The all-consuming life of a NASCAR racer is very intense. That fact is verified by how so many simply drop out of sight once they hang up their helmet, wrenches or ownership status. Not so for one of NASCAR’s longest running legends, Dave Marcis (see sidebar). When it came time to park his famous number 71 Chevrolets, the native Wisconsinite turned to making other people’s cars handle as well as his. And that’s no small task. Marcis drove NASCAR for over 35 years and competed in almost 900 races. That also means he raced in the wild and sometimes airborne 220 mph era that will likely never be seen again.
Along with his driving skills, Marcis has always been known for being a great chassis man. When the International Race of Champions (IROC) needed a driver to set up their 12 cars to all be equal for the top world drivers racing them, Marcis put thousands of laps on the Camaros and Firebirds, helping IROC crews make them all identical. The same holds true for testing tires. Over the years, Goodyear used the many talents of Dave Marcis to develop its racing tires in NASCAR. That much is clear by the fact that Marcis is still seldom seen without his usual Goodyear hat.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Street Rods by Dave Marcis (SRDM) is the new name on the old shop of Marcis Racing. But there is still plenty of NASCAR hanging around the shop. That’s because the majority of SRDM customers want better handling for their cars and what better way to improve handling than to use some of the many tricks learned in a storied NASCAR career. In NASCAR, chassis set-ups have literally become science. Every little thing can affect how a car handles. The variables are seemingly endless; front to rear weight bias, left side to right, roll centers, track (panhard) bar adjustments, brake bias. It goes on and on, yet, when applied to the streets, they can help a car or truck to handle better, be more responsive, ride safer and, yes, even be more fun to drive.
SRDM, located in Arden, N.C. near Asheville and the foot of the mountains, has over 8,500 square feet of shop space including its new chassis dyno cell. It’s a full service shop, building from components to turnkey projects. Got an ill-handling car? Have an idea for your dream car? SRDM can handle it.
If you’re wondering what a hardcore race shop can do for street rods and machines, think fabrication at its highest level. NASCAR racers are known for their supreme fab skills and SRDM – particularly Jim Presnell and Sam Beam – are very much used to solving problems on cars with those fab skills. Both are old racers, meaning they have plenty of time racing, and look at each problem as a personal challenge. If you tally up the years they have in racing, the three total over 100 years of experience. They also work with other specialists from both the street and racing world for motors, upholstery, paint and other areas.
Those fabrication skills make for one important element that drives all car and truck owners that customize their rides: The desire to have something different; something they won’t see on any other car. From a CNC engraved gas cap to wheel hub covers with a distinctive logo. In the case of one of SRDM’s biggest and most complex projects, the SR-71, a custom-made set of bumpers fused together the need for bumpers, 1934 body lines, and the flavor of rock ’em sock ’em short track, racing bumpers.
The SR-71 (see below) is a prime example of what SRDM can and does do for car owners that want something they won’t find parking next to them at their next cruise-in or car show. In this case, stuffing a virtual NASCAR chassis, suspension, motor and rear end under the narrow confines of a ’34 Chevy sedan has not, to our knowledge, ever been done before. Think of having to shorten and narrow a modern chassis yet retain oversize racing components. Needless to say those fab skills are the reason it came to drive the streets. It may have started a trend as when we visited SRDM, there was another NASCAR/street chassis car under way. In that case, a roomier ’55 Chevy sedan will handle like it’s at Daytona once done.
Another benefit of Team Marcis’s years of NASCAR is being much more cost effective. Dave Marcis was the last of the independent, owner/driver race teams in a rapidly growing sport where big-buck, multi-car teams are now the norm. Without the big budgets of the top teams, Marcis still drove his way into races and stayed steady in the points. It was the most effective use of his time and money that got him there. He likes to say, “We have done so much with so little, that now we can do almost anything with nothing.” So for his customers, he finds the quick way to giving them what they need and want. For SRDM’s new mission, he says it’s all about “using racing technology for the street.”
In this day and age, it’s easy to drop in a monster motor with plenty of horsepower. One phone call, a swipe on your credit card and it can end up on your doorstep. But what happens when you want to turn with all that speed? Then it’s time to call Street Rods by Dave Marcis.
Street Rods by Dave Marcis
The SR-71: Name and Number
SR-71 is the first ground-up, turnkey project to come out of SRDM. SR for Street Rod and 71 for Dave’s longtime NASCAR number. This two-year project is literally nothing like anything before it. We’ve all seen cars and trucks with certain NASCAR elements such as the distinctive long truck arm rear end, or maybe a real race motor or the commonly referred to, NASCAR roll cage. The SR-71 goes beyond just using one or two NASCAR elements and ends being more a race car with an Outlaw Performance fiberglass ’34 Chevy sedan body on it than a street rod with racing parts thrown at it. Yet, the SR-71 project retains a definite hot rod flavor.
We’ll pass on doing an entire feature on this car and we’ll say they shortened a racing chassis design from racing’s 110 inches to the 34’s 106. Then they narrowed the track, or width of the tires and wheels from the racing spec of 61.5 to fit under the Chevy’s fenders at 56 inches. Just between those two axes, they’ve lost a ton of room, yet still have to wedge in all those racing parts. Hardcore racing parts and assemblies such as the dry sump oil system complete with 13 quart tank, boom tube exhaust for the more than healthy Performance Tech, 358 inch SB2 race motor and a narrowed racing Ford-style rear end with 4:22 gears on long truck arms – all NASCAR parts. (The engine is truly race ready with cast iron block, aluminum heads, big headers, 12:1 compression, over 700 horsepower and over 500 feet of torque.) The chassis, designed by SRDM, was built by Jack Laughlin who is a NASCAR chassis builder. Keep in mind, simple things like front end components such as shocks, springs, tie rod ends, the center link and upper and lower A arms are bigger than stock pieces shoved into the smaller environment. There are even the prerequisite big hubs and lug nuts on real racing wheels. It’s only concessions to street use were a more mild road race cam in the full race motor and a switch from a manual transmission to a Turbo-Hydro 400 automatic. Without that tranny, the chassis for SR-71 is racy enough it can take the green flag on pretty much any short track and run with ’em. Larry Hammond is the proud owner of SR-71 and the phrase they use the most around SRDM is Larry has been “grinning like a dolphin” since picking up his racer/rod. Solid racing experience and those great fab skills made it happen.
Meet Dave Marcis
You don’t need to go too far into the NASCAR record books to find Dave Marcis. That’s because Dave has over 880 NASCAR races to his credit going back to 1968. Starting before the formative days of modern NASCAR, Dave drove the famous K&K Insurance #71 Dodge. Over his years at the wheel, he’s nabbed almost 100 top-five finishing positions, over 220 top-10s, five wins and 14 pole positions. He has the most consecutive starts at the Daytona 500 with 33 and finished two seasons in the top-five in NASCAR points and six seasons in the top-10. If you add all of those NASCAR races, practices sessions and qualifying laps to the many laps he turned setting up IROC cars, you’d see why getting a car to handle comes second nature to Dave. Racers still come to him for chassis and handling information.
Toward the end of his long career in NASCAR, Dave was closely aligned with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and the late Dale Earnhardt. In fact, many of the parts on the SR-71 came from cars Earnhardt drove. Dave helped RCR with R&D work as well as testing much of their equipment.