COMMENTARY | My memory of the first time I met Dick Trickle is one I’ll never forget.
It was the late 1990s, he was driving the No. 90 Heilig-Meyers Ford for Junie Donlavey in the then-Winston Cup series, and was making an appearance to sign autographs at his team’s hauler at the track one afternoon.
When I approached him, he quickly struck a friendly tone with me and my friend. Conversation flowed for a minute, and then we decided to ask him a simple question before getting the autographs: What kind of cigarettes do you smoke?
See, Trickle was famous not just for his unique name, or his hundreds of short-track wins, but also for smoking cigarettes in his car during caution periods.
In true Dick Trickle form, he slyly replied to us in a lowered tone: “Don’t tell NASCAR, but I smoke Marlboros. I just keep them in a Winston box.”
That’s Dick Trickle in a nutshell to me.
He lived life as he wanted, didn’t bow to anyone’s will or expectations of him, and had a lot of fun along the way as he chased his racing dreams … which is why what happened Thursday in a cemetery in North Carolina is too tragic for words, as it appearsTrickle took his life in a very public way at the age of 71, calling the police and telling them they would find his body at the cemetery when they arrived. Only he knows why he did that, and all I can say is rest in peace, sir, you will be missed. My thoughts are with his family as they deal with the aftermath of his passing.
A racer’s racer
Dick Trickle was what folks call a racer’s racer.
He could go flat-out fast, especially on a short track. He won so many races that nobody knows exactly how many he won (estimates range from hundreds to over 1,000; records weren’t kept as good in the days he was racking up all those wins).
It took a while to lure him to NASCAR, as he could make more money racing several times a week on the short tracks than he could just racing Sundays in NASCAR.
Rusty Wallace was one of the people who was most stunned by Thursday’s news, as he credits Trickle for helping him become the championship racer he became.
“I’m in 100 percent shock. Dick Trickle was my mentor,” Wallace said in a statement on Thursday. “When I was short track racing, I would call him every Monday morning and he would always help me with race setups and stuff. He and I had such a good time telling little stories, but he was the guy that taught me almost everything in the American Speed Association. And he was the guy that I battled right to the end for my 1983 ASA championship. I barely beat the guy that taught me everything. I’d not seen Dick as much as I’d like to of late. He was a legend. A man that … was a role model to many short track racers coming up. Could just do magic with the race car and he taught me so much about racing. My success in the ASA and what Trickle taught me is what got me into NASCAR. That’s what got me hired by Cliff Stewart back in ’84. Between Larry Phillips and Dick Trickle, they taught me everything.”
That kind of praise wasn’t unique, as everyone on Twitter had their Trickle story to tell, and even younger drivers paid their respects.
– “Dick Trickle taught me to be me, He taught me to Justify things my way and said “Kenny keep laughing loud cause that’s who you are,” wrote Kenny Wallace.
– “Sad to hear of Dick Trickle. At some point we were all short trackers. He was the best. #RIPDickTrickle,” tweeted Joey Logano.
And so on, and so on. Those who knew the man well enjoyed being around him. And those who didn’t know him respected him and what he could do in a racecar. When Trickle finally chose to go the NASCAR route full-time in 1989, he was 47 years old and took home Rookie of the Year that season. Fun fact: Trickle’s first NASCAR start was in 1970 at Daytona, nearly 20 years before he decided to go full-time. His final Cup race came in 2002 at the age of 60.
A career to be proud of
Dick Trickle would go on to win a couple Busch series races late in his career, but never did much of note in a Cup car (15 top-5 finishes and zero wins over 303 races) due to inferior equipment. But that does not diminish what he accomplished in a racecar over his many decades of racing.
Go ahead and ask any of the drivers competing in the top NASCAR series today if they’d be happy with the career of a short-track legend like Trickle, and you can bet they’d all say yes. Because that’s where almost all of them came from in the first place, and they can marvel at what he was able to accomplish on that stage — which may be smaller than the big lights of NASCAR, but is often an even tougher venue to go out and win — with so many hungry young drivers looking to get their big break and willing to wreck you to get it.
His ending may be tragic, but his life was far from that, and that’s what I’ll remember when I think of Dick Trickle. He’s a reminder that we should live our lives as we choose to live them, and have some fun along the way.
Guys like him are the backbone of racing, must moreso than the glitz and glamour of the Cup series, and that won’t change no matter how big NASCAR gets.
So again, rest in peace Dick Trickle. You will never be forgotten.
Matt Myftiu has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.