Jerry Bonkowski

Dave Marcis on being friends with Dale Earnhardt and spinning him

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Editor’s note: This is part two of our interview with NASCAR driver Dave Marcis, where he discusses his relationship with Dale Earnhardt. Part one ran Monday and can be read by clicking here.

It was one of the more unlikely friendships in NASCAR, a guy from Northern Wisconsin and a guy from Kannapolis, North Carolina.

One had a pronounced Wisconsin accent – which remains even after living near Asheville, N.C. for the last 50 years – and was kind of quiet. And when it came to work, he’d rather work for himself than anyone else, even if it meant struggling financially.

The other one had a Southern drawl and countless smirks that belied a confidence – some might call it arrogance – that he was the best behind the wheel. The high school dropout also became a master at business to go along with his success on the track.

Dave Marcis, the wing-tipped shoe wearing wonder from Wausau, Wisconsin, and the man who would become The Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, were an unlikely pair but that’s also what made them so close.

In addition to coming up through their respective short track ranks in the Midwest and Southeast, the two men shared common interests that included hunting, fishing and working on both their race cars and personal cars.

Here are some of the stories Marcis told NBC Sports about his friendship with Earnhardt:

“When I first heard of Dale racing down here, he wasn’t in NASCAR yet, but he was running the short tracks and had a good reputation – but he also had a rough reputation at the same time,” Marcis said. “A lot of people would say to me ‘you ought to go run this track and race against Earnhardt.’”

They would eventually do so on several short tracks before racing against each other in several hundred NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup races. Marcis made his NASCAR debut in the 1968 Daytona 500, while Earnhardt made his NASCAR debut in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In 1978, Marcis was near the end of a one-year deal driving for owner Rod Osterlund when he found out that his contract would not be renewed. His replacement for 1979 was Earnhardt, who would go on to win his first of seven Cup championships in 1980.

Marcis wasn’t upset that his friend would replace him behind the wheel. Rather, he looked forward to returning to his roots as an independent team owner/operator and wished Earnhardt the best of luck.

But there were a few instances over their quarter-century of racing against each other in NASCAR where that friendship was tested, with one time in particular, Marcis recalled.

“We were at Martinsville and Dale was hammering at me and hammering at me, and I got ticked off about it and spun him out,” Marcis said, adding with a laugh, “he wouldn’t talk to me for two months. He was mad.

“But you know what, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I had to stand up for myself and I can’t let people run over me because if I did, then I was going to have trouble all the time.

“Finally one day, he walked up to me and grabbed me around the neck, had a big old grin on his face and said, ‘You know that deal at Martinsville?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, ‘I had that coming. My daddy always told me if you have any problem with anybody, don’t carry it down the road. I guess you had a problem and you didn’t carry it down the road.’”

When Neil Bonnett was killed in a crash while practicing for the 1994 Daytona 500, Earnhardt turned to his friend Marcis to fill Bonnett’s shoes as his test driver.

“We became the biggest, greatest friends, hunted and fished together,” Marcis said. “After we lost Neil Bonnett, who had done a lot of testing for Dale, I did all of Dale’s testing. I was quite honored to have tested the car, worked with Larry McReynolds and all the guys on the team on the car Dale won the Daytona 500 with and he thanked me in victory circle for that testing.

“He was a great guy, did a lot of things for a lot of people that a lot of people didn’t know nothing about and he didn’t want publicity about.”

With others of their era like Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon, Marcis admits he sometimes wondered why Earnhardt chose him to be so close to over the years.

“I think he had respect for me, and exactly why, I don’t know,” Marcis told NBC Sports. “But a lot of people told me, and I don’t know if there was any truth in it, but they said he kind of looked at me kind of like his father because I worked all the time on the car, drove it and hauled it like his father had to do.

“He was a great person. There are some people who would disagree with you, but you have to remember, he had a lot of respect for everybody but he made things happen on the race track. I remember when he bumped Terry Labonte at Bristol, he said he meant to tap him or bump him out of the way, he didn’t mean to wreck him.”

But that was Earnhardt, he was that competitive. And that same drive extended to things away from the race track. Marcis recalled one incident with a big laugh:

“We’d go somewhere to eat and he’d get in line and the first thing he would do, he would not want to be the last guy in that line,” Marcis chuckled. “He’d walk in front of every one of us that he knew and he’d be the guy to be first ahead of you. He wanted to be first.”

