When you are a living legend, some stories and statistics get blown out of proportion. Richie Evans won a ton of Modified races in his career, that is unquestioned. Whether the total is 600, 800 or 1,000 is up for debate. His championships and major event wins are well documented. The same is true for Dick Trickle. Trickle is rumored to have won over 1,500 races but it is universally accepted that he notched more than 1,200 wins in his storied short track career. He was a champion in the ASA series twice in the mid-80s when the ASA was on par with any sanctioning body in the country. He won seven ARTGO Championships, which for years was the ultimate in Midwest Late Model Racing achievements. Trickle was the Rookie of the Year in USAC Stock Car racing in 1968 and the NASCAR Series in 1989. Most drivers are lucky to have a career last 21 years, while Trickle was the best rookie in two different series that many years apart.
The greatest thing about Trickle was every person you run into who was around him when he raced has a story. He was one of the greatest story tellers in the garage, a notorious practical joker, and one of the smartest racers you will ever meet. Trickle could run a handful of laps in a race car, pull it into the garage and tell the crew chief what was right and what was wrong. One time, when driving for Bud Moore, Trickle told the crew chief the back end of the car was out of toe. Trickle told the team to make some adjustments and when they did the crew chief said the car was way out of alignment. Trickle broke out the strings and proved the car was perfectly aligned. The crew chief told him to climb in and drive it and Trickle refused, saying he couldn’t run for a chief who didn’t trust him. Moore fired the crew chief on the spot and Trickle stayed in the ride.
By now most race fans and many non-race fans have probably seen the video from ESPN of Trickle smoking under caution during a race at Talladega. Trickle always had a cigarette lighter built into his cars and a compartment on the side of his seat to hold his cigarettes. When the caution would fly, he would often have the cigarette lit before he returned back to the start/finish line to complete the lap. Jeff Gordon tells the story that when he first started racing in Cup, he knew when they were going back to racing because the cigarette butt would fly out of the window of Trickle’s car.
Some people like to say that Trickle’s car is the only car to have a cigarette lighter built into it that raced in Cup. That is not true. Many of the early cars obviously did because they were simply street cars running in the races. When cars became purpose built for racing, it was a much less common site. However, the next time you are at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, look at the dashboard of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury that David Pearson drove to so many wins. There is a working cigarette lighter on the dash. Pearson likes to say that he’d his the lighter before he’d lift off of the gas when the caution flag came out during races.
Trickle shares a very interesting trait with Evans and so many other very successful short track racers, he would help anyone who asked. People would be struggling to try and find speed at a local track and Trickle would give them advice or even help them work on their cars. In the end, he wouldn’t tell them everything, but he’d help them get better. Many people do not understand why successful drivers do that, but it is actually self serving to a degree. When leaders come up on back markers, it is easier to pass them when their running a ‘competitive’ speed. When they’re running dangerously slow, it can cause a front runner to get into an accident just trying to avoid the tail end cars. While the front runners gain some positive publicity for their goodwill gesture, it also helps them in the long run.
There are millions of fans and racers whose lives have been touched by Dick Trickle. Kurt Busch told the story in the Media Center after All-Star qualifying of how his life and career were helped through a terrible tragedy for the Trickles. Chris Trickle was shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. Busch was a family friend who visited the young Trickle in the hospital. When the racing season started up and Trickle was still in a coma, Busch was asked by the Trickles to drive Chris’s car. Busch went on to take that car to the Southwest Touring Series Championship.
Trickle’s legend was advanced by the talking heads on ESPN who always used to announce his finishing position during SportsCenter, just because they liked to chuckle at his name. That notoriety helped Trickle to land some sponsorship because he could market the fact that he was going to be on national TV most every week there was a Cup race. His legacy also endeared him to fans. During a Nationwide race at Charlotte, he stood on top of a bus in turn three for the entire race, puffing on cigarettes and watching the race unfold. After he flicked a butt or two off of the bus, he realized the fans were collecting them as souvenirs. Trickle relished the thought of it and started launching the butts in multiple directions to the cheers of his adoring fans.
Trickle’s enduring legacy has so many branches they are almost too numerous to count. Most of the racers in the Midwest look up to him as a true idol in the sport. Racers from Wisconsin especially hold a place near and dear to their heart for the king of short track racing.
Drivers and racers will come and go. Awards and legacies will be bestowed and etched in stone for years to come. One thing is for certain, people can talk about the unbreakable records in sports, DiMaggio’s hitting streak, the Celtics’ run of championships, the King’s 200 career Cup Series wins. All of those records are impressive, but they can all be broken. Dick Trickle’s will stand forever. Trickle was the Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series when he was 49 years old. 99% of Cup drivers don’t make it to 49 years old in their racing career. There will never be anyone who will come into the Cup series as a rookie at 50 years old and win the Rookie of the Year. Trickle’s Rookie of the Year is the most unbelievable record in a sport that has volumes of books of records.
Dick Trickle was a man with a funny name. He was a competitor with a big heart and a bigger drive to succeed. He could give as much as take when it came to practical jokes. In the end he was a true legend that walked among us and invited us along for the ride. Trickle would run a Cup race and then go have beers with some fans who were sitting in turn two. Trickle would help you set up your car to be exactly like his, and then still go out and whip your butt. Trickle won more auto races than anyone. In the end, he just made the world a better place for being here.
Hopefully, whatever demons were haunting Dick have been laid to rest and his soul will be at peace. Our thoughts and prayers are not only with the Trickle family but also the millions of people whose lives were touched by the man. It isn’t every day that our lives are touched by a legend. Thankfully, we were around to be touched by Dick’s.
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