This article first appeared in the September, 2020 edition of SportsCar Magazine. Everyone can read the current and past editions of SportCar digitally here. To become an SCCA member and get SportsCar mailed to your home address monthly in addition to the digital editions, click here.
by Philip Royle
Many know him as the guy who brought “a rain car” to the 2019 Tire Rack Solo National Championships, but that’s far from the most interesting thing about two-time National Champ David Marcus
“I know people were talking about me at the Solo National Championships last year. It’s not because I'm anybody to talk about, but because I brought two cars to Nationals. It's not something many people do,” David Marcus admits to me shortly after his dominant class win at the Bristol Championship Tour. The fact is, there’s a lot that David does that not very many people do. Petitioning to get his own car shuffled to a faster autocross class comes to mind. But everything tends to make sense if you let him explain, and, as David willingly admits, he has no filter, so asking him a question quickly reveals the world.
About those two cars at Nationals? Yes, bringing both a BMW M2 and Tesla Model 3 Performance to the 2019 Tire Rack Solo National Championships for B Street competition might appear excessive, but David’s explanation turns a would-be extravagant affair into a thoroughly logical decision. At least, in the same way that many of us justify anything automotive.
“Darrin DiSimo said something that made it concrete in my head,” David says of his friend who, it turns out, is largely responsible for David’s deep dive into National Solo competition. “Darrin’s like, ‘If you bring the M2 to Nationals, and if you want to win, you have to prepare for rain. You've got to have wheels and tires ready to go for rain conditions.’”
Darrin’s questioning came somewhat rapid-fire: What's it going to cost to buy a set of wheels and rain tires for the M2? What's it going to cost to ship the Tesla to Lincoln? “Well,” David says with a chuckle, “it was less to ship the Tesla. Then Darrin said to me, ‘Why bring rain tires when you can bring a rain car?’ Because if it rains, the Tesla is the car to have.”
That was 2019, and the result was David making headlines – and the cover of <I>SportsCar<I> – by driving his Model 3 EV to the B Street National Championship. His National Championship was the first for an EV in SCCA competition. It was a watershed moment, and one that ultimately led to the Model 3 getting moved from B Street to Super Street – per David’s multiple recommendations to the Solo Events Board – and in many ways helped fast track SCCA’s creation of an EV-specific autocross category.
But David’s story doesn’t start there, nor does it begin in 2015 when he clinched his first National Championship title, that one coming in Street Touring Xtreme where he won by about the same margin as in 2019, roughly 0.07sec. No, his story begins 13 years ago when, at the youthful age of 39 and with a passing interest in cars, David strapped himself into a NASCAR.
“My ex-wife bought me a day at the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Homestead,” David admits with a laugh – at that time he didn’t even know how to drive a stick. “Anyway, you get to drive one of those NASCAR-type cars with like 600hp, and you do eight laps. It's a lead-follow thing. So, you're by yourself, but you're following a car in front of you and they tell you that the more you stay with the car in front of you, the faster they'll go.”
If you fall behind, he explains, they slow the train, so of course you suck up to the other cars. “They're getting literally inches from the wall going well over 100mph. It was the fastest I’d ever gone, and I loved it,” he says. “When it was all over, I said, ‘I've got to find a way to do something in cars.’ So, I did some research and found out about autocross and track days.”
David was soon behind the wheel at a racetrack once more, but then somebody said something that struck a nerve. “They basically said that if you do this long enough, you're going to crash,” he recalls. “I'm like, all right, I'll find something else to do.”
Autocross, it turns out, was a better fit on multiple levels. “I think I was more attracted to autocross because it's kind of chaotic, and I think and act that way,” he laughs. “In fact, I think a lot of autocrossers are kind of hyper and I think it suits a certain personality type. One of my friends calls us ‘the land of misfit toys,’ like we’re the kids who didn't quite fit in in high school and we found our own sport to play in.”
As David sees it, autocrossers are more technical than most. “If you ask people their profession, they're either in IT or engineers, and part of it is because autocross is an engineering problem,” he points out. “If you go to Sebring, the line has already been figured out; everything has already been figured out. You just have to do it. Whereas in autocross, every event offers a different course, so you have to be able to analyze and figure that stuff out, and then get it done in three runs. That's why I think it draws people who are technically minded.”
So, is David overly technical or an engineer? “Neither,” he laughs, “I’m self employed, but I was a math major in college.”
Same thing, I think to myself.
Back to the story, David began autocrossing in 2007, then a scant two years later he was competing in Solo Championship Tours and heading to the Solo National Championships in Lincoln, Neb.
“I did my first National Solo event in 2009,” he says. “It was the Dixie Champ Tour in Cecil, Ga. I actually won my class at that event, which was probably more luck than skill. There were seven people in my class, and none were super fast drivers, but it was really good for my confidence to go to my first National event and win.”
At the Solo Nationals that year, his goal was to trophy. “I got eighth place, the last trophy spot, and I was truly ecstatic,” he recalls. “I remember at the banquet someone saw I got a trophy and I showed him. He was like, ‘Oh, eighth place. I'm sorry.’ I'm like, ‘No, no. This is what I came for. This was my win.’ Because a win is different for everybody.”
