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Garages React With Shock, Sadness To Trickle

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 18 2013

Mark Martin says he's confused by the death of his friend and mentor. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CONCORD, N.C. – A cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in another. Those were legendary driver Dick Trickle’s staples, but it was his sense of humor and willingness to help others that will always endear him to those who knew him.

Perhaps that’s the reason it came as such a shock Thursday when it was learned the 71-year-old Trickle had died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. His body was found near his pickup truck at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Boger City, N.C., after authorities received a telephone call telling them where “there would be a dead body and it would be his.” It was the same cemetery where his granddaughter was buried in 2001 after dying from injuries suffered in a car accident.

“I’m confused and broken-hearted about what happened,” said Mark Martin, who competed against Trickle in the American Speed Association and then later in NASCAR. “Dick made himself a mentor to many – Rusty (Wallace), myself, Alan Kulwicki – you know we wouldn’t have been the racers that we were when we got here had we not come under his influence. I was proud of who we were and the racers we were. For the influence that he had on us and the etiquette and the way he raced. He raced us real hard on the race track, but off the race track, he was very free with parts or advice; he gave freely.”

Trickle moved to the Southeast and NASCAR from his Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., home at an age when most drivers are being questioned about retirement. In fact, in 1989 at age 48 he earned the distinction of being the oldest Rookie of the Year in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. At the time he had more than 1,200 short-track victories, two ASA titles and seven ARTGO championships.

The congenial Trickle once joked he was considered the leader of the “Wisconsin Gang” because “I’ve been in it the longest.” He also said the reason he became so good was because “everybody worked so hard to beat me that when they’d get to that point, I’d have to work harder to beat them. It was just a seesaw.”

When Trickle was named to the Stavola Brothers ride where he claimed rookie honors, he once remarked “he was a relief driver driving relief for a relief driver.” That’s because Mike Alexander was named to the ride after Bobby Allison was critically injured in a June 1988 crash at Pocono. Alexander then suffered a head injury in December 1988 while competing in the Snowball Derby at Pensacola, Fla. Trickle was picked to replace Alexander following the 1989 Daytona 500. Trickle and his family moved to Iron Station in Lincoln County, N.C., in the 1990s and were living there at the time of Trickle’s death.

Trickle never won a Cup race in 303 starts, but he collected two victories in the Nationwide Series – one in 1997 and the other in ’98. He also posted 24 top-5s and 42-top 10s along with seven poles in that series. In the Cup series, Trickle recorded 15 top-5s and 36 top-10s and one pole. His only pole came in 1990 at Dover when he was driving for NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough. In 1990, Trickle won the Winston Open, the preliminary to the All-Star race. He also won an ARCA event in 1991 and worked as one of the test drivers for the now-defunct IROC Series.

“Dick was a legend, especially up in Wisconsin short-track racing where I grew up,” Matt Kenseth said. “I think … that era of stock car racing up in that area really died with him. Last time I saw him was at Slinger (Speedway) last year. We won the Nationals and he always went up there for years and years. He actually created the Slinger Nationals with Wayne Erickson, the guy that owned the track. I talked to him for a while. It was right after the news came out that I was moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and he kind of peeked in the trailer afterwards and, of course, he asked if we had any beer in there … we sat in there for two hours last July and that was the last time I saw him.”

Kenseth, who said he was “still in shock”, noted Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that Trickle had a “unique way of looking at things.”

“He had a ton of common sense and he was really smart and always had a really funny way of putting things,” the 2003 NASCAR Cup champion said. “Ninety percent of the stuff he told me at least through all the years I raced with him and stuff always proved to be right.”

Rusty Wallace, who won his only Cup championship the same year Trickle was the series top rookie, described Trickle as his “mentor.”

“When I was short track racing, I would call him every Monday morning and he would always help me with race setups and stuff,” Wallace said in a statement he released Thursday. “He and I had such a good time telling little stories, but he was the guy that taught me almost everything in the American Speed Association. And he was the guy that I battled right to the end for my 1983 ASA championship. I barely beat the guy that taught me everything.”

Numerous drivers learned from Trickle while at the same time enjoying him, just as did the fans and the media.

“I’m sure he’d like to be remembered the way all of us that knew him remember him – and that is he was a hell of a hard guy to beat.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 18 2013
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