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 18, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Spanish driver puts in an impressive display during practice, but warns that rain could scupper Ferrari’s chances of reaching the podium.
Apr 18, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Yasuhia Arai reveals some more information about Honda’s decision to return to F1 and the Japanese marque’s plans for the future.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:45 AM EDT
Hamilton keen on the team correcting handling issues before qualifying tomorrow.
Apr 18, 2014, 3:32 AM EDT
Mercedes returns to the top of the timesheets, but Ferrari and Alonso are in close company.
Apr 18, 2014, 1:45 AM EDT
Can Mercedes fight back and resume normal service?
Apr 17, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT
Spanish driver ends Mercedes streak of first place finishes, but teammate Kimi Raikkonen fails to post a time.
Apr 17, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT
You’ve heard of the wildly popular “Evolution of Dance” video on YouTube? Now there’s the Evolution of the Pit Stop.
Apr 17, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
NBCSN’s Rick Allen and Kyle Petty discuss the expectations for Gene Haas as he looks to start a F1 team. The pair question whether an F1 team can be run successfully out of the United States.
Apr 17, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
NBCSN’s Rick Allen and Kyle Petty discuss the emergence of some of this year’s top rookies on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America. Petty says it is time for a changing of the guard, as many of today’s most successful drivers are nearing the end of their careers.
Apr 17, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
The latest generation of NASCAR’s fabled Alabama Gang rode again in its debut Tuesday and Wednesday at Talladega Superspeedway. Justin Allison, grandson of Donnie Allison and grandnephew of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, both original members of the Alabama Gang, took part in a two-day test of ARCA drivers at NASCAR’s largest oval track.
Apr 17, 2014, 5:32 PM EDT
Whether you like it or not, you can’t say the Ford Mustang doesn’t have staying power. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, the Mustang has become one of the premier muscle car brands ever made by Detroit.
Apr 17, 2014, 5:08 PM EDT
One of the best venues for short track racing in the country, South Boston (Va.) Speedway, will be the new home for and play host to Denny Hamlin’s annual Short Track Showdown next Thursday (April 24).
Apr 17, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
NASCAR chairman Brian France’s unwavering stance to bring parity to the sport during his 10-year tenure is finally paying dividends.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
News and notes from the ground in China from NBCSN’s Will Buxton.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Just eight races into the Sprint Cup season, the future of the two-car Swan Racing team is looking rather murky, with the potential of everything from reorganization to scaling back involvement, if not outright shutting down.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
F1 heads to China with change in the wind, only making the predictions harder for our experts.
Apr 17, 2014, 2:06 PM EDT
Thursday on NASCAR AMERICA, the team will cover a lot of ground, including talking with NASCAR team owner Gene Haas about his foray into Formula One. Rick Allen and Kyle Petty man the anchor desk from our Charlotte studio. Remember to tune in at at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for your online or mobile device.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:24 PM EDT
The Who founder and lead singer paid a visit to Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, and soaked it all in while also raising awareness for Teen Cancer America.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
The Internet is like coming to a strange five-way intersection that you’ve never seen before. No matter which way you decide to go, you’re bound to find something new and different. So as we were looking for something else, we stumbled upon this video of 7-year-old go-kart racer Ryan Rifredi in a race from December…
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