May 16, 2013, 7:18 PM EDT
Ten years ago, I wrote one of my favorite ever stories … about the late, great Larry Phillips. Larry was, as I wrote in the piece, “the roughest, toughest, meanest, craziest and grouchiest son of a gun who ever climbed into a race car.” Only, Larry told me later, he wasn’t really all that.
No sir, he said. That was Dick Trickle.
They were wild young men. It was true even after they stopped being young. They traveled the country — Dick Trickle was from up in Wisconsin, Larry Phillps from the heart of Missouri — and they chased around the moth-flapping lights of the short tracks. They smoked their cigarettes and drank their whiskey straight and chased wild young women, even after they stopped being young. And, most of all, they raced. Late Model. Super late model. Modified. Semi-Modified. The money wasn’t great, and the trophies were pointless. But they weren’t in it for money or trophies, not exactly. They were in it for the roar and the danger and the checkered flag. It was something, Larry told me, you either got or didn’t get. If you got it, well, come on then. And if you didn’t, well, Larry said, to hell with ya.
Person after person told me there was no man tougher than Larry Phillips. They said he won more than 2,000 races on short tracks all over America. They said he could do things in a car that no one ever did before or ever will again. They tell one of my favorite tales: Someone was giving $500 to any man who could break the track record at ol’ I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo. There was a hole in the race track and the dirt on turns was loose and slick, there was no one crazy enough to go for a track record. Well, there was one. Larry shoved pedal to the floor and never pulled back and broke that track record. Larry was actually trembling when he finished that run — that’s how crazy it was. But he got his $500.
Larry was dying when I talked to him — dying a choking and coughing death where he found it hard to breathe — but he had some things to say. He said that some of the stories were true (like the $500 record story) and some them were not true. He said that he didn’t have no regrets except maybe he could have spent a little more time with his children. He said that nobody ever wanted to win more than he did, nobody, except maybe one guy: Dick Trickle.
At the time — and still to this day — people will say that Dick Trickle won more short track races than anyone who ever lived. But those are Dick’s people. Larry’s people say HE won more short track races than anyone who ever lived.
Larry just wouldn’t stand for that.
“How many races did you win?” I asked him. He laughed. “Just a few less than Dick Trickle,” he said.
“Well, there are some people who say that you won more than Trickle,” I said.
“Is that so?” he asked. I confirmed that it was so.
“Well,” he said. “People are entitled to their opinion. I figure I won just a few less than Dick Trickle.”
Maybe that’s just to camaraderie of old racers. But there was respect there. They called Trickle the White Knight, because of his white car. “It was a serious thing seeing that car come up behind you,” Larry said. But it wasn’t the car … it was the man. Larry said Dick Trickle would stay out all night, drink everyone under the table,tell the best stories, lie the best lies, then limp back to the room — he limped from childhood injury — take a quick shower, grab his pack of cigarettes (he would go through a pack or two every race) and without a wink of sleep go out and win the race like it was nothing. Then he would get out the car, find an Old Style beer, down it in about three seconds and start the process all over again. “I’ve seen him do it,” Larry told me. “Man wasn’t human.”
Larry didn’t have a NASCAR career. He raced in one race, but he didn’t like much. Too corporate. Too many responsibilities. He wasn’t the type to entertain sponsors or sign autographs at a local supermarket. Dick Trickle, though, did start racing NASCAR when he got into his late 40s. His first year, he finished Top 5 six times and won more than $300,000 and was named rookie of the year. Not bad considering he was 47 years old. At 56, he won more than $1 million. Every year, people voted him the most popular driver or one of them.
All in all, he raced 303 times in NASCAR. He never won a race. He laughed about that, at least in public. He’d won plenty of races in his life.
On Thursday, the Lincoln County Communication Center in North Carolina received a call. A man on the other side reportedly said, “There’s gonna be a dead body, and it’s gonna be mine.” When they tried to call back the number, there was no answer. When they got to the scene, near a cemetery, the dead body of Dick Trickle was lying near his pickup truck. He had apparently shot himself. He was 71 years old.
“He was Superman,” Larry Phillips had said of Dick Trickle. They’re both gone now, as is their time.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT
A win for Kenseth this Sunday would also put him into the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead next month.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Two-time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi will make an appearance at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas next week as part of a COTA fan experience.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Ricciardo full of praise for Austin and the Circuit of the Americas ahead of next weekend’s race.
The man behind the sculptures: William Behrends’ presence endures for Borg-Warner Trophy, and Giants legends
Oct 24, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT
Statues outside AT&T Park and the faces on the Borg-Warner Trophy share a common thread, in sculptor William Behrends.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Dr. Jean-Francois Payen says that he has noticed some progress in Schumacher’s recovery.
Oct 24, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Sauber also complete a test in Spain with Adderly Fong and Roy Nissany.
Oct 24, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Just like Arrows and Super Aguri before it, Caterham is on its last legs. However, it is going out in far less dignified fashion.
Oct 24, 2014, 7:26 AM EDT
Finnbarr O’Connell is now in charge at Leafield as the team prepares for a race against time to make the United States GP in Austin next weekend.
Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragedy: 10 years later, it still seems like just yesterday
Oct 23, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT
This is a column that should never have been written, about an event that never should have happened.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
Legendary motorsports team owner and innovator — and Kentucky native — Jack Roush will be inducted this Saturday into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. Roush was born in Covington, Ky.
Oct 23, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty joined Dave Briggs to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash and how the team recovered from it.
Talladega mystery: Did missing woman even make it to NASCAR race? Second fan to disappear in 18 months
Oct 23, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
For the second time in 18 months, police in the area of Talladega Superspeedway are investigating the disappearance of a race fan who had intended to go to the Sprint Cup race at the 2.66-mile racetrack.
Enrique Contreras III, nephew of Carlos Contreras, to make first NASCAR truck race start at Martinsville
Oct 23, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Enrique Contreras III, nephew of veteran Mexican racer Carlos Contreras, will make his NASCAR debut in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Race at Martinsville Speedway.
Oct 23, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
GTSport Racing returns with Jack Baldwin and Buz McCall.
Oct 23, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Martinsville preview on tap in Thursday’s NASCAR AMERICA.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Marsh, Cameron on the move to Action Express.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
Fernandes claims he didn’t receive full payment for Caterham, the new owners claim they haven’t received their shares, Bernie Ecclestone says he is trying to remedy the situation – but all the while, workers are locked out of the factory, putting the team’s hopes of making Austin in doubt.
Oct 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Brendan Gaughan back for another year with RCR in XFINITY.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Esteban Gutierrez signed up for COTA fan forum.
Oct 23, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
Wurth renews for multiyear deal.
Video from NASCAR America
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- Talladega mystery: Did missing woman even make it to NASCAR race? Second fan to disappear in 18 months 13
- WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET for Martinsville outlook 0
- Caterham could miss Austin as crisis deepens at Leafield 2
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