I never thought I was going to get into stardom or nothin'. If I'd known that, my name probably wouldn't have been Dick Trickle. -- to the Detroit News, 1997
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He died like a dark country song. On Thursday, he drove out to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Boger City, N.C., about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. His granddaughter, who died in a car wreck in 2001, is buried there. He called 911 and said there would be a dead body and it would be his. Deputies came and found Dick Trickle next to his pickup truck. Dead of a shotgun blast. Apparently suicide. He was 71.
If you're a NASCAR fan, you might remember him as a solid driver in the '80s and '90s. If you watched ESPN back then, you might remember Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann sneaking his name into the race wrapups on "SportsCenter." Tom Cruise played the character Cole Trickle in "Days of Thunder." Cole Trickle is a good name. Dick Trickle is an all-timer.
If you've never heard of him before now, you might be sad at the thought of a human being taking his own life … and you might be trying not to laugh at his name. Life's like that. Sad and terrible and strangely funny at the same time.
Every old NASCAR driver is a great story. Richard Leroy Trickle was a great story.
He ran 303 times in NASCAR's top circuit -- now called the Sprint Cup -- and never won a race. He even made fun of his winless streak in a commercial. But he didn't start running a full-time schedule until 1989, when he was 48. That year, as a grandfather, he was NASCAR's Rookie of the Year.
Before that he won hundreds of races on smaller speedways and dirt tracks in the Midwest. By some accounts, he won more than any stock-car driver in history. In 1972 alone, he won 67 times. NASCAR called more than once back then, and Trickle ran a couple of times a year on the big tracks. But for decades he hung around the Midwest. The money was good and his needs were simple: coffee, beer and cigarettes. He kept a cigarette lighter in his race car so he could smoke on the track.
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I'm a fast liver. I don't waste a lot of my life. I've been blessed with natural staying power; it ain't something I got to work at. … Four to six hours a night is about how much I sleep. Six is a catch-up.
-- to Sports Illustrated, 1989
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Before he started racing full-time, he worked at a service station 66 hours a week. He raced some nights and tinkered with his cars at the service station on others. He worked for the phone company for a while. He finally told his wife he didn't like heights, and he might as well try to make it as a driver, because that's all he wanted to do.
His second race car was a '49 Ford. His first race car was a '50 Ford that he bought for $100 and modified into a stock car. He lost a drag race to the '49 and bought it from the owner. He welded a manure spreader to the front of the car and shoved the competition out of the way on the dirt tracks.
He got the manure spreader from his uncle, who ran a blacksmith shop, repairing farm equipment. Trickle's father had been a partner there, but he had to quit work with a long-term illness. Dick helped out around the shop, saving scraps of metal for the race car he dreamed of. He made a little extra money working on nearby farms. But his family still lived on welfare. They were in tiny Rudolph, Wis., west of Green Bay. Up there, when you're born a Richard, they generally don't shorten it to Rich or Richie. My father-in-law, who's from Milwaukee, goes by Dick. The Trickles called their boy Dick, too.
When Dick was 8, he was playing in the rafters of a house under construction when he fell and shattered his hip. Doctors thought he might never walk again. He was in a cast for two years and walked on crutches for a third. Early in his recovery, a friend took him to the races in Wisconsin Rapids.
The boy in the cast from the poor farm family thought it was the greatest thing he had ever seen in his life.
Some people see racing as just going in circles. But think of the race as one long track, 500 miles from start to finish. It might help, if your mind is inclined this way, to think of each race as a lifetime. You can see it as a race to reach some kind of reward. Or you can see it as a race to get away from the past.
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I never look at the purse. My wife does. I come to race. … I've done a lot, but I dwell on where I am going. Yesterday is gone.
-- in "The Golden Age of Wisconsin Auto Racing," 2000
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