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.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
No one was injured Sunday night when a Joe Gibbs Racing plane clipped a parked Stewart-Haas Racing plane while returning home from the Brickyard 400.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Joey Logano finishes fifth, while Brad Keselowski (12th) and IndyCar’s Juan Pablo Montoya (23rd) falter after starting toward the front of the grid.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
The winners of the last six IndyCar races haven’t had much in the way of results in subsequent races.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
The five-time Brickyard winner discusses his big win and other topics, including whether he’d allow his young daughter to become a NASCAR driver.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Two drivers from the 1995 Indianapolis 500 finish 1-2 in the 2014 Brickyard Grand Prix, while the race features a star turn from somebody born in 1995…
Jul 28, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Both Adrian Sutil, Esteban Gutierrez run top-10 in Hungary, and both fail to get Sauber on the scoreboard.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT
Courtney Force beats father John in final for record-setting NHRA Funny Car win in Sonoma.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Despite the facial expressions of those second and third to Daniel Ricciardo on Sunday, each of the top three would have deserved the Hungarian GP win.
Jul 28, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
IndyCars have push-to-pass, but not on ovals. It’s all good, Clint.
Jul 28, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
German driver retires for the first time in 2014 after hitting Sergio Perez during the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Jul 28, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
The mindset of Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team will be key down the stretch, knowing they’re heading their separate ways at the end of the year.
Jul 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Finn underlines his belief in the team to turn things around in 2014.
Jul 27, 2014, 7:52 PM EDT
A world of differences make it impossible to weigh Jeff Gordon’s accomplishments at Indy against those of A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr., and Michael Schumacher.
Jul 27, 2014, 6:52 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Gordon gave himself an early 43rd birthday present with Sunday’s Brickyard 400 win. Kyle Larson also gave himself an early birthday present – his 22nd will be Thursday – with a solid seventh-place finish in his first Brickyard.
Jul 27, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t quite the 1-2-3 finish they might have hoped for, but it was almost just as good for Joe Gibbs Racing’s three drivers in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch finished second to winner Jeff Gordon, followed by Denny Hamlin in third and Matt Kenseth was fourth.
Jul 27, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT
Rowdy continues his strong performance as of late with another P2 at Indianapolis.
Jul 27, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Kasey Kahne led a race-high 70 laps, but lost the Brickyard 400 lead to Jeff Gordon on a restart with 16 laps to go and faded to sixth.
Jul 27, 2014, 4:17 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – It was an oldie but goodie performance as Jeff Gordon – seven days short of his 43rd birthday – rallied late to win Sunday’s 21st Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jul 27, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
One final round-up from the Hungaroring following Daniel Ricciardo’s supreme victory.