HICKORY, N.C. — When Dave Marcis arrived at Hickory Motor Speedway for Saturday’s CARS Tour Throwback 276, he thought he was just going to sign some autographs.
Marcis, a winner of five NASCAR Cup Series races during a career that spanned 35 years and included 883 starts, was one of the honorees for the third edition of the CARS Tour’s most popular event.
Joining the likes of Dennis Setzer, Brett Bodine and Ernie Irvan, Marcis was scheduled to sign autographs for the bevy of fans that filled the grandstands prior to the doubleheader that featured late model stock cars and super late models.
What Marcis didn’t know was that 19-year-old Ryan Repko had chosen to honor Marcis with a throwback paint scheme during the late model stock car portion of the event. Repko’s car was wrapped to match the Realtree-sponsored car Marcis drove in his final NASCAR start during the 2002 Daytona 500.
“When I came I didn’t even know there was a race car here with my number on it as well as one of my sponsors, so I didn’t have a clue,” Marcis admitted.
Repko started the day off strong, qualifying second for the 138-lap stock car race alongside former series champion and JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry. The qualifying effort left Repko disappointed, but when Marcis came to introduce himself to the young driver from North Carolina he reminded Repko what was really important.
“I watched the cars qualify, I watched the board and I knew Ryan had qualified very well. In fact, he was the fastest car until very late in the qualifying session and then one car beat him,” Marcis said. “Then I went down and introduced myself to him and talked to him. He felt bad because he didn’t win the pole. He said he would like to have won the pole, so I could sign the plaque for him.
“I said well, just win the race and I’ll sign the checkered flag.”
Fast-forward a few hours and Repko did exactly that, taking the lead on lap 110 and driving away to what he called the biggest victory of his young career.
“This is kind of my backyard, my home track, so I’m really thankful to get my first CARS win here,” Repko said in victory lane. “I just can’t even believe it.”
Marcis said he watched the race from the stands and was rooting for Repko throughout the night. Early in the event, Repko took the lead and led until a lap-40 caution, but Marcis felt like he needed to drop back and start saving his equipment.
As if on cue, Repko fell back to second during the next restart behind Craig Moore. He stayed there, patiently waiting, until regaining the lead on lap 110. It was as if he could hear Marcis in the stands giving him direction.
“I felt like he had everything under control throughout the whole race,” Marcis said. “He used his head. He didn’t overdrive his race car and burn the tires off. He didn’t let people force him to overdrive the car.
“Really, on that one restart when he didn’t maintain the lead, I actually felt like that was better because he sat behind the car and took care of his tires and when it was time to go, he went,” Marcis said.
When Repko pulled into victory lane and unbuckled his belts and took off his helmet, one of the first people to greet him was Marcis. Grinning ear to ear, Marcis took part in the victory lane celebration. He even put on the trophy helmet that Repko earned for winning the event.
The helmet fit Marcis perfectly. He made sure to sign it for Repko before the end of the night, giving the young gun a memory he’ll never forget.
“The helmet fit him pretty good,” Repko joked. “It’s really special that I was able to win with him here.”