Legendary "Ol Wingtips"



Wingtips kicked off a legend
Sartorially splendid in his footwear, Wisconsin's Dave Marcis has ended 35 years of racing, a career that spanned the early days with Richard Petty and David Pearson to NASCAR's reign as king of motor

By Skip Myslenski
Tribune staff reporter

July 13, 2002
It's the shoes. It's always the shoes with Dave Marcis, racing's grand, 61-year-old man. No matter that he won't be running in Sunday's Tropicana 400 in Joliet because he retired from the Winston Cup Series after the Daytona 500.

His retirement ended 35 years of running on that circuit. But he's still spending this week at the Chicagoland Speedway, where he tested and fine-tuned the cars to be used in Saturday's International Race of Champions, and he still wore those shoes each time he drove.

"They're wingtips," he said, like those worn with a three-piece suit, just like those he wore through so much of his career.

That began in 1968 when the stock cars had these big, hulking engines, and their exhausts ran just under the floorboard. The concept of insulation was still in its infancy.

"Everybody pretty much had trouble with their feet burning on the heels from the heat on the floorboard," he remembered. "You would get a small burn that was hard to heal. It was like a funnel. On the surface it would be the size of a dime, and because it burned so slow and burned so deep, it looked almost like a funnel. Then it would heal on the surface, but not down low."

All drivers then looked to escape this fate. Marcis remembers David Pearson racing in penny loafers and Richard Petty racing in cowboy boots with Styrofoam cups taped to their heels and A.J. Foyt racing in "some kind of shoe like a wrestler wore."

Finally, as they all waited to run in North Wilkesboro, Pearson looked at Marcis and said, "Have you got some shoes with leather soles."

"Yes, I do," he replied. "I got a pair of dress shoes, wingtips, over there in my suitcase in the car."

"Wear 'em," Pearson said.

"So I put those shoes on and wore 'em, with those thick leather soles, and I did not burn my feet that day, and I kept wearing them and they became my trademark," Marcis said.

Did people ever give you racing shoes to wear?

"Oh yeah," he said. "But they just don't seem to have the support and there's not much bottom on them. They feel like you're walking on rocks barefooted. So I just stick with my wingtips."

He sticks with them just as he sticks with the racer's life, which he began as a 16-year old on the short tracks of Wisconsin. He had been born and raised in Wausau, where he still returns each year, but after a decade of successfully running in that area, he packed up and headed south to join what was then a regional series.

Now, after a decade of outsized growth, the Winston Cup is a national attraction, a sponsor's dream and easily the most successful motorsport series in this country. But then, back when Marcis joined up, all but one of its races were in the Southeast, and he was an outsider joining a group with a distinctly Southern flavor.

"I never felt like that was a problem," he said, remembering that the famed Petty was one of the first to welcome him.

But sponsorship was a problem for all but a few, and Marcis would put a hotel's decal on his car if it let him stay free. He would do the same for a restaurant that gave him free meals and a garage that freely gave him space to work on his car.

Money was tight, often very tight, and there were times he wondered how long he could go on while neglecting his family and working night and day just to get by.

"But then you'd go to another race and finish good and make some money, and you're like, `Hey, I can keep this going,'" he recalled.

Marcis never would be a champion, although he did finish second to Petty in the 1975 points race. Nor would he ever be a big winner, doing that only five times in 882 starts. But he persevered, sometimes driving for others, more often owning and driving his own car.

Inexorably the years passed and the Cup changed as he grew into one of those valuable figures who connected the present to the past.

"I don't know how you really explain it," he said of his longevity and all that has occurred.

"It was a thing a few of us chose to do and it started growing, it started growing so fast you hardly realize what's happening. You're involved in it and you're working on your car, and all this stuff's happening around you and you're not paying enough attention to it, probably. Then it's like, `Holy God. I didn't realize this thing has gotten this big and I haven't realized it. What's going on?'

"I never dreamed I'd race this many years. I never gave it a thought. It was not a goal. I went down there to race, to make a living, and I made a living--barely. It has been hard work. But it has been enjoyable and it's what I wanted to do and the time's gone by so fast, I don't realize I spent that much time doing it and I'm still doing it and I still enjoy it. There aren't many people who can say they've made a living their entire life doing their hobby, so to speak."

But he did and he still does. Now he is a minor cult figure who still gets fan mail daily, who received bags of fan mail back when he announced Daytona would be his final Cup race. To those writers it hardly mattered that he never had been a champion.

"They all said that you're a true racer and you put your heart and soul in it, that you don't have the multimillion dollars they do, but you race as hard as they do and do more with less than almost all of 'em," Marcis said.

"And I think when you look at the American public, our country is basically a blue-collar type country and I would say I fit into that category. I appeal to quite a few of those people. They appreciate what I've accomplished and the way I've done it."
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