hearts. Marcis has become a hero to many by battling today's big-budget teams...
CHICAGO, Ill., July 11, 2001 - When veteran race car driver Dave Marcis announced his plans to retire next February, long-time NASCAR fans felt a void forming in their hearts. Marcis has become a hero to many by battling today's big-budget teams on a shoestring budget. More than an underdog, Marcis is respected because he paid his dues, knows his craft and does his job.
There is a lot more to Dave Marcis than his widely reported habit of racing in wing-tip dress shoes. For example, last Saturday's Pepsi 400 was his 880th start in Winston Cup Series racing, the most among active drivers in NASCAR's top series. At 60 years old, he qualified 16th and finished a respectable 36th, one place ahead of current points leader Jeff Gordon.
Marcis also holds the record for the most consecutive starts in the Daytona 500 at 32. He is also the only active Winston Cup driver who won in a Dodge.
For a two-year period in the mid-1970s, Marcis drove the No. 71 K&K Insurance Dodge Charger, one of the most formidable cars in Winston Cup racing of that era. Nord Krauskopf was team owner and Harry Hyde was crew chief. Bobby Isaac and Buddy Baker were the first drivers to take the K&K Insurance Dodge to victory lane. Then in 1975 and 1976, Marcis took his turn with the car, winning four races and 11 poles.
Before signing on with the K&K Insurance team, Marcis raced four years with Dodge as an independent. "We didn't win any races but I was always in contention," said Marcis. "I won some pole positions (two), I led a lot of races, but I just had failures, I guess because of the budget I had to spend. I wasn't always able to buy new stuff. But several of those years I finished in the top 10 in points - even in the top six in points - but I didn't win a race on my own with those cars."
He did take the checkered flag during that period driving a Dodge as a relief driver for Bobby Allison. Marcis drove the final 130 laps for a win at Bristol July 19, 1970. He also subbed for Bobby Isaac in the K&K Insurance Dodge in 1971. Marcis led 38 laps and was first with nine to go when the engine expired.
Although Marcis earned his first solo Winston Cup Series win in 1975 - long before many of today's rookies were born - he remembers it like yesterday. Race reports said he got a break when his major competitors ran out of brakes. Marcis argues that the race was in Martinsville, Va., and taking care of the brakes was what that race was all about.
"Harry (Hyde) always made that Dodge handle to where you didn't have to use the brakes up," said Marcis. "Also, Harry was very much on top of that brake situation, I mean, he had good stuff and he knew how to cool it properly.
"He always stressed to me, you know, 'This is Martinsville and generally everybody here runs out of brakes.' The heat would literally melt the brake springs and all of the lining off the brake shoes, and melt the drums and everything. It was always a survival-of-the-brakes race at Martinsville.
"Throughout the race, Harry kept warning me, 'Take care of the brakes, take care of the brakes,'" said Marcis. "We did that, and we had a good car all day; we didn't have to run in a lot of traffic. We could get out and kind of run by ourselves, or lead the race and get some clean air, and therefore we didn't use the brakes up as bad.
"We worked on trying to do that, too. Harry had his way of doing things. Lots of guys would run little (air) hoses and stuff to the brakes, and Harry ducted his air in there a different way. I don't think he even had a single hose to the brakes; he did it in different ways with the duct work going to the radiator and stuff like that. He was pretty innovative."
Marcis got his second Winston Cup win driving a Dodge Charger at Richmond in the spring of 1976. "We had a late caution," recalled Marcis. "I was leading and I had a heck of a time holding Richard (Petty) off to the finish, but we did it.
"We had a good car. I mean, Harry Hyde basically always had a good car. If anything ever got us, it was generally a mechanical failure. It was almost always a case where we would break a part. But anytime we went to a race track we were pretty much in contention for the pole position, and to win the race if we didn't break.
"Harry worked hard on making those cars handle and drive good for the driver. And on those short tracks you had to protect the inside line. That was always the key line in Richmond, Va. in those days when the track was in its old configuration."
His third win came five months later at the superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. "Buddy Baker always said we won because he ran out of fuel," said Marcis, "but Harry Hyde always disagreed with that and so do I, because Harry told me on the radio, "You just drop in behind Buddy and draft on him, because he can't make it, he's got to pit.
"I said, 'Can we make it?,' and he said, 'With no problem. We're fine. I'm telling you - I'll guarantee you - he can't make it. So you just sit there an run behind him; you don't need to pass him, you just draft.' So I just followed Harry's orders. He calculated their fuel mileage, or he knew what they had, and what they didn't."
Baker got his last service on the 155th lap. Hyde had Marcis come in on lap 155, to give them enough fuel to finish the race. Drafting also helped conserve fuel in the Marcis car. Baker had to pit with three laps left.
"That was Harry's philosophy. He knew that if I continued to draft on Buddy, we would win. We could pass him, but Harry said, 'Don't pass him.' He said, 'I want you to draft on him because they can't finish the race anyhow. They can't make it on fuel. You just sit there and draft. I don't want you passing him.' So that's what I did."
Marcis' fourth Dodge win came three months later at Atlanta. This time, he was just plain dominant. "We just had a superb car that day," said Marcis. "We could go anyplace on that race track. Harry had our car handling so good, I mean, I could run very high, right up against the wall, I could run in the middle of the race track, and I could run on the apron.
