Friday, May 17, 2013

Dick Trickle: The Racer

As the Sprint Cup Series prepares for what is arguably its splashiest and most over-the-top weekend, it’s ironic that it comes so soon after the news of the death of Dick Trickle. Splashy and over-the-top? Those are the last words that would be used to describe Trickle. In fact, only one word really fits: racer.

Bud Koehler and young Dick Trickle, two Midwest short track legends.

Before he arrived in NASCAR’s Winston Cup competition, Trickle had raced for decades – yes, decades – in a host of racing series beginning in his native Wisconsin: ASA, ARCA, USAC, and many more letter combinations that only local fans would recognize. He won titles, track championships, and literally dozens of races a year, always struggling to keep his operation afloat and funded.

NASCAR Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year Dick Trickle.

His big break into NASCAR’s top series came when he was nearly 50. Think about that for a minute – can you imagine someone entering Sprint Cup competition in 2013 in their late forties? Unthinkable! And yet it happened, with Trickle wheeling his way to the rookie of the year title in 1989, beating out a tough young Jimmy Spencer for the honor. Trickle manned the cockpit for the Stavola Brothers that season, eventually moving on to drive for Team III, Butch Mock, Larry Hedrick, and the legendary Junie Donleavy.

A true racer, once Trickle had reached Winston Cup racing he still competed in Busch Grand National series.

Trickle never struck gold in Winston Cup, and considering his cars were seldom fielded by the best-funded teams his three third-place finishes, his pole at Dover, and a victory in the Winston Open at Charlotte amounts to a successful campaign.

So Dick Trickle didn’t spend much time in the Winston Cup victory lane, but he became a fan favorite. Real race fans recognized the gritty determination built by years and years of short track competition out of the limelight, and embraced Trickle upon his arrival in the top stock car series. But even when he arrived in Winston Cup racing, he remained true to who he was – I can clearly remember seeing an in-car camera capturing Trickle as he lit up a smoke while cruising around under a yellow flag.

Rest in peace, Dick…


The Mad Man said...

I had the opportunity to know Dick and to work with hin at Texas Motor Speedway back in 1999. When I arrived at the garage stall, Dick was literally standing on his head installing the pedals in his car. He asked me to get the wreches he needed so we were passing them back & forth until he had them where he wanted them. Then we went through formal introductions over a cup of coffee and a cigarette. It seems I was the only person working with him that weekend that smoked (I know, bad habit). Every time Dick took a break for some coffee he grabbed me and we smoked and joked. I ran into Dick at the Legends Helping Legends Fundraiser a couple of years ago. He was still the same old Dick I knew back in 1999 except he had quit smoking after the heart surgery he had and was drinking decaf. We caught up on what had happened over the years and parted ways. He heading back home in NC & me heading back home to VA. Little did I know that would be the last time I'd see him.

My deepest condolences to his family & friends. I'm going to miss The White Knight.

Robert Eastman said...

Dick Trickle was one of the friendliest out-going people I've ever met! Though I had often seen him race, the first time I actually met him was back in the 70's. It was early Sunday morning in a hotel dining room in West Allis WI before a USAC event on the "Milwaukee Mile." Because the restaurant was very busy and there was room at his table, I asked if we could join him. He cordially welcomed my wife and I, treating us like long lost friends... a truly Amazing Man!

Race fans of the 60's and 70's may remember that Charlotte Motor Speedway had a promotion where fans voted for... "The Most Popular Short Track Driver In America." Dick Trickle won that vote and the opportunity to drive a "Junior Johnson prepared NASCAR stock-car" in the "National 500" at Charlotte. In his first(?) NASCAR Super-Speedway race, he finished 3rd! Obviously, that was quite an accomplishment considering the competition!

During my unforgettable breakfast with him, we swapped racing stories. He told me he had been offered many NASCAR opportunities, but he could make more money running mid-west short tracks than he could racing in NASCAR. Those were the days before the "Big-Dollar Corporate Sponsors" and TV contracts. The prize money in NASCAR was relatively skimpy and drivers got a small percentage of the winnings.
By the time he moved south and hooked-up with NASCAR full-time, "the Dollars were Much Bigger!" He probably considered it "his retirement gig"... only racing weekends instead of 5-6 times per week!

Dick Trickle will be remembered as "The Master of Short Track Stock-Car Racing!" He was "The MAN"... A Legend... Loving Life by bringing Joy and Great Memories to those of us he entertained!