Richard "Dick" Trickle is one of the most successful drivers in American racing history. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Trickle wasn't just a racecar driver-- many also consider him to be the one responsible for taking NASCAR mainstream. Still, his story isn't all roses.
Trickle's life ended in tragedy in 2013 and today he is well remembered for being an ambassador of the sport of racecar driving. His stunning racing career record and quirky personality entertained NASCAR fans and piqued the interest of people who had never experienced racing before. Keep reading an find out how Trickle became a legend.
1,200 Short Track Wins
Before starting with NASCAR, Trickle was a short track racer who frequently won his competitions. He won over 1,200 short track races in all, before even joining the larger circuit. It's from these wins that Trickle earned the nickname of "America's Winningest Driver."
How did he learn to drive so great? He was raised that way! At least, he was raised to have an incredible work ethic. Trickle was working by the time he was 13 years old, and when he started doing short track racing, he got hooked. NASCAR owners took note of his winning percentages, and in 1989, he finally joined NASCAR.
He Was The Oldest Driver To Win Rookie Of The Year
Richard Trickle joined NASCAR in 1989, but he was by no means a young gun. He was, in fact, 48 years old! He won the honor of rookie of the year for that season, which made him the oldest rookie ever bestowed that title. Trickle, never one to miss the chance for a good joke, quipped, "I guess I'd like to thank everyone who gave a young guy like me a chance."
His rookie of the year status was well-earned. It was also a sign for things to come. In 12 years after he won, he raced in 303 Winston Cup Series.
Trickle Never Saw Victory Lane In The Winston Cup
In 303 attempts in the Winston Cup Series races, Trickle never won. He did phenomenally as a racer over his career, ending with 36 top-ten finishes, but he just couldn't get that win and it was something that haunted him for his entire career. Trickle's sense of humor persevered, as he remarked once, "I think we get champagne."
Richard Trickle had better success in the Busch Series (the lower-tier series of racing in NASCAR), where he took part in 158 races over 11 years...and earned two trips to Victory Lane, including 42 top-ten finishes. It wasn't the storybook ending he probably wanted, but it was still an honor to him.
He Nearly Died When He Was Only 8 Years Old
Richard Trickle was just a boy when a near life-ending accident happened. He and a cousin were playing tag in a house that was being built, when suddenly the house collapsed beneath his feet. Trickle fell all the way to the basement, which almost killed him. He escaped death with a broken hip instead.
Even then, doctors weren't optimistic. They were certain that it couldn't heal correctly, and stopped treating Trickle completely. Fortunately for him, and for the racing world, Trickle made a miraculous recovery, after wearing a lower body cast for three straight years.
He Had Cigarette Lighters In His Racecars
Dick Trickle was a cigarette smoker. Notoriously, on the inside of his racing cars, he had a working cigarette lighter installed, allowing him to smoke while he was racing. This wasn't a healthy habit, to say the least, but Trickle wanted it this way, and by golly, he got to do it.
One memorable moment of Trickle involved his cigarettes. Just before a race was about to start, Trickle inhaled one last time through his helmet, through a specially made hole designed to allow him to smoke. The light turned green, Trickle put his foot to the pedal...and flicked his cigarette out the window. Classic Trickle.
Trickle Built His Own Stock Cars In The Beginning
Richard Trickle and his family weren't exactly the richest people on the block. In fact, Trickle had grown up on welfare. He started work at a blacksmith shop, which allowed him to save junked parts as well as learn how to weld. This came in handy, as he started building his own stock cars to race.
Trickle saved enough money to buy a 1950 Ford for $100, and raced it. His competitor won, because his car was too slow, so Trickle did the next best thing: he bought the winner's car, for $32.50, took the engine out of it, and put it in his Ford. Over the years, Trickle learned how his cars ticked by taking them apart and fixing what was wrong with them himself.
Dick Trickle And Cole Trickle...Not The Same.
Dick Trickle has nothing to do with the character from the movie Days of Thunder, which starred Tom Cruise as a racer named Cole Trickle. The character was based on another driver named Tim Richmond, who had a reputation as a partier.
In the movie, Cole Trickle was somewhat of a ladies man; Dick Trickle was not. In fact, the only similarities between Dick and Cole Trickle are their names and that they happen to be racers. Many made the mistake, however, in believing the character was based on the racer. The confusion likely came about because the movie came out the year after the real Trickle won his Rookie of the Year honors.
He Was OK With His Shortened Nickname
Richard Trickle was often joked about on ESPN, during SportsCenter and other sports programming. It was an easy joke to make — the shortened version of his first name, combined with his last name, made people laugh. It'd have been easy for Trickle to complain, but he allowed it, as it helped promote him more.
Trickle knew that he could come in dead last in a race, and the commentators would still talk about "Dick Trickle" in the race. Any exposure he could get, Trickle would gladly take. Having a sense of humor certainly helped the matter a lot, however.
The Beer In His Hand Wasn't Always A Full One
Richard Trickle was one of those guys who always had a beer in his hand. To some, this might look like he had a drinking problem, but it was actually a strategic move on his part.
