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 22, 2014, 3:45 AM EDT
F1 returns from its summer break with first practice at Spa today, live on Live Extra from 4am ET.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, joined NASCAR America on Thursday to talk about the different feeling that Bristol Motor Speedway has and goes over the strategy his team has for the race.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:33 PM EDT
Mazda Road to Indy titles will be decided in Sonoma this weekend.
Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson pace NNS practices; Milka Duno seeks to become first Latina to qualify for a NASCAR event
Aug 21, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson topped Thursday afternoon’s pair of Nationwide Series practice sessions at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT
After the popularity of the team’s drivers, the next most popular thing around Team Penske is The Penske Files, especially editions that contain bloopers. Check out the latest edition of TPF bloopers!
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 6:30 p.m. ET — Steve Letarte, Tennessee racing history, Truck race highlights
Aug 21, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, which airs LIVE at 6:30 pm ET, will cover a lot of ground, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief (and future NASCAR on NBC analyst) Steve Letarte, breaking down and the history of Bristol Motor Speedway and lots more.
Aug 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Russian Grand Prix set to be held in Sochi in six weeks’ time after the track is given a license.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Catch this sneak preview of Off The Grid: Budapest ahead of tomorrow’s premiere.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
As impressive as many of F1’s new builds are, we must remember the likes of Spa and Monza when looking to the future of the sport.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Ferrari’s lead driver has high hopes for the second half of the season.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
The MST writing team makes its predictions ahead of this weekend’s race at Spa.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Hard as it may seem to believe, Brad Keselowski had never won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in his career. That was before Thursday’s UNOH 200 at Bristol, where Keselowski dominated en route to the checkered flag.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT
Finnish driver yet to be confirmed at Williams for 2015, but sees no reason to look elsewhere for a seat.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
All your TV times for F1, IndyCar, Red Bull Global Rallycross and more for this weekend’s motorsports action across NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
Chilton benched whilst his contractual issues are resolved, allowing Rossi to become the first American since Scott Speed in 2007 to race in a grand prix.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT
The rescheduled UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway is underway Thursday morning.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Three-time Le Mans winner to make his F1 debut with Caterham this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Sauber driver is open to the idea of a 17-year-old racing in F1, and hopes to be on the grid with him next season.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Compared to F1 hopefuls and/or retreads, seeing a relative outsider in Andre Lotterer make his debut this weekend is a welcome change of pace.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
After a three-week summer break, what better way to welcome Formula 1 back than with the Belgian Grand Prix?
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