It’s a bit of a jump from Regional to National autocross, and for David, the escalation came courtesy of a chance purchase. Knowing little about cars, David bought a C Stock Mazda Miata from a local autocrosser. “I bought a car from a guy named Darrin DiSimo, and he became my mentor and is still my good friend to this day,” David says of the same guy who convinced him to bring two cars to the Solo National Championships one year ago. Then he chuckles, “He's been doing National events for 30 years. He kind of dragged me kicking and screaming. I'm like, ‘I'm not ready! I'm not good enough!’ But he dragged me along, and obviously I'm thankful for that.”
Since then, David has attended the Solo National Championships every year with the exception of 2011 – a mistake, he insists, he won’t make again – and has amassed a nine-piece Solo National Championships trophy collection that spans four classes and includes National Championship jackets in 2015 (STX) and 2019 (BS).
David has accomplished all of this without knowing much before he did it. “I just jumped in it and drove it as is,” he says of that first year in C Stock (now C Street). “The Miata had adjustable shocks on it – I never touched them in the two years that I competed in the car. I wouldn't have even known what rebound and compression were at that time. So, I just got in it and drove.”
The way David tells it, not only is he not a lifelong car enthusiast or someone who understands whizbang suspension goodies, but he’s also not a natural talent behind the wheel.
“I feel like I've been very lucky in this sport,” he confesses. So, I dig for his secret because, honestly, it’s impossible to chalk up a 90-percent trophy rate at the Solo National Championships to luck.
Soon, the truth emerges: “I've put in a lot of hard work,” he says. “I don't know that I was blessed with natural talent, and I didn't go go-karting as a kid, so for me it's all just been work. Not in a bad way, but I've put in a lot of effort.
“I still go to autocross schools,” he reveals. “I went to one a few years ago and everybody's like, ‘Oh, you're going to teach?’ I'm like, no, I'm going to learn, because I just feel like I'm never done learning. To this day, I put in work.
“But the lucky part,” he continues, “is that I did well early on. I know some people whose results don't match their skill level. It could be they have a class that's really deep with talent, and then they have bad luck early on and I think that dissuades them, makes them doubt themselves. I think I had good luck early on and that helped me, because I truly believed in myself.”
And it was quite possibly that confidence that led David down another road.
“It was maybe a year, year and a half in, that I designed my first autocross course,” he says. “Course design seems like a little bit of an art form.”
The intention of that first event, David explains, was to show up and assist in course setup. To slowly learn the ranks. But things changed. “We were the only ones who showed up,” David says, “so the president of the club said, ‘Well, here are the cones. Go ahead and set something up.’ We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn't come to design a course; we came to help lay the cones down.”
The course, David says, turned out pretty decent. And that course design led to another and another, and eventually he found himself designing the course for a Solo Championship Tour.
“At the Spring Nationals [at Lincoln Airpark], they usually use last year's Solo Nationals courses in reverse, but last year they decided they wanted to do new courses,” he explains. “So SCCA put out the word that they were looking for course designers. Darrin saw it first and said, ‘Dave, I know you want to do this.’ So, I immediately wrote to Howard Duncan at the SCCA, and they picked me to design the Spring Nationals East Course last year. It turned out well and a lot of people liked it.”
Every year, the SCCA also searches for designers for the Solo National Championships. “I was like, I'll put my name in the hat,” David says in his nonchalant way, “and they picked me.”
The truth is, David had been applying to design a course for the Solo National Championships for a few years, but it wasn’t until 2020 that his name came up. When asked if he’d like to do more, perhaps expand his role into other specialties, the answer comes quick.
“No,” he shoots back. The truth is, he explains, he’s helped run events both locally and Nationally, but it tends to distract him from driving. Course design, meanwhile, allows him to concentrate on one task at a time.
And driving is certainly something he needs to concentrate on this year at the Solo Nationals. For 2020, David has a new car – well, he still has the infamous Model 3, but that won’t be coming to the Solo Nationals again. His M2, meanwhile, was replaced with a 2020 Toyota Supra, where he hopes to back up his B Street National Championship title.
“My friends tease me about it,” he laughs as our conversation nears its conclusion. “They say I'm becoming the guy who is finding the car that’s going to crush the class. I buy the Tesla, win at Nationals, and the car gets moved [to Super Street].
“Now I've got the Supra and my friends are calling it an A Street car,” he says, cracking himself up. “They're like, ‘Nice job in B Street in your A Street car.’ So that's the running joke now. They joke that it's going to get kicked out of B Street after I win.”
So, you’re going to win, I quip, not necessarily expecting a response. But David is a conversationalist with a self-proclaimed inability to filter, so his comeback is quick. “I don't know that I'm going to win,” he says, adding with what sounds like a grin, “but I'm going to try.” It was a sly answer that I know he couldn’t resist making, but it’s also one that, given his track record at the Solo Nationals, he needn’t explain.
Image credit: Perry Bennett