"At different points or times during the race, Harry would tell me, 'Go up, run up high, see if you can run up high.' And I would go up there and run a while, and he would say, 'Show me you can run on the bottom of the race track.' And I would go down and run on the bottom of the race track. He was just a unique individual.
"Late in the race, he kept saying, 'I'm telling you, Dave Marcis, you've got to watch that Silver Fox (David Pearson).' And I said, 'Harry, I've got him handled. Our car is working so good, I can go anyplace that you want me to go.'
"Then he'd come on the radio and say, 'I'm telling you, now, you've got to watch that Pearson.' And I would say, 'Harry, I'm telling you, we're in good shape.' And then he'd say, 'Go up on top; show me you can run up there.' And then he'd say, 'Now run on the bottom.' So I'd move around on the race track and he would shut up for a little while. And then pretty soon, here he'd come again, 'Watch out for Pearson.' He was more worried about it than I was. You can look up the number of laps we led that day (224 of 328, or 68 percent) but it was a bunch."
Marcis says he got good support from Dodge, both during his time as an independent and with the K&K Insurance Dodge.
"They helped me when I needed information," said Marcis. "Larry Rathgeb, a Chrysler engineer, worked with me a lot on steering geometry and suspension stuff. I didn't have factory support, but they helped me with their engineering experience. Larry came to my shop a couple of times and worked on the front suspension with me and stuff like that. With some aerodynamic stuff, too, when we had the wing cars in 1970.
"I had a lot of good fun years in Dodges," he continued. "I enjoyed them. They certainly have been good to me. I mean, I got my wins in them. Lots of pole positions, too.
"They were fun cars to drive. That Hemi engine had a tremendous amount of torque. If you could hook your car up and make the chassis work, the engine could accept anything you could give it. It would certainly move you forward, I can tell you that. And if it wasn't hooked up, you could damn sure spin the tires off of it, too."
Marcis also won one race and one pole in a brand other than Dodge, bringing his career total to five wins and 14 poles. He has earned 93 top-five finishes and 221 top-10s. He finished two seasons in the top five and six seasons in the top 10 in Winston Cup points. His highest finish in the championship standings was second place in 1975.
Along the way, Marcis not only made the history books, he became a cover boy. The third volume of Greg Fielden's highly regarded history series, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing, shows Marcis in his No. 30 winged Dodge Charger Daytona leading Pete Hamilton and Richard Petty in their Plymouth SuperBirds. The photo was taken during the 1970 Carolina 500 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
After five more races this year, including the inaugural race this week at Chicagoland Speedway, Marcis plans to end his racing career at the same track where his NASCAR career began - Daytona International Speedway. He is currently tied with Richard Petty for the most starts in NASCAR'S best-known race. When Marcis missed qualifying for this year's Daytona 500, it ended his streak of 32 consecutive Daytona 500 starts. Petty's total of 32 is not consecutive. If Marcis can make the field next February, he will have the record for most Daytona 500 starts all to himself.
Asked for his perspective on Winston Cup racing, Marcis talks about the quality of the drivers and the tough competition.
"It's never been easy," he said. "People talk about the old days, the in-between days and the now days, but it has never been easy winning a Winston Cup race. There has always been plenty of competition ever since I've been involved, no matter whether it was independent drivers or factory drivers. It's never been easy to win a race.
"When you run 500 miles, there are so many things that can happen - bad pit stops, leave a tire loose, cut a tire, run out of fuel or blow an engine," he continued. "There are so many things that can happen it's never been easy to just go out and win a race.
"As far as the rookies, I think they're doing great. It takes time, and I think everyone needs to understand that; it doesn't happen just overnight. No matter how good a driver you are, it still takes time. This is a different league. You could go win every short-track race there is in the country, but when you move up to this next plateau, it's different.
"I was winning everything you could win at the short tracks in Wisconsin, and then I came to NASCAR and that all changed in a hurry - in a damn big hurry."
Before coming to NASCAR, Marcis was running short-track stock car races in his home state of Wisconsin. The tracks were all paved asphalt, either one-third or one-half mile ovals. "In 1965, I think it was, I ran 92 events that summer. Basically, we only had a three-month season so I ran seven times a week. I had 52 wins that summer.
"The fast qualifiers up there have to start in the rear. Our features in those days were, I think, 20 laps, and generally we had 16 to 18 cars in the features. So to win those races, you had to just about pass a car a lap. It was pretty tough, and generally, myself or Dick Trickle had the fast times so we were starting in the back every race.
Why qualify fastest? "We got 20 bucks for fast times, and in those days 20 bucks was pretty big money." Marcis said he paid about $25 for a tire back then and you could run those tires just about all summer.
"I chose to come to NASCAR because I wanted to be involved in racing," continued Marcis. "Nobody had anything to offer that came close. In NASCAR I could start racing in February and go all the way through late October or early November in those days. I wanted to race for a living so that's why I chose NASCAR. It's what I had to do."
Marcis made the move to NASCAR Grand National Series racing (now Winston Cup) in 1968. A little more than two years later he found his way to Victory Lane in a Dodge.
This week in Dodge history:
* 7/14/66 -David Pearson and his Cotton Owens-prepared Dodge out dueled Richard Petty and won the 100-mile Grand National event at Fonda Speedway, Fonda, N.Y. The win was the 11th of the season for the Spartanburg, S.C. driver. Petty mounted a serious challenge near the end of the race but spun his Plymouth with four laps to go. He recovered to finish second.