There was a Broadway play not long ago entitled The Trip Back Down, which was about a NASCAR driver named Bobby Horvath. It wasn't a bad play, but stock-car drivers are a breed most New York City theatergoers are far from understanding or appreciating. The play was short-lived.
Horvath could have been a composite of dozens of stock-car drivers who have come and gone and been forgotten. He had been racing for eight years, and if success is synonymous with survival in that business, then Horvath was successful. But he wanted to quit because he wasn't a winner.
Enter Davis Marcis. Marcis (pronounced Markis) is a real stock-car driver, and he, more than any other on the NASCAR circuit, can be compared to Horvath. Horvath: age 37; Marcis: age 37. Horvath: hometown, Mansfield, Ohio; Marcis: hometown, Wausau, Wis. Horvath: "slightly over medium height and strongly built"; Marcis: 5'10" and 160 pounds. Horvath's career record: never made specifically clear, but obviously less than smashing; Marcis' career record: 291 races, four wins.
Listen to Bobby Horvath: "I was gonna be the best. That's what I thought. Not to race in every little dump that's got a track just to keep goin'. Not ever winnin' enough to really get set up right. Just enough to keep goin'. I've spent my life at this, and I'm nowhere near the place I wanted to be."
Take some of the bitterness out of Horvath, and listen to Dave Marcis: "I came to NASCAR with the intentions of winning. I was eager and young and wanted to race hard all the time. I wasn't aware of how tough it is to make it. I had no idea, none at all. All I could afford was junk for equipment, and it wasn't capable of running up front. When the season would be over I would have something like a $2,000 profit. One year I even went $1,000 in the hole—after a whole damn year of racing, working 14 hours a day at the damn shop. It's been rough. If I look at what I'm making now, it still looks small."
The big difference between Marcis and Horvath is that Marcis would starve before he would say, as Horvath did at one point in the play, that he'd "been beat too much." And Marcis is far from feeling that he is "on the trip back down."
After 17 years of racing, 10 of them in NASCAR, seven of those completely independent and three on a team with a skimpy budget, it looked as if Marcis had finally gotten to the gravy last season. He was hired to drive for Roger Penske, whose racing operations are consistently first class. It was by far the best deal Marcis had ever had in his life. But, unexpectedly, Penske pulled out of NASCAR after Marcis had run a mere 18 of the 30 Grand National races. "I had no idea what I was going to do after that," Marcis said.
One day last fall, Marcis, unemployed, was tooling down a street in Charlotte, N.C. when a young driver named Roland Wlodyka recognized him, stopped him and took him to breakfast. Wlodyka had a potential sponsor hooked, a California contractor named Rodney Osterlund, but he needed an established driver to strengthen his pitch. Together Wlodyka and Marcis convinced Osterlund to buy Penske's equipment, and a team was born. This year Wlodyka is one of NASCAR's leading rookies, and Marcis is having the best year of his career; although he has not won a race, he is third in the NASCAR standings with 1,738 points after 12 of 33 races. That is only 124 points behind leader Benny Parsons. Marcis has already won the first leg of the points championship by six points over Parsons, which is worth a $10,000 bonus on top of the $73,590 in prize money Marcis has already collected.
Marcis began racing Grand National cars in 1968, two years after he married his wife Helen. They moved their house trailer from Wisconsin to Avery's Creek, N.C. and Marcis began chipping away at the big time. Helen taught school to help finance her husband's racing for the next four years (the first Grand National car Marcis ever raced, a 1964 Ford, had been purchased for $2,000, in part with Helen's paychecks) and quit shortly before the first of their two children was born. They spent long hours working together on the car in a tiny, one-light-bulb shop, Helen painting the names of $25 and $50 sponsors on the car because they couldn't afford a sign painter. Today Helen, not Dave, carries photos of a 1957 Chevy, Marcis' favorite stock car among the dozen he has owned.
"Helen's made a lot of sacrifices," says Marcis. "We've slept in the truck many, many nights when we couldn't afford a motel. We're still living in the same trailer house that I paid $5,900 for when we were married, although we've had to put an addition on it for the kids. We have never lived high. As far as Helen and I going out to fancy places and eating out, we never, ever have. There was times when we weren't eating too good, but Helen always made do, and she's a good cook. I don't know how you'd describe Helen. She don't care if I have $10 or $100,000. She's satisfied to have the children and to have them healthy. She's just happy to have things that way.