May 16, 2013, 7:18 PM EST
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.
Nov 24, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
However, simply getting to the race must go down as an achievement for the backmarkers.
Nov 24, 2014, 8:13 AM EST
Mattiacci out, Arrivabene in as Ferrari team principal.
Nov 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Gutierrez finishes as the lead Sauber in a lowly 15th place on Sunday.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:10 PM EST
The world of motorsports — particularly NASCAR and NHRA — is mourning arguably the best public relations person it has ever seen, Denny Darnell, who passed away Saturday.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
The Charlotte and Texas brawls from this year’s Chase are still resonating weeks after they occurred.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:17 PM EST
Marcos Ambrose is wasting little time in his return to racing V8 Supercars in his native Australia.
Nov 23, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
A wild concept collaboration for Gran Turismo 6 between the Bowtie and famous race car builder Chaparral.
Petty’s 1988 Daytona wreck sold as prelude to upcoming auction of NASCAR Hall of Famer Cotton Owens estate
Nov 23, 2014, 3:53 PM EST
The remains of Richard Petty’s crashed 1988 Pontiac Grand Prix from the 1988 Daytona 500 sold Saturday, a prelude of an even larger auction of late NASCAR Hall of Famer Cotton Owens’ estate on Dec. 6.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
This weekend is the first without a NASCAR race since mid-July.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
For the last time in 2014, we round up all of the action in the paddock as Lewis Hamilton became Formula 1 world champion for the second time.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
It’s not enough to beat McLaren in the constructors’, but a great result nevertheless for Hulkenberg and Perez in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
Lotus laughs rather than cries after a fitting end to its challenging 2014 season.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
Quite a drive from Daniel Ricciardo, primarily aided by start on primes.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:15 PM EST
After winning four world titles with Red Bull, Vettel is bound for Ferrari in 2015.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
On a great day for British motorsport, Prince Harry and British Prime Minister David Cameron send their congratulations to Hamilton.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
Alonso is set to join McLaren in 2015 after five years with Ferrari.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:15 AM EST
An engine failure cost Rosberg the chance to emulate his father and become F1 world champion.
Nov 23, 2014, 10:56 AM EST
Second and third for Massa and Bottas caps an incredible 2014 season for Williams.
Nov 23, 2014, 10:13 AM EST
British driver wins his second F1 championship in Abu Dhabi as title rival Nico Rosberg fails to finish in the points.
- Maurizio Arrivabene replaces Marco Mattiacci as Ferrari team principal 1
- Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday 0
- Hamilton calls second title victory “the greatest day of my life” 3
- Hamilton clinches second F1 world title by winning Abu Dhabi GP 9
- The Final Showdown: Hamilton and Rosberg prepare for one final battle in Abu Dhabi 0
- Vettel and Ricciardo to start Abu Dhabi GP from pit lane 0
- Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday 0