Sunday, May 14, 2017

In Memory Of Dick Trickle

October 27, 1941 - May 16, 2013
Dick Trickle

(Photo; vintagesleds.com)
Born in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, USA.
Trickle raced for decades around the short tracks of Wisconsin, winning many championships along the way. Trickle competed in the ASA, ARTGO, ARCA, All Pro, IMCA, NASCAR, and USAC.

Eight-year-old Dick Trickle was playing tag with his cousin Verlon on the rafters in a house under construction when he fell two floors to the basement and broke his hip. He was transferred from a local hospital to the University of Wisconsin Hospital with slow recovery. His recovery was so slow that the doctors gave up and sent him home, presuming that he would be an invalid for the rest of his life. Trickle later began to walk, although he walked with a slight limp for the rest of his life.  He spent three years in a cast from his waist to his foot. While he was recovering as a nine-year-old, a friend took him to his first races at Crown Speedway in his hometown of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. "When I got there I was flabbergasted," Trickle said. "I thought it was the neatest thing. Free shows were nothing compared to it. That race never left my mind until I was 16. I knew I was going to drive a race car when I was 16."

Trickle was one of five children. His mother, Lauretta, struggled to provide food and clothing. His father, Leo, was a blacksmith who worked on farm equipment near their rural Wisconsin home before having a nervous breakdown and spending the last 50 years of his life in a mental hospital. Trickle's family lived on welfare, so there was no money available for racing. Trickle spent his summers working for area farmers, starting as a 13-year-old. He also spent a lot of time at the Rudolph Blacksmith shop that his father was a partner in. While his father was ill, his uncle Leonard ran the shop. "I worked part time at the shop to earn a nickel or dime," Trickle said. "At that age, it was mostly sweeping the shop, but I started to play with the welder and soon I could make an arc and then weld. I started junking machinery. I save some things getting a head start for when I would go racing at 16. I didn't have any money, but I had this pile of stuff to build a race car with. It was a hope chest. When I turned 16, I let the farmer I was working for keep most the money I earned until fall. That fall I collected my money and went down Main Street wheeling and dealing. I finally bought a 1950 Ford in good condition for $100. It was going to be my street car, but the urge to race got too strong and I cut up and made a stock car out of it. I did run the car a little bit before I cut it up and I ended up drag racing a classmate, Melvin Hunsinger, who had a 1949 Ford. He beat me. It seems kind of dumb when I already knew there was a car that could beat me. Eventually, I bought Hunsinger's 1949 Ford for $32.50 and put the motor in my car".

Trickle started out as the slowest car in a 100-car field at a Stratford, Wisconsin short track race.  He raced that car at the end of the 1958 season and throughout the 1959 season, after which time he built a 1956 Ford into race car using all of his knowledge that he had acquired. In his first time out with the new car, he finished second in the feature event at Griffith Park at Wisconsin Rapids. His competitors checked the rules and found out that Trickle was too young to race, even though he had already raced there for two years. He had to race at other tracks for a year until he was old enough to race at his hometown track. He raced for several years before deciding to race full-time. After working at several jobs after high school, he had worked for two years for a local telephone company. He had been uncomfortable climbing telephone poles as he was uncomfortable with heights. He transferred to a different part of the company. Two or three years later he discussed racing full-time with his wife Darlene who he married in 1961. Trickle felt that racing could be profitable, and they decided to make the change.

Trickle raced at over 100 events each year for over 15 years. He was racing at Tomah-Sparta Speedway when Francis Kelly noticed that Trickle was always in contention for winning the races, but he lost a lot of them because he had junky motors. One day Kelly approached Trickle and asked him what it would cost for Trickle to win. Trickle told him a new motor; Kelly asked Trickle to compile a list of parts that he needed. When Kelly asked who would assemble the motor, Trickle responded that he could but he was a junkyard mechanic. Trickle suggested that Alan Kulwicki's father Jerry Kulwicki, who was building motors for Norm Nelson's USAC stock cars, should build the engine.

A big turning point in Trickle's career happened at the National Short Track Championship race at Rockford Speedway in 1966. Trickle said, "The cars in that area were fancier and looked like they were ahead of us. The didn't treat us bad, but they sort of giggled at us kids with the rat cars. After two days, they look differently at those rat cars. I won and pocketed $1,645. Before, I questioned spending the money to travel that far. But if you could win, that was a different story." Trickle started the 1967 season by winning at State Park Speedway and ended the season with 25 feature victories including wins at Wisconsin Dells Speedway (now Dells Raceway Park) and Golden Sands Speedway (near Wisconsin Rapids).

