NASCAR's most senior statesman, Dave Marcis, and his small band of passionate crew-members may have had their worst year in Winston Cup competition for more than 30 years in 2000 but their spirit is still strong and they will once again be there for the season opening Daytona 500 next February with the No.71 Realtree sponsored Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

However the welcome sight of the team's transporter in the Winston Cup paddock will not be a frequent one as Marcis, who turns 60 shortly after 'The 500', has already stated that he will only be entering selected events next season at circuits where he feels he has the most chance of gaining success.

But the eve of one man's illustrious career could mean the dawn of another's as Marcis has shown no sign of losing his passion for the sport and even when he has retired, the No.71 team could well continue in the hands of a man named Earnhardt.

Kerry Earnhardt, eldest son of seven times Winston Cup Champion Dale, made his Winston Cup debut at Michigan this year for the No.71 team and astounded many onlookers when he raced into the field comfortably during second round qualifying. A crash on lap five of the race put a dampener on things and a second appearance later in the year yielded a failure to qualify.

Despite a slow start, Marcis has recognised the potential of the 30-year-old driver and through his close friendship with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress, a partnership between the two could develop over the next twelve months.

"If Dale Earnhardt wants to try something with Kerry again, we will just take things as they come," said Marcis as he announced his 2001 plans. "We had a lot of help from Richard Childress by using one of his restrictor plate engines. His team also helped work on the body of the car and helped us there too."

Earnhardt has been making a name for himself in the NASCAR Featherlite Series this year, winning his first race at the track where he made his NWC debut and, under the tutelage of his father, has been looking to graduate to the NASCAR Busch or Craftsman Truck Series in 2001. He has been the benefactor of a long standing friendship between his dad, Childress and Marcis, which has moved onto the race-track as RCR help Marcis with new parts and wind-tunnel work in return for feedback and reaction to changes and new parts from the vastly experienced campaigner.

It appears as though 2000 may have been the last full NWC season for Marcis however, who only made the starting field on eleven occasion and had the most DNQ's of all drivers last year on his way to a disappointing 46th overall in the points standings. His team's tiny budget meant that testing was almost impossible and had it not been for the help of RCR, Marcis may not have seen the year out, an RCR gear-ratio change allowing the veteran to post a top ten qualifying time at Talladega and lead his only lap of the year in the following day's race.

Many people predicted that 1999 would be Marcis' final season after a vicious crash at Pocono put him on the shelf for a few races but, resolute as ever he vowed to continue and was back the following year for another full assault. Next year however Dave will only take in the Superspeedway events at Daytona and Talladega, short track races at Bristol and Dover and a few other selected venues where his team have a good record.

Whether Marcis will stay on beyond the 2001 season is unclear as he needs just 22 more starts to rack up a total of 900 since making his NWC debut way back in 1968. What is clear though, is that the fire still burns brightly under one of THE original 'Good 'ol Boys.'