A few days ago, one of my earliest wishes came true. No, I didn?t get to meet a famous sports star or travel to a different country or anything, but I nonetheless was pumped about my good fortune. ESPN Classic decided to re-air the 1982 Richmond 400. For many of you, it would be just an ordinary race, one that brings nice memories and a great race, but not much else. For some, however, the first Richmond race of 1982 is a bit more significant than that. This would be the fifth and final time that Dave Marcis would hold up a first-place trophy in victory circle. As a Marcis fan since practically birth, watching this race (even in its condensed, ESPN Classic form) was the equivalent of a conspiracy theorist watching an original copy of the Zapruter film.
With my father being a long-time Marcis fan, I naturally became one. It wasn?t really the optimal time to be born a Marcis fan. Like many others my age who watched NASCAR, most of the memories I have of Marcis were of DNQs, engine failures, and back-of-the-pack finishes. It was a treat to see Marcis finish in top half of the field, or staying on the lead lap. I?d chuckle when I see his name on the ?Laps Led? sheet, knowing that it probably was the result of Marcis staying out while all the other came in the pits during the first caution.
Incidentally enough, Marcis used similar tactics to collect the aforementioned win. Marcis actually had one of the best cars that day, climbing from his sixth place starting spot all the way to second place. A slow pit stop shuffled him back to seventh place, and he could only climb to the fifth spot. Joe Ruttman, who appeared to be well on his way to career win number one, put Marcis a lap down. Just as Ruttman was beginning to set sail from Marcis, he lost control of his car, and crashed on the front straightaway. This allowed Marcis to get back on the lead lap. While the other lead lap cars pitted Marcis, who was trying to catch up to the pack, stayed out. The rains, which had been lurking for most of the race, came immediately after. On lap 250, the race was called, and Marcis was declared the winner. Even though he benefitted from the rain, it was still evident that Marcis didn?t ?luck into? his win.
Races like that became fewer in number as the years progressed, until they finally became non-existent. He scored his final top five at Watkins Glen in 1987, and a 10th place finish at Bristol in 1994 would be his final top five. His DNQ count increased through his final dozen years in Cup.
It would be easy, even somewhat acceptable, to forget those later seasons. Looking back, though, one can find a deeper story. In a sport that was being taken over by multi-car behemoths with Fortune 500 sponsors, Marcis was one of the last true independents; running on a shoestring budget with whatever equipment he could find. While teams brought small armies on race weekends to fine-tune every minute detail on their machines, Marcis brought a couple of guys from the shop to try and find the speed to make it in the show. I think there?s some to be admired about that.
When he did make the show, he was never immune to the pitfalls that all drivers may face. This was evident at a race in Pocono in 1999, where Marcis had a vicious crash at the Tunnel Turn which completely destroyed the car. I knew that he walked away from the accident. Until his interview with Marty Snider last year, I didn?t know he did more than that. He drove his truck back to his shop in North Carolina, just so his crew could get some sleep.
All this, and I?ve yet to mention his accomplishments. While he was never in great equipment, he did have some very good rubs in some pretty good cars. He finished runner-up to the King in the 1975 championship, driving for Nord Krauskopf in a Harry Hyde prepared car. It was in that same year that Marcis would win his first Cup race at Martinsville. The next season saw Marcis win three races: Richmond, Talladega, and Atlanta.
After driving part time in ?77, the next year saw Marcis have perhaps his best season. Though he didn?t win, Marcis did have fourteen top fives and twenty-four top tens that year, which resulted in a fifth place finish in the points. His average finish was 8.7, second only to Cale Yarborough that year. From 1975-1982, Marcis would finish in the top ten in points every year in which he ran the full schedule.
Long-time fans often lament the lack of ?personalities? in racing today. But I think the word personality is too often interchangeably used to describe general rambunctiousness. But an interesting persona doesn?t have to be just that. Dave Marcis was a pretty low-key guy by many standards, but he also was a true character. It?s those types of characters that are sorely lacking in racing, especially NASCAR. In short, Dave Marcis is a true definition of a racer.
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