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Dick Trickle Was No Joke To Wisconsin Fans, Drivers

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 17 2013

Dick Trickle died in North Carolina but was a hero in Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

There wasn’t much drama back in the 1960s and ‘70s in Wisconsin when you searched the sports pages for short-track results. What you were usually just doing was looking to see who finished second to Dick Trickle.

The guy from Wisconsin Rapids was that automatic.

Been thinking about that the last couple weeks. Ever since it was announced that Larry Phillips had been put on the 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot. Thought about it because I am giving strong consideration to voting for Phillips next week. Thought about it because while I do believe that Phillips belongs in the shrine in Charlotte, so too does Trickle.

The thought simply is: How can one be in and one not be in?

Now, thinking about that even more in the wake of word Thursday that Trickle had killed himself somewhere I had never heard of in North Carolina, I guess it was. Thinking about how good this rugged old Racer was.

I intend to speak up for Phillips, a legend among racers in the lower Midwest portion of America, in the voting chambers at the Hall next week.

I will speak up for Trickle now. Yes as a potential future Hall candidate, but more as the face of stock-car racing in the upper portion of the Midwest.

Auto racing in Wisconsin has always been kind of a freaky mutant. Even during recent Sprint Cup season in which drivers native to that state outnumbered drivers from places like Georgia and North Carolina by a bunch, it’s never really been considered a hot bed of racing.

Snowmobiles, for sure. Cars? Um, no.

But a racing hot bed it has long been and in the case of stock cars it was because of the cold.

The racing season has always been short in Wisconsin because of cold and snow. Even shorter pre-climate change.

Because of that, short tracks in the upper reaches of the state – reaches that are closer to Canada than Milwaukee both geographically and culturally – offered racing not just on weekends, but on week nights as well.

About 10 years ago, I asked Wisconsin drivers Matt Kenseth, Johnny Sauter, Ted Musgrave and Dave Marcis why their state was so over-represented in the Cup, Nationwide and Camping World garages.

All talked about how the rigors of racing four and five times a week was the main reason.

And as the talk progressed, things turned almost inevitably to Dick Trickle. All had a Trickle story.

To give an idea about the respect level for Trickle among Wisconsin drivers, big, huge NASCAR stars were as eager to tell stories about the times they lost to Trickle as they were about bragging about the rare occasions of beating him.

There were scores of short tracks liberally sprinkled about the Dairy State. In places like Tomah, Wausau, Wisconsin Dells, Franklin, Wilmot. The local papers would carry short stories and “agate” of results almost every day of the week.

You never had to go deep into the story or agate to find out where Trickle was in the ‘60s and ‘70s: Winners were always up top.

As with Phillips, the numbers which are thrown into stories about Trickle are impossible to verify. A thousand wins? Two thousand? Three?

For religious readers of sports sections back in the day, it seemed like tens of thousands. Some have put the number of laps led during his career at a million and more.

Because of his name, Trickle was known by casual, non-Midwestern race fans as a punchline. Those who tried to beat Trickle on short tracks were the butts of jokes back in those days.

It’s tough to say just how good he was vis a vis the big Cup stars of the day as Trickle didn’t move up to the big series full-time until he was almost 50 years old and had become a grandfather.

I do know what he meant to an entire state and I think I know how challenging he made the jobs of newspaper headline writers who were always searching for fresh ways to tell the same old story.

Then came Thursday and a short report from a sheriff’s department down south where they only race on weekends. He’d apparently killed himself.

See ya, Dick. Sorry the story ends this way instead of at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in a couple years, but I guess you had your reasons.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 17 2013
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