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.
Aug 27, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Oriol Servia will race in what was Justin Wilson’s car this weekend at Sonoma.
Aug 27, 2015, 4:21 PM EDT
IndyCars cross the Golden Gate Bridge in a motorcade, for pre-title buildup and to pay tribute to Justin Wilson.
Aug 27, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Aleshin returns to IndyCar this weekend after a year away.
Aug 27, 2015, 3:14 PM EDT
All cars to carry special tribute logos, decals for Justin Wilson this weekend, with Wilson’s old team also paying tribute.
Aug 27, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Rahal out to claim his third win of the season at Sonoma, believing it will be the only way to beat Juan Pablo Montoya to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series title.
Aug 27, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Max Chilton has two years of F1 experience under his belt, but believes Ferrari will have a big say in who Haas hires for 2016.
Aug 27, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Vettel defends Ferrari’s decision to try a one-stop strategy at Spa after suffering a tire failure on the penultimate lap of the race.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Fast facts heading into this weekend’s season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, courtesy of IndyCar PR staff.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Victory at Spa gives Rossi momentum heading into the final four rounds of the 2015 season, and potentially in the race for a seat with Haas F1 Team next season.
Aug 27, 2015, 8:36 AM EDT
Off the back of winning Le Mans, Porsche confirms it will stay in the FIA World Endurance Championship for at least another three years.
Aug 26, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Just in time for the biggest race in drag racing, next weekend’s (Sept. 2-7) NHRA U.S. Nationals, Erica Enders is back where she wants to be: leading the NHRA Pro Stock point standings.
Aug 26, 2015, 6:06 PM EDT
Double the amount of base points, in addition to bonus points, could have a major impact on who emerges as the 2015 IndyCar Series champion Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
Aug 26, 2015, 3:52 PM EDT
This past Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway proved to be a very costly proposition for numerous teams.
Aug 26, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
INDYCAR announced on Wednesday several infractions and manufacturer championship points updates following this past Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
IndyCar flashback: Justin Wilson finishes second, Will Power/Scott Dixon controversy at Sonoma 2013 (video)
Aug 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
There will likely be heavy hearts, tears and a great deal of emotion at this weekend’s season-ending Go-Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma, as the mourning for driver Justin Wilson continues.
Six remaining IndyCar championship contenders to be busy in the days leading up to big race at Sonoma
Aug 26, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
The six remaining Verizon IndyCar Series contenders will be pretty busy over the next few days prior to Sunday’s championship-deciding Go-Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Aug 25, 2015, 5:57 PM EDT
Allmendinger, Castroneves, Diffey and more reflect on the life lived by Justin Wilson.
Aug 25, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Tribute to Justin Wilson set to air on Tuesday night’s NASCAR AMERICA on NBCSN.
Aug 25, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
Justin Wilson saves six lives with organ donation, his brother confirms.
Aug 25, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT
Prost leads while Andretti FE makes powertrain switch to cap off Formula E testing at Donington Park.
- Andretti to field No. 25 car at Sonoma; Oriol Servia to drive Wilson tribute car 2
- IndyCars cross the Golden Gate Bridge; pay tribute to Justin Wilson (PHOTOS, VIDEO) 2
- Fast Facts: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma 1
- NHRA: Pro Stock driver Erica Enders hitting on all cylinders heading into U.S. Nationals 3
- IndyCar flashback: Justin Wilson finishes second, Will Power/Scott Dixon controversy at Sonoma 2013 (video) 3
- Report: FIA to conduct closed cockpit tests next month 13
- DiZinno: Justin Wilson’s enduring legacy, positive spirit loom as large as his frame 2