In addition to Earnhardt’s largesse off the track, he was especially benevolent to Marcis over the years, giving him parts, advice and money – but usually on Earnhardt’s terms.

“We were at Talladega one day testing and he asked what was I doing tomorrow?” Marcis recalled. “I told him I’d be home at my shop, getting (his own) car and working on it to get it ready to come back here.

“Dale wanted me to test his car for him but I told him I couldn’t, and I only had a couple of guys at that time. He didn’t say no more about it.

“Then that evening, when the track closed, he came up to me, pulled three $100 bills out of his pocket, stuffed it in my shirt pocket and said ‘Here, take your guys out to eat tonight and this will help pay for your motel room. I already called the people at the motel you’re staying at and told them you were staying another night,’ and then just walked away. So what are you going to do? The next day, where was I? I was at Talladega, testing for Dale.”

Being one of the last independent full-time team owner/operators in NASCAR, Marcis was perhaps more in constant search for sponsorship than better- and more fully-funded teams like Earnhardt’s GM Goodwrench Chevrolet.

One day, Marcis asked his buddy if he would be willing to sponsor his race car.

“We were at Darlington one time and I wanted to ask him to sponsor my car at North Wilkesboro,” Marcis said. “I finally got the nerve to go up to him and told him, ‘Dale, you need to sponsor my car at Wilkesboro with Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet.’

“He asked how much did I want. I told him $2,500. He said that wasn’t enough. He never said another word the rest of the weekend to me about it. Monday I’m at the shop working and the phone rang and it was Dale. He asked where did I want him to send the decals to, my address. I ended up outqualifying him. About two weeks later, the mail came and he sent me $5,000. You just never knew what to expect from him.”

Earnhardt also had a special bond with Marcis’ wife, Helen.

“Whenever my wife Helen would be in the garage, Dale never walked by her without giving her a hug. How many drivers would do that? That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

Helen also figured in a practical joke Earnhardt played on Marcis.

“One time, he called my wife at the house and told her, ‘Tell Dave to be ready at the Asheville airport tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. I’ll pick him up and we’re going to go hunting,’ Dave Marcis said. “When I came home for supper, she told me about the call and I said to her, ‘What are we hunting for?’ She said he didn’t say, where we were going or anything, just told her to tell me to be there.

“So I get out there the next morning, was there at 6 a.m. It was a little after 7 a.m. and he still hadn’t shown up. I kept asking (tower officials) if they had a clearance for his plane to land, that it would only take them about 20 minutes to fly from Statesville.

“By then it was about 7:30 a.m., they landed and Dale comes walking in, looks at me smiling and says, ‘I bet you were here at 6 o’clock, weren’t you?’ You know what I told him. We then went to Texas on a deer hunt.”

Earnhardt was proud to call Marcis a friend, to the point where unbeknownst to his buddy, agreed to put both of them on a set of racing trading cards in 1995, the only time The Intimidator did so with another driver.

“Earnhardt had some trading cards made with his picture on one side and my picture on the other,” Marcis said. “I don’t know why he ever did make them. It says on the cards, ‘Dual Jewels.’ He never told me about why he did it.”

When Marcis, then 60 years old, failed to qualify for the 2001 Daytona 500, he hung out with Earnhardt for the rest of the week leading up to the day of the fateful race that would claim Earnhardt’s life.

Earnhardt worried about his good buddy, who was 11 years his senior, and proposed Marcis hang up his fire suit for good and come to work for him.

“Dale was telling me that week that I need to retire,” Marcis said. “He was going to buy some hunting land around the country in different places and we talked about putting together a race team for Kerry (Earnhardt, Dale’s oldest son).

“Dale wanted me to look at hunting land, maybe even hunt it, and decide if it’s worth buying it because he said, ‘I’m going to start spending my souvenir money on hunting land. You’ve accomplished so much, there’ll never be anybody that’s ever going to accomplish what you’ve done with what you’ve done it with. You need to think about retiring and then I’m going to put you to work.’”

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Where Are They Now? Dave Marcis ‘ready to hop back into a race car’

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Editor’s note: This is part one of our interview with former NASCAR driver Dave Marcis. Part two, which deals with Marcis’ friendship with Dale Earnhardt, will appear Tuesday.

