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DICK TRICKLE UP ALL NIGHT

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DICK TRICKLE

DICK TRICKLE UP ALL NIGHT

THE GOOD TIMES, HARD LIFE, AND SHOCKING DEATH OF DICK TRICKLE

By: Jeremy Markovich / SB Nation

It was 6:30 a.m. on a summer morning in 1996, and Dick Trickle threw the door open and walked into the conference room at the Chose Family Inn in Stoughton, Wisc. He had a somber look on his face. He stood on a cooler and looked around.

“You all are a bunch of drunks,” he said.

DICK TRICKLE
Rich Bickle

The men in the room laughed. They weren’t up early. They were up late. They were Rich Bickle’s race team, which had beaten Trickle the night before at Madison International Speedway and clinched the championship in a series of races called the Miller Nationals. Once the race was over, they drank in the pits. It was always a contest between Bickle and Trickle to see who would leave last.

Once the track kicked them out, Bickle’s team found a bowling alley and drank there. Then they found some bars that were still open. They drank there. When the bars closed, they ended up back at the motel in Stoughton. And that’s where Trickle found them. At 6:30 a.m.

“Give me a beer,” he said.

DICK ALWAYS SEEMED TO HAVE A BREWING COMPANY’S LOGO ON HIS CAR, AND A CAN OF BEER IN HIS HAND.

Dick always seemed to have a brewing company’s logo on his car, and a can of beer in his hand. He joked about a sponsorship deal that gave him $100,000 and 350 cases of beer. But there are 365 days in the year, he said. What am I supposed to drink on the other 15 days?

DICK TRICKLE
Bruce McClain Photo

The fans and friends who drank with him tended to miss something – Dick didn’t actually drink all that much. Once he got down to the end of his PBR, he’d just stand there, holding a nearly empty can for as long as he could. Everybody else kept drinking. Dick kept holding. If someone threw him a beer, he’d take it. But people don’t tend to do that when you’ve already got one in your hand.

His close friends had never seen him drunk, even though his close friends got drunk with him. Kenny Wallace finally figured out his trick. “You know how many times I’ve gotten drunk because of you?” he asked.

DICK TRICKLE
Bruce McClain Photo

Dick would much rather talk. He’d stay up late to talk racing. Cars. Anything. If you’d ask him how on earth his parents named him Dick Trickle, he’d matter-of-factly tell you that his parents named him Richard. If you asked him how often he smoked in the car, through a special hole he’d drilled in his helmet, he’d ask: How many yellow flags have I had in my career? If you’d see him rolling up to the track in the morning and asked him how late he was up the night before, he’d probably say it would depend on the race. The rumor about him, spread by him, was that he needed one hour of sleep for every 100 miles he’d have to drive the next day. He once said he probably drank 40 cups of coffee a day. The man ran on caffeine and conversation.

You could tell when Trickle was going to say something important. “My boy,” he’d start off, and then he’d tell you something simple that made a lot of sense. Don’t say you finished sixth, he’d say. You won sixth place, because guys who finished seventh and eighth would love to have had the race you did. Don’t race the other drivers. Just race the leader. Race the track. Don’t crash. To finish first, he’d say, you must first finish. Guys like Mark Martin made that their mantra.

By that day in 1996, he’d been racing for nearly four decades. He had plenty of fans. But he was still more popular in the Midwest than he ever was outside of it. In 1995, he flew to Minnesota for an American Speed Association race at the State Fair, and his PR guy remarked that he seemed more popular than Richard Petty.

DICK TRICKLE
Bruce McClain Photo

Dick Trickle had always been a big fish in a small pond. Before the 1990s that was about the best you could hope to be, a local hero. But during the 1990s, NASCAR shook off its reputation as a regional, Southern sport and turned into a national phenomenon. Petty retired and Jeff Gordon debuted in the same race in 1992, the Hooters 500. North Wilkesboro Motor Speedway shut down and Las Vegas Motor Speedway opened up in the same year. Neil Bonnett died on the track. Alan Kulwicki died in a plane crash; Davey Allison died in a helicopter crash. Before the ’90s, a lot of races were still shown on tape delay. By 2000, a half dozen channels had broadcast live racing. The money started rolling in, and drivers who used to spend their time riding from track to track on the interstate began to buy their own private buses and airplanes. The King Air 200 became the most popular jet in racing.

DICK TRICKLE

Dick would fly with people, but he didn’t buy a plane. He didn’t even buy a big RV. He built a big garage behind his house in 1991, but that was it. “My boy,” he told Kenny, “I don’t need none of that stuff.” The Wisconsin in him kept him incredibly frugal. Although he didn’t like to talk money, he had a lot of it. In 1989, arguably his most successful year in Winston Cup, he made $343,000. He struggled in 1998, with only one top-10 finish. It was his final full season. He still won $1.2 million.

His biggest problem was his age. By the time he ran his last Cup race in 2002, he was 61. Too long in the tooth, as Humpy Wheeler would say. At that age, your eyes get to you. When you’re down at Daytona or up in Charlotte, you’re running at 300 feet a second. Sooner or later, your age is going to creep up on you. “Your eyes are what bring you down,” Wheeler said.

DICK TRICKLE

Bruce McClain Photo

DICK TRICKLE

Bruce McClain Photo

Bruce McClain Photo

Great race drivers don’t hang around, Wheeler says, they fade away like old soldiers. When Trickle stopped racing in Winston Cup, he didn’t come out and announce his retirement. There was nothing official. He was just done. That was it. He didn’t become a team owner like Junior Johnson. He’d get invited back up to Wisconsin every once in a while to grand marshal a race, or he’d show up to sign autographs, but mostly he’d hang out in Iron Station with Darlene and his family. He went on a cruise for the first time in his life. He played with the grandkids, cut down trees on his property, picked up garbage along the road. He didn’t need NASCAR. He never did. “Who knows,” he told now-defunct bgnracing.com after his final Cup race, “maybe I’ll be revived and get the support of the right sponsor and team and be out there every weekend. But if I don’t, life isn’t bad.”

Trickle didn’t need to win anymore. He didn’t need the money. “I had a new challenge when I went to Cup,” he told nascar.com in 2007. “I had a refreshing life, from 48 to 60. I was excited. I was pumped up. I enjoyed it. I got a second lease on life.”

Dick Trickle

Bruce McClain Photo

Dick Trickle

Bruce McClain Photo

Dick Trickle

Steve Heiman Photo

Back on that morning in 1996, at that little two-story motel in Stoughton, Wisc., the party was still going for Dick Trickle. Around 8 a.m., when it was time for either breakfast or bed, the long night started making memories foggy and Bickle’s crew began to split up into two groups, those who fell asleep and those who passed out. One by one, they started heading off to bed.

Dick Trickle was one of the last to leave. He took a can of beer back to his room.

By: Jeremy Markovich / SB Nation | July 30, 2013

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