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 31, 2014, 2:35 AM EDT
Simon Pagenaud reveals a possible, potential hint on his future after a forgettable and largely frustrating Fontana finale.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:59 AM EDT
Tony Kanaan gets on the board to cap off a second half of the 2014 season where he came close to winning several times, and finally broke through.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:21 AM EDT
The three-time Indy 500 champion contends at Fontana, but a pit entry violation going into his final stop ends his bid for a championship.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:54 AM EDT
Will Power has, at long last, become a Verizon IndyCar Series champion. Meanwhile Tony Kanaan takes the win in Auto Club Speedway finale.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:33 PM EDT
The Indy 500 champ is threatening to win another 500-miler in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the chorus of voices welcoming Tony Stewart back to racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 30, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Kevin Harvick made it look more than easy en route to victory in Saturday’s Great Clips 300 to Benefit Feed The Children at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Harvick dominated the event, leading 159 of the event’s 195 laps in his third career NNS win at the high-speed 1.5-mile track.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
It all comes down to this. Get your NBC Sports Live Extra stream links for tonight’s MAVTV 500 – the 2014 season finale for the Verizon IndyCar Series!
Aug 30, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT
Mikhail Aleshin still in hospital but in stable condition after accident Friday night at Auto Club Speedway.
Aug 30, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The open-wheel veteran turns in a final-round lap of 109.889 mph around Canadian Tire Motorsports Park to claim pole for Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250.
Aug 30, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano put the Happy in Happy Hour Saturday evening at Atlanta Motor Speedway, setting the top speeds in the final tuneup for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500.
Aug 30, 2014, 5:56 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Chase Elliott has won three races thus far in his rookie season on the NASCAR Nationwide Series circuit. But the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has never won a pole position in the NNS – until Saturday.
Aug 30, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT
This may be the strangest place we’ve seen Earnhardt’s iconic No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet in a long time.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — Johnny Morris, president of Bass Pro Shops and one of the primary sponsors of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet, released a statement of support for his close friend on Saturday.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Out of all the Chase-bound drivers, “Rowdy” may be the one in most need of a good performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — When you’re hot, you’re hot: Bristol winner Joey Logano and pole sitter Kevin Harvick were the fastest drivers in Saturday’s final Sprint Cup practice in preparation for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Lessons learned from Dale Earnhardt death readily seen in way NASCAR has dealt with Tony Stewart tragedy
Aug 30, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
While the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy occurred outside of its jurisdiction, it wasn’t the first time NASCAR has had to deal with tragedy and subsequent changes to the sport. One need look back no further than the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 for the resulting lessons that NASCAR learned from.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
However, Dillon isn’t neglecting his push for the championship in the Nationwide Series, which competes tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Spanish rider bounces back from a fall in practice to secure pole ahead of Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
German Quiroga and Andrew Ranger lead the way in a pair of practice sessions for the Camping World Truck Series at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Video from NASCAR America
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