When 26-year-old Dave Marcis went south to pursue fame and fortune in NASCAR, he received a true royal welcome when he pulled into the Daytona International Speedway garage for the first time in February 1968.

None other than The King, Richard Petty, was the first to greet Marcis, the wing-tipped short track wonder from Wausau, Wisconsin.

“He come over by my car in the garage, walked all around it, looked all over it, introduced himself and said ‘Welcome to the sport of NASCAR,’ ” Marcis told NBC Sports.

“He asked me a bunch of questions about my car, where it came from and that sort of stuff. He was always my idol when I first started racing. I used to follow him back home by reading Hot Rod Magazine. After meeting him for the first time in Daytona, we became and have remained good friends.”

Dave Marcis joined the NASCAR Cup tour in 1968 and ran 883 races before he retired after the 2002 season. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

But Petty wasn’t merely being friendly, welcoming the newest kid to NASCAR. While Marcis had read about Petty, the latter had heard plenty of Marcis’ racing exploits and success back in the Badger State.

Petty won a NASCAR Grand National record 27 races – including 10 in a row – in 1967. But two years earlier, Marcis won 52 races in the Central Wisconsin Racing Association, a confluence of 1/3- and 1/4-mile asphalt paved tracks.

“They put an ad in the newspaper and formed (the CWRA) at Ed’s Bowling Alley on 6th Street in Wausau in 1958,” said Marcis, who still has a scrapbook of newspaper clippings from his nearly five-decade racing career.

Because the CRWA season lasted just three months. Marcis raced seven times per week, including numerous Sunday day/night doubleheaders, where he’d race at one track in the afternoon and then drive to another track for an evening sequel.

After meeting Petty for the first time, just days later Marcis would make his first of a record 33 starts in the Daytona 500 – including 32 in a row from 1968-99 – and then end his NASCAR career where it began in the 2002 edition of The Great American Race.

At the age of 61, no less.

“That was my first big race track,” Marcis said when asked what it was about Daytona that kept him coming back. “I liked the track, it’s a nice track. I enjoyed it there, the fans and everything.

Roger Penske (left) talks with his driver Dave Marcis at a NASCAR Cup race. Marcis drove 16 Cup events in Penske’s AMC Matador between 1972-74. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

“I worked on my own car and on the chassis and we always seemed to get the car handling good and be able to get qualified. In those days, everybody had to qualify and sometimes you had 62 cars trying to qualify for 40 or so places.”

Between his 33 starts in the 500, Marcis became one of NASCAR’s most prolific drivers, making 883 career starts, behind only Petty (1,185), Ricky Rudd (906) and Terry Labonte (890).

Even though his best finish in the 500 was sixth (in 1975 and 1976), Marcis didn’t consider Daytona his toughest track.

“Trenton, New Jersey (Trenton Speedway) used to be a real tough race track when they put the dog leg in the back straightaway, and Dover, Delaware (Dover International Speedway) was a real tough race track because you’d spend 5 ½ hours in that heat, at 130 degrees in that race car,” he said. “It got pretty warm up there. And Bristol was really, really tough on your neck and the heat was pretty bad there, too.”

When it came to the toughest foes he faced on the track, Marcis said the late Dick Trickle, a fellow Wisconsin native, was the toughest on Midwest short tracks, while Petty was among the hardest on NASCAR’s bigger tracks.

Marcis didn’t have the winning success in NASCAR that he enjoyed in short track racing in his home state. He earned five Grand National/Cup wins, but as one of the sport’s last independent team owner/operators, he earned 94 top five and 222 top-10 finishes.

“You couldn’t keep up with the schedule as an independent owner/operator,” Marcis said. “I’d work night and day so half the time I’d be worn out by race day. It wasn’t easy but it’s what I wanted to do.”

Marcis’ best seasons in NASCAR were 1975, when he finished a distant second in the points to Petty, and in 1978, when he finished fifth, driving for team owner Rod Osterlund.

Marcis’ replacement for the 1979 season was Dale Earnhardt. They would become close friends.

Earnhardt won his first of seven Cup championships in 1980 in his second season of driving for Osterlund before the team imploded two-thirds of the way through the 1981 season.

