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 20, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Six different teams are represented among the eight remaining Chasers, and NASCAR’s post-season is starting to resemble another familiar tournament. NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton discuss.
Oct 20, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT
Newman, one of the “Eliminator 8,” may be penalized tomorrow by NASCAR after his car was found to be too low following Sunday’s race at Talladega. Nate Ryan has more on the situation.
Oct 20, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Notes and numbers to keep in mind as the 8 remaining Chasers prepare to begin the Eliminator Round.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Recapping Talladega on NASCAR AMERICA.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:01 PM EDT
A great post-season for Busch was erased by a mid-race crash on Sunday at Talladega, but crew chief Dave Rogers says there’s no point in blaming the rules of the new Chase.
Oct 20, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Miami Formula E circuit revealed.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Prepare to have this track bouncing in your head all day.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
What to know heading into the next round of NASCAR’s Chase.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
They say they always do things bigger in Texas, and that phrase would perfectly describe legendary former drag racer and NASCAR team owner Raymond Beadle.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
Coby finishes 17th in the season finale at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway, but earns the 2014 series title by 22 points over race winner Ryan Preece.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Turner on the move to PWC from IMSA.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Beadle helped bring the “Blue Max” brand to prominence in drag racing, and guided NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace to his lone Winston Cup title.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
DTM champion will test for Toro Rosso.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Both of Team Penske’s drivers advance to Eliminator round of Chase, which saves the ignominy of one of the winningest drivers this year going home.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
The organization says it will make a full presentation on its findings during the next World Motor Sport Council meeting in December.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Love him or loathe him, Keselowski deserves respect for coming through in the clutch like he did on Sunday.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
After Cassill, Kvapil’s sixth leads a quartet of more surprise drivers in top-20 Sunday at Talladega.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Ricciardo comes to the U.S. early for Supercross.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
A potential nightmare situation for Sprint Cup’s new Chase still exists, in the form of two as-yet winless drivers still battling for a title in 2014.
Oct 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Career day for Landon Cassill ends not only with his first Cup top-five, but first top-10.
Video from NASCAR America
- WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 7 p.m. ET recaps Talladega 0
- Remembering racing legend Raymond Beadle: ‘Once upon a time, I was the best at what I did’ 1
- Weekend wrap: Brad Keselowski rises up to Talladega challenge 0
- The irony of a winless driver winning a title in the new Chase still exists 1
- Roger Penske defends Keselowski, says other drivers “jealous” of his success 3
- What will NASCAR fans do now that their favorite drivers are eliminated from Chase? 9
- Brad Keselowski wins at Talladega on 2nd G-W-C attempt, advances in Chase 10