Road America - #42 Dick Trickle 1968 Ford
(Photo: Mike Traverse via photopin cc)
Trickle raced in United States Automobile Club (USAC) stock cars in 1968, and he won the series' rookie of the year award.

He toured on the Central Wisconsin Racing Association tracks in 1971. The circuit consisted of larger asphalt track racing on most nights of the week. CWRA regular drivers were able to run over 100 events in a year, and most did the tour with one car and one engine. On Thursday nights at the quarter mile State Park Speedway, he won seven features and lowered his July 1 14.27 second track record to 14.09 seconds on the following week. On Friday nights he raced primarily at Capitol Speedway, winning most nights that rain or his car did not break. Trickle went to Adams-Friendship on July 23 and won the feature after setting the track record. He held the track record at six tracks: Adams-Friendship, Capitol, Wausau, Wisconsin Dells, and La Crosse. He raced at the newly opened third mile Wisconsin Dells Speedway on Saturday nights. By the end of the year, Trickle had won 58 feature events. 

Trickle started his 1972 season by winning at Golden Sands Speedway near Wisconsin Rapids. Wisconsin's short track racing season starts in April. By May 13, he had twelve wins in thirteen events. He got this fifteenth win in twenty starts on May 27. Trickle became the winningest short track driver that year when he won his 67th race. 

Trickle won numerous special events outside of Wisconsin in 1973, including a 200-lap feature at Rolla, Missouri in April, following by winning a 50-lap feature the following day at I-70 Speedway near Odessa, Missouri. In May he won a 50-lapper at Springfield, Missouri and two more features at I-70 Speedway. Trickle used his purple 1970 Ford Mustang to win at the Minnesota Fair and at Rockford Speedway in September. He had a total of 57 wins in 1973. 

Sanctioning bodies put in a weight-per-cubic-inch rule, and Trickle's career had problems in 1974 and 1975. "Fords almost broke me. I couldn't get any pieces for racing at my level. It took two years of hard labor and depleting my funds to realize I couldn't do this anymore. I told myself either I had to change my program or get out of racing." Therefore, Trickle decided to use a General Motors car and engine. He bought a car for $13,000 on his word that he would pay for it by September. He won 35 or 40 races that year and paid for the car by July.

In 1982, Trickle won track championship at State Park Speedway in Wausau where he started out the season by winning the first two features and seven total. He also won the track championship at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway after winning three events in August. That season he won his first Miller 200 special event at the Milwaukee Mile. Trickle started racing out of state a lot more in 1983. Of all of Trickle's victories, his best memory was winning the 1983 World Crown 300 in Georgia. "It took three weeks of preparation and a lot of determination," he said. "It was the biggest payday of my career up to that point ($50,000)." He beat Jim Sauter by two car-lengths at the season opener, and won three straight races in May. After winning on June 1, LaCrosse business raised a $700 bounty for anyone who could beat him. Trickle skipped the following week, and returned the week after to lose to Steve Burgess. He did not win as much at State Park, but he did win the track championship. Trickle won ASA races at Coeburn, Virginia and Cayuga, Ontario in 1984, as well as the Red, White, and Blue state championship series at WIR and the Slinger Nationals at Slinger.

In 1989 Trickle made his full schedule debut driving the #84 Miller High Life Buick for Stavola Brothers Racing. 

(Photo: Mike Traverse via photopin cc)
He was Rookie of the Year in NASCAR's Winston Cup (now the Sprint Cup) at age 48 (and a grandfather), becoming the oldest driver in Winston Cup history to do so. After being given the Rookie of the Year trophy at the NASCAR Awards banquet, he quipped "I guess I’d just like to thank everyone who gave a young guy like me a chance". 

His best career Winston Cup finish was third (5 times). He started 303 races, with 15 Top 5 and 36 Top 10 finishes. Dick also raced in the Busch Series, where he won two races. He had 158 career starts, with 24 Top 5 and 42 Top 10 finishes. 