After the 2002 Daytona 500, Marcis made one more race start in his career, finishing seventh in the 2010 Scotts EZ Seed Shootout, an exhibition race for retired drivers 50 years and older at Bristol Motor Speedway, at the age of 69.

Now 79, racing and life has been good to Marcis.

“I’m doing fine, I have no health problems and am on zero medications of any kind. I’m probably ready to hop back into a race car,” he said with a laugh. “Of course, my wife doesn’t want me to, but yeah, I still would like to.”

Marcis and wife Helen have spent the last 51 years living outside Asheville, North Carolina, where he’s far from retired, owning Street Rods by Dave Marcis. He often returns to Wisconsin, where he owns a few businesses and property. He’s also an avid hunter and fisherman.

“We went bear hunting in Canada last year and we’re going to go moose hunting next year, I think,” he said. “I stay busy, I don’t sit around.”

Marcis also still keeps up with NASCAR.

“Oh sure, I still follow it,” he said. “(NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton sent me a (hard card) so I can go. I was going to go to Atlanta last week to watch Johnny Sauter, who I know pretty well, in the pick-up truck race, but obviously that race didn’t take place (due to the coronavirus outbreak).”

Even with the lengthy NASCAR career he enjoyed, Marcis has never forgotten his short track roots.

The Badger State not only sent Marcis but also several other notables to NASCAR, including Trickle, Sauter, Alan Kulwicki, Matt Kenseth and longtime crew chief Jimmy Fennig.

Last July, Marcis returned to his hometown, along with Sauter and others to take in a CWRA Stars to Legends Tour race and share many memories in and around his old stomping grounds of State Park Speedway.

“There’s a lot of memories when you race the number of years I did, moving from the ranks of a short-track guy who really had nothing and no big sponsorships and running the 1/3- and 1/4-mile tracks,” Marcis said. “We didn’t even have a 1/2-mile track we ran on weekly.

Dave Marcis watches Southern 500 qualifying in 2018. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“There were nights where I’d win $142 for winning a race, and others where I was the top qualifier, finished third in the heat race and second in the feature and won only $60.

“But gas was only 27 cents a gallon. And unless we cut them or blew them out, we could run the same set of tires for a whole year. I think that’s another thing that made us better racers because we learned how to set those cars up with those old, hard tires. They were really hard, they didn’t wear. You had to work hard to get those cars handling good. It wasn’t because of a good, soft tire, because we didn’t have them.

“Being able to come to NASCAR and try it, it was just hard to believe that we could even do it. We didn’t have no money or big sponsorships when we did it. I tell people I didn’t know what I was really getting into when I came down there to NASCAR.

“Thankfully, I had a lot of help when I first came here. Way up in northern Wisconsin, I didn’t know that much. I got Hot Rod Magazine and whatever articles they had, that was all I knew about NASCAR.

“If you wanted to race for a living, I decided I needed to go to NASCAR and do it because we started in February and would go through October in those days.”

There was one other incentive, Marcis said with a laugh from his North Carolina home:

“One thing I’ll always remember is around Easter time, they were running at Hickory (Motor Speedway), while we were still shoveling snow back up in Wisconsin. That’s one of the reasons why I moved down here in 1969 and have been here ever since.”

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NBC on NASCAR podcast: Parker Kligerman on iRacing, tonight’s race

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We’re going racing tonight!

While NASCAR and all other forms of sports in the U.S. are shut down due to the COVID-19 virus, iRacing.com is the place to be tonight for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event at 9 p.m. ET from a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Click here for a preview of tonight’s race.

One individual who is in his second season as an iRacing team owner is NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, who co-owns Burton/Kligerman eSports with fellow NBC Sports NASCAR analyst and former Cup driver Jeff Burton.

Their drivers are Ashton Crowder (drives the No. 77 Valvoline car) and Logan Clampitt (drives the No. 99 Valvoline car, an homage to Burton, who primarily drove that car number during his Cup career at Roush Fenway Racing). Crowder currently leads the series’ points, coming off a recent win at the virtual Auto Club Speedway.

 

Kligerman joined Nate Ryan on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast and spoke about his involvement in online sports, as well as being a iRacing team co-owner.

“Obviously, eSports is a big topic these days,” Kligerman told Ryan. “I’ve always been a big fan of Valvoline cars growing up, how good they looked, the paint schemes and everything and I thought how cool it would be to have them as those cars.”

