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.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
F1 tire supplier confirms eight testing days with teams in 2014, thus avoiding the ‘testgate’ scandal of 2013.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:37 AM EST
Two attempts for Indy qualifying required: one to get in, one to set starting order.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
First target for Hulkenberg is to make it past the first lap at Albert Park, having failed to do so in three attempts.
Mar 7, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
CEO refuses to accept knock-down price for title sponsorship following McLaren’s worst season since 1980.
Mar 7, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
No change in the F1 legend’s condition as he remains in a medically-induced coma.
Mar 6, 2014, 9:45 PM EST
Phoenix winner only driver north of 190mph in Las Vegas test.
Mar 6, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
BHA rookie admits slight surprise in taking the reins of team’s No. 98 entry.
Mar 6, 2014, 6:45 PM EST
Series seeks marketing/promotional growth to match solid on-track product.
Mar 6, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler to continue in AIM-run Ferrari in TUDOR Championship.
Mar 6, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
Regulations change plus a solid preseason leaves Sir Frank bullish on Williams’ 2014 outlook.
Mar 6, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
NASCAR’s open test takes place this afternoon and into the early evening at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Kobalt 400, the third round of the already-flying 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Mar 6, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Actor Jonathan Goldsmith to give “the Most Interesting Command in the World.”
Driver, team owner and now actor: Tony Stewart’s first edition of ‘Smoke is The Bandit’ is released (video)
Mar 6, 2014, 3:03 PM EST
After teasing us a few days ago with a brief video of what was to come, the first episode of Smokey Is The Bandit, featuring NASCAR star Tony Stewart, is out.
Mar 6, 2014, 2:19 PM EST
Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is already having a dream season – and she’s only two races into the 24-race 2014 NHRA schedule.
Mar 6, 2014, 1:38 PM EST
Although this is no laughing matter, one of comedian Larry the Cable Guy’s signature lines — “That ain’t right” – is quite appropriate in this instance. According to MotorAuthority.com, Chrysler officials have recalled 93 Dodge Vipers that were donated to schools and colleges around the U.S. for educational purposes. But the cars aren’t being recalled…
Mar 6, 2014, 12:31 PM EST
NHRA star Antron Brown is watching the career of budding NASCAR star Darrell “Bubba” Wallace quite closely.
Mar 6, 2014, 12:26 PM EST
For the first time in more than 30 years, the name “Bernstein” will not be on the qualifying grid for next week’s NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Mar 6, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
Pop quiz: Who has been the most consistent driver in Sprint Cup over nearly the last dozen races, dating back to the latter part of last season?
Mar 6, 2014, 10:35 AM EST
It’s been a question for the ages: which is faster, the Snake or the Mongoo$e? It’s a question that was arguably one of the most-asked during the late 1960s and 1970s when Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoo$e” (yes, there was a $ instead of an “s”) McEwen engaged in one of the…
Mar 6, 2014, 9:45 AM EST
Rider learns from Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden before sampling HPD simulator.
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