In more than an estimated 2,200 races, Trickle logged one million laps and is believed to have won over 1,200 feature races. He was billed as the winningest short track driver in history. Trickle's career highlights include racing to 67 wins in 1972, winning seven ARTGO Championships in nine years between 1979 to 1987, winning back to back ASA AC-Delco Challenge championships in 1984 and 1985, the 1968 USAC Stock Car rookie of the year, and winning the 1989 NASCAR Rookie of the Year award in what was then called the Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup). Trickle was nicknamed the "White Knight" as referenced by his sponsored Super America paint scheme, when he raced in Wisconsin. An interesting read I found was in the book entitled The Golden Age of Wisconsin Auto Racing.

Trickle died May 16, 2013, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The incident occurred at 12:02 p.m. at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Boger City, North Carolina. The Lincoln County Communications Center received a call, apparently from the victim, saying that "there's going to be a dead body. Suicide." When the 911 operator asked who was about to commit suicide, Trickle responded: "I'm the one." Police attempted to call his phone back but there was no response. Trickle was found dead beside his pickup truck. His granddaughter, who died in a car accident, was buried in the same cemetery. Trickle's family later released a statement which in part said: "He had been suffering for some time with severe chronic pain, had seen many doctors, none of which could find the source of his pain. His family as well as all those who knew him find his death very hard to accept, and though we will hurt from losing him for some time, he’s no longer suffering and we take comfort knowing he’s with his very special angel."

The message also said: “Dick’s passion in life was his racing. He touched many lives throughout his career, provided memories for many that will last a lifetime. Many thought when he retired he would continue as a car owner, but he was a driver at heart; he wanted to be behind the wheel and be in control of his destiny. We believe he felt himself no longer able to be behind that wheel of life or be the man he only knew how to be because of the pain and suffering.”

He left a wife, Darlene, and three children, Vicky, Chad and Tod. His nephew, Chris Trickle, was a race car driver before dying in a drive-by shooting. “We were building a team for Chris,” Dick's brother Chuck Trickle said. “When he got shot, I ended up selling the team to my sponsor. And they put Kurt Busch in the car. That’s how he got his start.”

NASCAR chairman Brian France released a statement saying "Dick was a legend in the short-track racing community, particularly in his home state of Wisconsin, and he was a true fan favorite. Personalities like Dick Trickle helped shape our sport. He will be missed."

A moment of silence was observed for Trickle during the start of the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 17. 

A tribute was held for Trickle at the July 2013 Slinger Nationals,  

(Photot: royal_broil via photopin cc)
with his family telling stories about his career.

Trickle's Wisconsin friends and competitors, including Tom Reffner and Marv Marzofka, began organizing a Dick Trickle Memorial fund to build a memorial statue at Rudolph Community Park. The group is collecting money including securing the title sponsorship of a TUNDRA Super Late Model race at Golden Sands Speedway.

Wisconsin International Raceway - Dick Trickle Memorial poster
(Photo: royal_broil via photopin cc)

Always smiling, always playing and always at full speed, he was a lot more than a race car driver with one of the most recognizable names in sports. Known for his chain-smoking, coffee-swigging and an infectious smile, Trickle never won a Sprint Cup Series race. But he left a legacy of funny tales, impressionable memories and sadly, some puzzling questions.Trickle drilled a hole in his full-face helmet so he could smoke during a caution period of a race. While others had bottles of water and Gatorade to help them during a quick break, Trickle rarely drove without a cigarette lighter on board. When asked how many times he’d smoke during a race, he once said, “How many cautions were there?”

When he wasn’t racing, he seemed to find the best party. If not, he created his own. “Him and I liked to drink beer and have fun,” Chuck Trickle said. “He was out there getting rowdy and drinking and having fun. If you were there, you were having fun.”

Jim Sauter, who carved his own short-track career in the Midwest, worked with Trickle and Dave Marcis to set up the cars from the International Race of Champions. All three were from Wisconsin and they flew into Daytona Beach the night before a test. They met at their traditional place, the local Waffle House. “That was our thing,” Sauter said. “I remember when we ordered he called the waitress back and asked if he could get a couple extra scoops of grease on his. We all laughed so hard. “Those are the kind of memories I have of Dick Trickle.”

Even in death, thinking about Dick Trickle brings smiles to the faces of friends and fans. There were too many funny stories, too many laughs and so much life to remember.

2 comments:

  1. I am happy that I got to meet and talk to Mr. Trickle. He truly was a legend and a great guy too.Thanks Dick for being you!

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  2. I met and visited dick at a meet dick trickle in indy in 1998 or 1999.he was so awesome.i have a bunch of his stuff that was given away. And he put on a heck of a luncheon. He is dearly missed.

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