Skip to content

Dick Trickle, dead at 71, ‘was Superman’

May 16, 2013, 7:18 PM EST

dick-trickle AP

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.

MORE: Fan-favorite Trickle would smoke cigarettes during caution flags

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.

Latest Posts
  1. NASCAR: Dale Jr. expects even more performance in 2015

    Dec 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EST

    Ford EcoBoost 400 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Junior speaks highly, already, of new crew chief Greg Ives.

  2. Sutil rips F1’s pay driver situation

    Dec 21, 2014, 6:30 PM EST

    AUTO-PRIX-BRA-F1-PRESSER-SUTIL Getty Images

    Ex-Sauber driver Adrian Sutil calls out F1 pay-driver situation, although it could just be a case of sour grapes.

  3. WEC: 2015 sporting regulations for series released by FIA

    Dec 21, 2014, 5:30 PM EST

    AUTO-FRA-ENDURANCE-LE MANS Getty Images

    A number of tweaks are coming for the global sports car racing series.

  4. Late wreck ends hope of top-5 finish for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in dirt track race

    Dec 21, 2014, 4:58 PM EST

    (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Going back to his dirt track roots, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished eighth in the fifth annual Great Clips Battle at the Center in DuQuoin, Ill., on Saturday.

  5. Another week, another driver wedding; this time, it’s Ty Dillon’s turn (PHOTOS)

    Dec 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    Lilly Diabetes 250 Getty Images

    The XFINITY Series driver for Richard Childress Racing marries girlfriend Haley Carey.

  6. UPDATED — Highway to Hell(cat): Owner wrecks 707-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat one hour after buying it

    Dec 21, 2014, 2:54 PM EST

    (Photo courtesy Facebook via MotorAuthority.com) (Photo courtesy Facebook via MotorAuthority.com)

    With just 40 less horsepower than a 2015 Sprint Cup car, the new Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is VERY powerful. One new Hellcat owner, who bought it just one hour earlier, found out the hard way about all that power.

  7. Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 10 – Kurt Busch and “The Double”

    Dec 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EST

    Kurt Busch AP

    The Outlaw takes on the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.

  8. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 22 Brian Vickers

    Dec 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks - Practice Getty Images

    Vickers made his full-time return to Sprint Cup action in 2014, which in itself was a victory.

  9. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 21 Paul Menard

    Dec 21, 2014, 12:26 PM EST

    (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Paul Menard had a decent season at times in 2014, but fell short of making the Chase in the final qualifying race.

  10. Empire Racing grabs 3 fastest spots in Daytona ARCA test

    Dec 20, 2014, 11:42 PM EST

    Sean Corr was the fastest driver in the two-day ARCA test at Daytona International Speedway. (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

    New York State’s Empire Racing took the three fastest spots as ARCA completed a two-day open test at Daytona International Speedway.

  11. John Force like you’ve never seen him: ‘Papa John’ the grandfather (video)

    Dec 20, 2014, 9:11 PM EST

    John force with grandsons 2014

    See NHRA great John Force like you’ve never seen him in this video, shot mainly through the eyes of his grandsons Jacob and Noah.

  12. Dick Berggren to be inducted into Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame

    Dec 20, 2014, 8:16 PM EST

    (Photo courtesy Fox Sports) (Photo courtesy Fox Sports)

    Dr. Dick Berggren will receive yet another prestigious honor in his career. He’ll be inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame in April 2015.

  13. New Hampshire Motor Speedway staff gives great holiday gift: NASCAR-themed carols

    Dec 20, 2014, 7:00 PM EST

    (Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The staff at New Hampshire Motor Speedway got into the holiday spirit, caroling with a unique NASCAR twist in a newly-released video.

  14. NASCAR late model driver helps brighten holiday for needy Wisconsin family

    Dec 20, 2014, 6:29 PM EST

    nascar logo 2014 Getty Images

    Matt Henderson, Henderson Motorsports, and local businesses deliver presents and gifts to family in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

  15. IndyCar that will be ‘dropped’ to usher in New Year in Indianapolis to be unveiled Monday

    Dec 20, 2014, 5:29 PM EST

    verizon indycar series logo 2014

    Times Square’s ‘ball drop’ will have nothing on Indianapolis as it lowers an Indy Car as the final seconds of 2014 tick off.

  16. Dover International Speedway names new track president

    Dec 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EST

    Credit: Dover Motorsports Credit: Dover Motorsports

    Michael Tatoian has been able to help bring additional events to the Monster Mile beyond its two NASCAR weekends.

  17. Top NASCAR Stories of 2014: No. 11 – Carl Edwards leaves Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing

    Dec 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    Carl Edwards (left) and Matt Kenseth, former teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, will be reunited in 2015 at Joe Gibbs Racing. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Carl Edwards was the most sought-after Sprint Cup free agent in 2014. After more than a decade with Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards announced he will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.

  18. WATCH: James Stewart, Travis Pastrana compete at Red Bull Straight Rhythm (NBC, 4 p.m. ET)

    Dec 20, 2014, 3:35 PM EST

    Photo credit: Shawn Smith Photo credit: Shawn Smith

    Red Bull Straight Rhythm is a one-of-a-kind event, featuring an “unwound” supercross track and head-to-head racing. Tune in to NBC to see how it all played out.

  19. Report: Bernie Ecclestone, German bank sue each other over sale of F1 stake

    Dec 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EST

    Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone arrives at the High Court in central London in this file photo Reuters

    BayernLB sues Ecclestone and his family holding for 345 million Euros.

  20. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 20 Austin Dillon

    Dec 20, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    NASCAR Sprint Cup Sylvania 300 At NH Motor Speedway Getty Images

    Dillon made a big first impression and then quietly learned the ropes in Sprint Cup.

Video from NASCAR America

NASCAR America's 2014 blooper reel
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. B. Vickers (2113)
  2. K. Busch (2093)
  3. C. Coughlin (1998)
  4. D. Armstrong (1743)
  5. L. Cassill (1578)
  1. R. Black Jr. (1484)
  2. A. Self (1430)
  3. B. Kennedy (1345)
  4. D. Suarez (1171)
  5. M. Tifft (1122)