Crowder and Clampitt are among the 20 drivers in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Among other team owners in the series are NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte, as well as NASCAR Cup drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron.

Byron is particularly notable as he literally began his racing career on the iRacing platform just nine years ago.

The eSports and iRacing platforms have become quite popular – and likely will gain even greater notoriety and attention during the current conditions.

Of note, Kligerman gave Ryan some key statistics: Across the Twitch, YouTube, eNASCAR.com and Facebook platforms, iRacing has averaged 180,000 viewers live, with an average retention time a person watches a race of between 19 and 30 minutes per person.

Another key point: the annual championship purse has jumped from over $100,000 last year to $300,000 this season.

“I don’t like the term ‘eSports’ anymore because I think of traditional eSports as doing something different,” Kligerman told Ryan. “We’re ‘eMotorsports’, we’re trying to help a sport that already exists build a base and gain a new audience and be exposed to people that can never be exposed to it on a competitive level.”

That fellow drivers like Hamlin, Larson and Byron have joined the series as team owners also speaks to the increasing popularity of eSports, particularly on the iRacing platform.

“It’s big,” Kligerman said. “When you get people like Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron, that sort of continually validates that.”

Owning an eSports/iRacing team also gives individuals a chance to do something they probably wouldn’t be able to do in real life.

“There’s 13 owners of the 20 that don’t own a real car in NASCAR and maybe never will,” Kligerman said. “And I think there’s six or seven that don’t own a real race car at all, maybe eight.

“So, we’re expanding outside the motorsports ecosystem to people that would never be involved in motorsports at the level of being an owner, and yet this allows them to do it, it’s fun and something they can promote and be excited about and promote motorsports and NASCAR to a base that never would have touched it before.”

Even NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan is tied to iRacing via a partial sponsorship of Hamlin’s e-team, including Jordan’s famous “Jump Man” logo on the side of the virtual race car of Hamlin’s team.

“One of the pitches to the driver pitching that was that he could meet Michael Jordan,” Kligerman said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I can’t compete with that.’

“Jeff (Burton) and I are really cool, but we’re not Michael Jordan. That was a tough one. I just can’t get over how cool that is. You just brought someone in because it’s not the massive undertaking of having a real race team, and frankly a real race team right now as a business decision is not a very viable business decision as we all now.”

But obviously having an eSports race team is proving to be a very viable and inexpensive business decision and option for many.

To hear this week’s complete podcast, click here.

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NASCAR weekend scheduled at Atlanta postponed

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UPDATE: At 11:38 a.m. ET Friday, NASCAR announced it is postponing the Atlanta race weekend and next weekend’s races at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Previous post follows.

While fans will be prohibited from attending any of this weekend’s action at Atlanta Motor Speedway due to concerns about COVID-19, NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck series teams will continue with a business-as-usual approach in terms of preparation and racing.

Today will see all three series take part in two practice sessions apiece. Qualifying for all three series takes place Saturday, with the Xfinity and Truck series holding their races. Cup teams race Sunday.

For Friday, wunderground.com forecasts a high of 71 degrees and a 50% chance of rain.

Here is today’s schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. – Truck garage open

11:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:30 – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:35 – 2:25 p.m. – Truck practice (no TV)

2:35 – 3:25 p.m. – Xfinity practice (FS1)

3:35 – 4:25 p.m. – Cup practice (FS1)

4:32 – 4:57 p.m. – Final Truck practice (FS1)

5:02 – 5:27 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

5:35 – 6:25 p.m. – Final Cup practice (FS1)

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Weekend’s ARCA Menards Series East race in Pensacola postponed

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ARCA has postponed this weekend’s ARCA Menards Series East race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

No make-up date has been announced, but the sanctioning body posted a tweet that said “track and series officials are working through potential dates.”

ARCA also said it will “work with the respective race track and local public health officials in all areas in which future ARCA Menards Series, ARCA Menards Series East and ARCA Menards Series West races are scheduled to determine the best course of action for near-term upcoming events.”

The series also said “fans who have purchased tickets are asked to hold onto them until the rescheduled date or further notice.”

Series driver Ty Gibbs also took to Twitter to express his support for the move in light of the current crisis.

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