In the history of NASCAR, one driver who stands out as a champion of the small, independent team is Wisconsin native Dave Marcis, who ran in the Cup series from 1968 to 2002.
While he hasn’t raced in seven years, Marcis remains a voice for these smaller teams. When I spoke to him this week, he expressed his concern with the rules NASCAR has imposed since his retirement, which seem to help the bigger teams and punish small ones.
“The top-35 rule, that’s a bunch of baloney. The racing fan pays to see the fastest race cars that come to that event. He gets cheated out of that when they lock in the top 35,” Marcis said. “I’ve seen where they sent cars home who were 3-4 mph faster. That is not what racing is about. They want the elite group and don’t really invite outside competition. It’s not right.”
In retirement, Marcis hasn’t quite settled into a rocking chair yet. He keeps busy by helping his son-in-law run a street rod business (www.streetrodsbydavemarcis.com), and has a restaurant/hotel he runs in Wisconsin called Camp 28 (www.camp28.com).
“My race car shop is now building street rods for people. My son-in-law is interested in that and I’m letting him use my shop,” Marcis said. “Also, I bought a bar, restaurant and hotel in Wisconsin. It used to be a logging camp in the 1800s.”
In between taking care of his businesses, “I’ve been doing some hunting and fishing.”
Fans who watched Marcis race in the 1980s and 1990s saw him struggle for the most part, as bigger teams took over the sport. But during his 883 starts in the Cup series (third all-time behind Richard Petty’s 1184 and Ricky Rudd's 906), Marcis was able to take five wins and finish in the top 10 in points eight times, including 2nd place in 1975.
Occasionally driving for others, he spent most of his career as an owner/driver. With many teams like that emerging this year, including Jeremy Mayfield and Joe Nemechek, Marcis can certainly relate to what they’re having to battle. He said these teams have to be careful about how they treat their equipment.
“It’s a difficult thing. and I probably raced too hard sometimes for what I had. I ran a lot of used equipment and ran it too hard sometimes,” he said. “It’s all about finishing.”
Marcis said he is not a big fan of the Car of Tomorrow, which allows mechanics less room to tinker and make changes to the car.
“My take is, what do you need it for? Why do they have to control that? Just continue building chassis and cars like we always have,” he said. “They’ve taken away the incentive to re-engineer and do new things”
Speaking of re-engineering, Marcis was friends with the late Smokey Yunick, one of the most notorious NASCAR legends when it came to making cars run better in ways that weren’t always within the rules. He shared a story of how Yunick offered him some help back in his early days.
“When I went to my first race in Daytona, I went and talked to Smokey about how to fix the problems I was having. He gave me a set of special push rods to put in the engine and said I should order some more,” Marcis said. “He gave me a part number, and when I called the company, they said there is no such thing. Yet I had a set in my hand that Smokey gave me.”
Marcis, who raced in 32 consecutive Daytona 500s before failing to qualify in 2000, said he always measured himself against the greats, Petty and Pearson, when he was at his peak competing in Cup.
“Cale Yarborough raced hard every lap, like Kyle Busch does now,” Marcis said. “But Petty and Pearson finished the best on a weekly basis. My goal was to run with those two cars.”
Getting back to the present, Marcis told me that not only does he disagree with the top-35 rule, he’s not a big fan of provisionals.
“The fastest 43 cars should be in the race, with maybe one provisional for last year’s champ or the Daytona 500 winner. One day at Michigan, Bill France Jr. told Jimmy Means and me that provisionals were for guys like Jimmy and me,” Marcis said. “And that’s a bunch of B.S. That’s for the big guys like Jack Roush so they wouldn’t miss races. Truth be known, Roush is probably one of the guys who pushed the top-35 rule so he can tell the sponsors they’ll be in the race.”
Marcis stopped racing at age 61, and he had kind words for Mark Martin, who won last week at the age of 50.
“Mark’s got the talent and is in good physical condition. If he’s got the equipment, there’s no reason he can’t win,” Marcis said. “He’s as capable as winning as any 18-year old, maybe even more capable because he knows how to take car of his equipment.”
Marcis has a strong connection to Dale Earnhardt Sr., as Earnhardt’s first full-time ride was in a car that became available after Marcis quit over a dispute with the owner after his crew chief was fired. Later in life, Marcis would test Earnhardt’s famous #3, and they were good friends who hunted and fished together.
He told me the media puts an unfair amount of pressure on Dale Earnhardt Jr. because of his last name.
“That’s not Sr., that’s Jr. Just like Kyle is not Richard. It’s not right,” he said. “Kyle went through the same deal. You can’t compare him to his father.”
When other NASCAR legends raced at Bristol, Marcis wasn’t involved … but that wasn’t by choice.
“I would’ve loved to have been in that race. They said it was for previous winners at Bristol. I won a race there, but I was driving relief for Bobby Allison and Bobby gets credit for the win,” Marcis said. “He can’t drive anymore, so they should’ve had me in there, representing Bobby. I’d have loved it, but they never called.”
Marcis, who said he now tapes NASCAR races but can’t watch them live because “there’s too many commercials,” stuck around the sport longer than most drivers, but the reason was very simple: That was his job.
“The reason I continued on is it’s what I done to make a living. It was a job,” he said. “I wasn’t old enough to draw Social Security, so I continued to make a living. And that meant racing. It’s that simple.”
He said the cost of racing is so high now, it’s harder to get by as an independent team than it was during his racing days.
“I was trying to be competitive, which was difficult. I think the good old days were better racing. Fans could afford to go racing. It was easier for a small guy to get in the game,” he said. “Today, it’s damn tough. You’ve got to have a pile of money. The entry fees are up. Inspection fees, licenses. It’s tough for a little guy to get his foot in the door.”
So what does Marcis want his legacy to be?
“From my standpoint, I always raced hard and tried to give the fans a show. I done it my way. I raced hard and never gave up. I would like fans to say that even though his equipment wasn’t always the best, he raced it hard. I’ve always been a hard worker and don’t regret it one bit.”