Dick Trickle, dead at 71, ‘was Superman’

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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.

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”

Former NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton joins Andretti Autosport

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Andretti Autosport has hired former NASCAR executive Robin Pemberton to run its new Pirelli GT4 America Series program.

Pemberton spent more than a decade as the vice president before leaving the organization a little more than three years ago. He also worked as an executive for Ford and as a crew chief for several Cup drivers, including Richard Petty, Kyle Petty, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin.

Jarett Andretti, son of racing veteran John Andretti, will be driving for the GT team.

Here’s the release from the team:

Robin Pemberton has joined Andretti Autosport to oversee the team’s newest racing initiative in the Pirelli GT4 America Series. With over 10 years served as NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition, and four decades of racing involvement, Pemberton brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the pedigree team.

“The new Andretti Autosport GT4 program is an incredible opportunity for the team and McLaren to come together,” said Pemberton. “I’m excited to be involved and we are all working together to get the program off the ground. After spending time with Jarett at sprint car races last season, I’m impressed by his determination. He is a good talent with a bright future. I look forward to working with him and the entire Andretti Autosport team in this new challenge.” 

“We’re really pleased to welcome Robin to the Andretti family to oversee our new GT4 effort,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “A lot of effort goes into building a new program from ground up, and we think Robin’s experience and expertise will be a great asset as we get up to speed. We’re looking forward to a successful first year in the Pirelli GT4 America Series.” 

Pemberton’s motorsport career started in 1979 with Petty Enterprises, where he worked his way to the role of crew chief for both Richard and Kyle Petty. The New York state-native went on to crew chief with teams such as Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing. His record as a crew chief shows 28 victories and 39 pole positions. Before moving to NASCAR in 2004, Pemberton spent nearly two years as Field Manager for Ford Motorsport’s NASCAR programs, leading development of the Ford Taurus program.

With pre-season testing in full swing, Andretti Autosport will make its GT4 America Series debut March 1-3 at Circuit of the Americas with Jarett Andretti behind the wheel of the new McLaren 570S GT4.