Vito Pugliese · Thursday May 17, 2007
Birthdate: October 27, 1941
Hometown: Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin
Top 5's: 15
Top 10's: 36
"Fix the cigarette lighter." One of the classic lines in all of cinema, when John Belushi issued his reply to Dan Aykroyd as to whether or not the 440-powered 1974 Dodge Monaco ex-patrol car was indeed the new Bluesmobile in, "The Blues Brothers". It was also probably heard more than once for a few NASCAR teams during the early and mid 90's, from America's Winningest Stock Car Driver. Richard Petty? Everyone knows the The King has 200 wins and enjoys a Cohiba. But America's top stockcar ace doesn't hail from Randleman, North Carolina, but rather Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. This week we profile one of the greatest names (literally) in racing history, Dick Trickle.
Okay, stop giggling. Finished? Good.
Dick Trickle was born October 27, 1941. For a state that is renowned for it's citizens being called, "cheeseheads", they sure have produced a fair number of stockcar drivers. Dick Trickle, Matt Kenseth, Dave Marcis, Scott Wimmer, the Sauter family (what is there, like nine of them that race?), just to name a few. Trickle began his driving exploits at Stratford Speedway in central Wisconsin. Winning in his first time out, it would be a harbinger of things to come. From there he went on to what at the time were the Busch Grand National and Winston Cup of the Midwest, the ARTGO Series and the American Speed Association (ASA). The ASA series has produced some of the greatest names in our sport: Rusty Wallace, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, and most recently, Jimmie Johnson. In his career, Trickle ended up tallying seven ARTGO Championships with 63 wins and in ASA, he notched 32 wins, nine runner-up championship efforts, and earned the top prize in 1984 and 1985.
Dennis Hopper appears in commercials these days, promoting a retirement company. The angle of the pitch is that dreams are powerful, and you are never too old to fulfill your dreams. That notion prompted me to reflect back on the career of Dick Trickle. Having dominated the Midwest short track scene in the 70's and 80's along with Martin, Wallace, Larry Phillips, Mike Eddy, and Bob Senneker, it seemed a bit odd to call him a "rookie" in his debut Cup season of 1989. Driving the #84 Miller High Life Buick for the Stavola Brothers, he replaced driver Mike Alexander, who at the time was shouldering a heavy burden for the team, replacing legend Bobby Allison. Trickle performed well in his debut, finishing a season high third at Atlanta, and both Martinsville events.
And wouldn't you know it, at 48 years of age, he won Rookie of The Year.
In 1990 he moved to Cale Yarborough’s TropArctic #66 Pontiacs. He won the pole at Dover, and nearly the race, finishing third behind eventually winner Derrike Cope, and another Midwest ace, Rusty Wallace. Later in the year he won The Winston Open and an army of new fans. As his unrelated namesake Cole Trickle uttered in the racing masterpiece (â€¦pause for laughterâ€¦) "Days of Thunder", "ESPNâ€¦the coverage is excellent. You'd be amazed at how much you can pick up." Indeed. Part of that coverage captured Trickle cruising around under caution, taking a break from the action, relaxing with a cigarette. The sight of Trickle smoking cigarettes under caution didn't do much to further the argument of the time as to whether or not racecar drivers were athletes. I can only imagine what Jimmy Spencer's in-car camera would have captured. That Burger King Chicken Fries commercial comes to mind.
In 1991, Dick Trickle went to go drive the No. 24 car. Noâ€¦.not the car that Jeff Gordon would ultimately break records with, but the ill-fated Team III racing team. The next year in 1992, he was back with the Stavola Brothers, this time with Snickers on the hood. He would finish the year 20th in points, his top runs being three Top 5s in the first six races. I was there for the first one at the Daytona 500 in 1992. He missed "The Big One", and came home in fifth place, one of only six cars on the lead lap that day. The following year he would join the RayMoc team of Butch Moch and Bob Rahilly, though his best finish came at the season finale in Atlanta, coming home fifth for owner Larry Hedrick.
NASCAR in the late 1980's and early 1990's was a great time. The sport was in the transition period from still being a bit raw, underground, and regional but beginning to garner national attention. The PC Police had yet to step in and rob it of its heart. General Motors had factory support for no less than FOUR manufacturers, and Ford was redoubling their racing efforts, having recruited Trans-Am dominator Jack Roush into the fold to join Junior Johnson and the Elliotts. During this span, Trickle began to draw attention to himself. No, it wasn't the sight of him smoking or sipping beers after a race, but again, it was that name. Today in sports we have interesting names like Milton Bradley, Coco Crisp, Tank Johnson, and Tiger Woods. In the early 90's there was Dick Trickle. So revered was this, that among another iconic ESPN venture that was coming into it's own, the best Sportscenter crew ever of Dan Patrick, Keith Olberman, and Craig Kilborn, would always have a special notation of where Dick Trickle finished when recapping the racing action of the weekend. I can still to this day hear Dan Patrick saying, "â€¦and Dick Trickle finishedâ€¦â€¦18th."
Through the mid 90's, Trickle would drive for two legendary Ford owners, Bud Moore and Junie Donleavy. While in muggy Bristol, Tennessee in August of 1997, Trickle had the Sportscenter guys in Bristol, Connecticut on the edge of their seats.
Trickle was in position to win.
He qualified fourth, but had slipped to the middle of the pack. The race had been dominated by Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett, but Trickle was lurking, waiting in the wings. Gordon crashed out to the delight of many in attendance, and it narrowed the championship contest down even closer between Gordon, Jarrett, and Mark Martin. As the laps wound down, Trickle was making a dramatic move to the front. Some guys might walk a mile for a Camel, but he was driving a half-mile every 15 seconds for a Winston. One of Trickle’s understudies from the Midwest short track days was closing in on Jarrett's bumper. It's Bristol; it's the last lap, things happen sometimes. Just ask Rusty Wallace or Terry Labonte. Martin got to Jarrett's bumper in the last corner of the last lap, but did not touch him. Had something happened between those two, Trickle would have won. But alas, he helped tutor some of the best in the business, and Martin raced Jarrett clean to the finish as usual. Sportscenter had an expose on Trickle, highlighting him more so than the other competitors in the race. To say that it was disappointing not to see him win is an understatement. At 55 years of age, Trickle looked like he was ready to go another 500 laps.
Unfortunately, that would be closest look at a win that Trickle would get in the Cup Series. The remainder of the 1990's and early 2000’s were spent with more underfunded and understaffed outfits like Donleavy's operation that was doing yeoman duty in the face of such stiff competition. Although he never won a Nextel Cup race, he did manage two Busch Series victories at Hickory in 1997 and Darlington in 1998. He also helped to prepare the IROC Series Pontiac TransAms of the late 90’s.
A very dark period for Dick and his family was when nephew Chris Trickle was shot and killed while driving under a freeway overpass in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 9, 1997. He died of his injuries March 25, 1998, 409 days after the incident. Today Trickle and his wife Darlene reside in Iron Station, NC, with Dick showing up to a short track every now and then to knock the rust off.
During this time he won over a legion of fans and became an icon in the sport. Though his name might elicit some adolescent humor, it also recalls some fond memories. NASCAR needs another Dick Trickle. A old, weathered, hard-charging short track driver from the Midwest, who would fire one up under a debris caution. Although it might prove a bit difficult to smoke through a closed-face helmet, I'm sure he'd find a way to do it. After all, he found a way to win Rookie of The Year at the age of 48.
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