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.
Apr 1, 2015, 1:47 PM EDT
Helio Castroneves pulls an April Fool’s prank.
Apr 1, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
A challenging weekend for Scott Dixon occurs from qualifying through the race in St. Petersburg.
Apr 1, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
Pierre Gasly to test STR10 after Spanish Grand Prix weekend in May.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
While St. Petersburg had its positives as a weekend, Tony DiZinno reflects on two disconcerting themes that emerged from the race itself.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:54 AM EDT
ABC Supply steps up again, now as Pocono race title sponsor.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:03 AM EDT
Alexander Rossi looks ahead to the upcoming GP2 season.
Mar 31, 2015, 6:04 PM EDT
Off the Grid Mexico kicks off with episode one of a six-part digital series.
Mar 31, 2015, 4:17 PM EDT
Jann Mardenborough and two spectators were released after this weekend’s VLN crash at the Nurburgring.
Mar 31, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Subaru’s Red Bull GRC challenger revealed.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:52 PM EDT
ESM recaps its test from the Prologue at Paul Ricard.
Mar 31, 2015, 12:47 PM EDT
IMS statement comes out after Indiana’s recent religious freedom legislation.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
Catching up on the rest of the action from St. Petersburg, with a run through the moments of contact that triggered avoidable contact penalties.
Mar 31, 2015, 10:11 AM EDT
Rolling Stones to play at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Mar 31, 2015, 9:33 AM EDT
Loose debris hit by a car, then goes over wall and hits a fan outside Turn 10 at St. Petersburg.
Mar 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Hawksworth, Filippi impress on opening outings with their new teams in St. Petersburg.
Mar 30, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
IndyCar’s “old guard” reigned in St. Petersburg, as the new manufacturer aero kits debuted.
Mar 30, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Victory number 70 of the Italian’s remarkable Moto GP career.
Mar 30, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT
However, Williams test driver Susie Wolff believes that women should be reaching F1 in a more organic way.
Mar 30, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
KVSH’s Bourdais gets result after a consistent drive; KV’s Coletti stars but fades after late race splash-and-dash for fuel.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Pro Mazda, USF2000, Pirelli World Challenge, SST roundup from St. Petersburg.
- DiZinno: St. Pete provides solid 2015 season kickoff, but issues some warning signs 0
- Off The Grid Mexico Kicks Off on NBCSports.com (VIDEO) 0
- Spectator injured but in stable condition after being hit by debris at St. Pete race 4
- Experience trumps youth on IndyCar’s opening weekend with aero kits 3
- NHRA: Jack Beckman (54 races), Larry Morgan (120 races) snap lengthy winless streaks in 4-Wide Nationals 2
- Montoya’s evolution evident after statement victory in St. Pete 2
- Montoya ekes out win in St. Petersburg season opener 6