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DICK TRICKLE & THE SHORT TRACKS

DICK TRICKLE

DICK TRICKLE & THE SHORT TRACKS

DICK TRICKLE

Dick Trickle had a crown on his head. He’d just won the 1983 World Crown 300 in Georgia and the $50,000 that came with it. Dick looked over at the guy who’d just presided over his coronation in victory lane. “I’m not a king,” he said. “I’m a race car driver.”

This was, at the time, the largest prize Dick Trickle had ever raced for. He spent a month preparing the car. If anyone else did any work on it, he went back and did it over. “I never look at the purse,” Trickle told Father Dale Grubba, a Catholic priest and chronicler of Wisconsin racing who’d known him since 1966. “My wife does. I come to race.”

But for the World Crown 300, Trickle broke his rule. He did look at the purse. The race itself had been nearly rained out, and instead of thousands of fans at the Georgia International Speedway in late November, there were only a couple of hundred. It was a problem for Ron Neal, the engine maker who owned the speedway. He promised a huge purse for the short track race, one that now, because of the weather, he might not be able to pay for in cash. It’s OK, Trickle said. I’ll barter with you. So instead of getting the entire purse, Trickle also got new engines, and engine service, for his cars. He did things like that.

THE NUMBER OF WINS THAT TRICKLE IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE IS 1,200

There are tons of stories about Dick Trickle from the short track days. He once told a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter about the time when he blew a water pump in a race, got on the P.A. and asked if anyone in the crowd had a Ford. A guy drove his car down to the pits. Trickle pulled the water pump off, put it on his car, won the race, and gave it back. Another time he blew an engine, pulled one out of a tow truck, dropped it in his car, and won that race also.

Trickle won a lot on the short tracks. Maybe more than any other driver. The number of wins that Trickle is supposed to have is 1,200, legitimized by a Sports Illustrated article in 1989. But unlike NASCAR, which has precise records, Wisconsin’s short track racing record book isn’t a book at all, but a patchwork of newspaper clippings and memories and word of mouth. One man, who has tried to piece together records of every race Trickle entered, says he’s found evidence of 644 wins up thru 1979. He’s not sure of the 80s. Trickle would have needed 556 more victories before heading off to Winston Cup in 1989 to hit 1,200.

Might have happened.

He was good at the little things. He knew how to power through the corners. He always kept his car in control, even in traffic. Pit stops were critically important, because when a race was long enough to require one, one was all you got. At the 200 lap races at Wisconsin International Speedway in Kaukauna, he would pit on around lap 70 or 80 when everybody else thought about heading in around 120. After his stop, he’d drive conservatively, waiting for a yellow flag. When everybody else went in to change tires, Trickle would stay out, take the lead, and a lot of times take the checkered flag. He won at least 34 races at Kaukauna. At least.

In central Wisconsin, the same drivers went to the same circuit of tracks, which all ran races on different nights of the week. Drivers didn’t bump and grind because they couldn’t afford to and you didn’t have a week between races to fix your car. You only had a matter of hours. If Dick Trickle couldn’t get around you cleanly to win, he’d settle for second. It wasn’t worth the risk.

Almost all of the other drivers had day jobs. They had to go home after the races. Trickle could hang out at the track all night. He could hit the bar. He could hang out with fans. “Just because the races were over didn’t mean pulling up the shades and going to bed,” he told Father Grubba for his book “The Golden Age of Wisconsin Auto Racing.” “You are still pumped up. What are you going to do, stop at a corner church?” When Trickle left the track, people would follow him. They knew he’d stop somewhere for a drink.

The things that made Dick Trickle old school later were quite ordinary then. He drank canned beer because that’s what most bars served. He smoked because people smoked. He wore cowboy boots in his stock car because they were thick and durable, and that’s what people wore to race.

He started to get a reputation. One time, at an ASA race, the fans booed him when he was introduced. Doesn’t that bother you?, another driver asked. “When you get introduced there may be 500 or a thousand people that cheer,” Trickle told him. “But when I get introduced, 100 percent of the crowd reacts, one way or the other.”

He was always racing, stock cars, snowmobiles – anything. In the beer garden after a race at the Milwaukee Mile in 1969, Trickle got to talking with another short track racer, Dave Watson, and they decided they needed to race again. The two drivers and three crew members grabbed mats and walked to the top of a nearby giant blue carnival slide. They sat, counted down, and pushed off. Dick Trickle won.

In 1972, he entered 107 races, and won 68. He got his 49th on Aug. 4 in his 1970 Mustang, starting at the back of the field, taking the lead on lap nine, and taking the checkered flag on lap 30. By this time, he was starting to make the No. 99 car legendary. He was called the White Knight, named for the mascot of Super America, his sponsor. He won seven ARTGO short track championships in 11 years, from 1977 to 1987. He was the ASA champion in 1984 and 1985.

THERE WASN’T BIG MONEY IN NASCAR. NOT YET. HE COULD MAKE MORE MONEY ON SHORT TRACKS

There was a point, in 1979, when Humpy Wheeler tried to bring Trickle down to NASCAR full time. Trickle had driven in 11 Winston Cup races up to that point, starting at Daytona in 1970. He ran four Cup races between 1973 and 1974 and won at least eighth place every time. The big question about a short track guy like Trickle was focus. The longer the race, the longer you’re required to maintain that intense concentration. That was never a problem for Dick Trickle. Focus ran in his family. “They could focus so hard,” said his brother Chuck, “and forget there was another world and get things done.”

He made the calculations. There wasn’t big money in NASCAR. Not yet. He could make more money in short track. So he told Wheeler, I can’t afford to come down there. Promoters are paying me to show up at the tracks up here.

He had all the ingredients to be a great Cup driver. He just didn’t need to be one. All he needed to do was win