Trickle didn't actually drink a lot. He'd have a beer handed to him, and sure, he'd drink that beer. But if he was done drinking, he'd hold onto the can in his hand, as if he were still working on it. With the empty beer in his grasp, people knew that Trickle was not in need of another drink. That's a helpful tip for anyone else who may want to try the same thing!
40 Cups Of Coffee A Day?
It wasn't uncommon for Trickle to come up with some pretty tall — and far-fetched — tales. Among them, Trickle would tell anyone who would listen to him that he took an hour of sleep for every 100 miles he drove in a race. He also claimed he could drink 40 cups of coffee per day.
There was no doubt that Trickle was an energized guy — the fact that he loved talking was all the evidence you needed. Other racers recalled that Trickle was a talker, sometimes talking all night long while his peers had nothing to do but sip their beers. "You know how may times I've gotten drunk because of you?" Rusty Wallace once asked him.
Finishing The Race
Trickle had a very positive outlook on his racing career. In the comedic film Talladega Nights starring Will Ferrell, Ricky Bobby says "If you ain't first, you last." Trickle had a variant, and more inspiring, take: "To finish first, you need to finish the race."
He also encouraged other racers to take a positive spin on their position. He would tell them to say "I won fifth place," for example, instead of "I finished fifth place," because the person coming in six would be happy, not upset, with being in their position.
He Kept Things Frugal
NASCAR started getting popular in a big way in the 1990s, right when Trickle was in the thick of it. Richard kept things old school, however, and didn't do the things other racers did. Drivers like Jeff Gordon might buy a plane or a bus with his winnings and endorsements, but Trickle would do something like building a garage. He raced for the love of the sport, not to gain glitz and glamor.
He was open about his philosophy, too: "I don't need none of that stuff," he once said. Winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in 1989, his rookie year, he kept things simple — sticking with a frugal lifestyle he grew up with while living in Wisconsin.
"Your Eyes Are What Bring You Down"
Richard Trickle raced all the way up to 2002, retiring when he was 61 years old. Time has a way of catching up with a driver, and they can't race forever. At that age, it can be dangerous to push it — reaction times change, and with vehicles going 300 feet per second, that can result in a lot of damage, not to mention life-threatening crashes.
But even in retirement, Trickle couldn't stay away from sport. He kept making appearances beyond his "last" race, all the way up to 2007 when he finally called it quits, for real this time.
He Saw NASCAR As A Fresh Start
It's hard to imagine a racecar driver entering NASCAR these days at the age of 48. Heck, it was tough to imagine such a thing in 1989 when Trickle did it! But he didn't look at it as a difficult task. Rather, he embraced it, almost viewed it like a rebirth.
"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," he said in an interview. It's a great outlook on life to have, whether you're a racecar driver or facing other challenges late in life.
How Trickle Got Called Up
Unfortunately, for one person's career to begin, another's usually has to end. It happened like this: Bobby Allison, during the Miller 500 in 1988, got hit by another car. He survived the nasty crash, but Mike Alexander drove his car for the rest of the season.
Mike Alexander, in turn, suffered a concussion during the Snowball Derby during the offseason. He didn't tell anyone about it, and crashed in the Daytona 500. It was time to find a new driver for that car, and thus, Trickle was called up. After that, Trickle remained in NASCAR for 13 more years.
Those Boots Weren't Made For Racing
Richard Trickle loved cowboy boots, and he wanted to race in them, apparently. He did so at least in his first race, but he soon learned that was not a smart idea. The heat generated from the throttle caused his foot to swell, which made things very uncomfortable.
Trickle kept going into the pit during yellow flags. Commentators wondered whether he had transmission issues. In reality, his crew was trying to get his boot off, and it took several tries! He finished that race in 13th. In the next race — sans cowboy boots — he finished in third place.
He Was A Fan Of The Fans
It was a tradition for drivers of NASCAR to do a two-hour meet and greet with their fans after races were finished. Besides racing itself, this was probably Richard Trickle's favorite part about being a NASCAR driver. He loved to talk, especially to regular people, about his races or anything else for that matter. Two hours usually went by, and Trickle would ask if he could keep talking.
These sort of things made Trickle a fan favorite. In actuality, it was probably Trickle who was a fan of the fans. For Dick Trickle, being a driver was a two way street, and the fans could definitely sense that.
Did He Win At Least One Race?
Within every Winston Cup Series race that he was involved in, Richard Trickle never won once. That's what the record books say, at least. There was one race he did win, though it's technically not part of that series, that some fans point to whenever someone brings up the point that he never won.
The Winston Open, a 201-mile race, granted the winning driver to qualify for the big race. In the 1990 running of the Winston Open, Trickle was the victor — by a margin of eight inches. It's not technically a regular-season win for Trickle, but some fans highlight it as proof that he DID indeed win a race of importance within NASCAR.
Richard Trickle's Death
Richard Trickle was 71 years old and suffering through a lot of pain in his life. He told his brother, Chuck Trickle, "I don't know how much longer I can put up with this." In 2013, Richard Trickle died by suicide.
Chuck Trickle explained his brother's actions in greater detail in an interview. "He must have just decided the pain was too high because he never would have done it for any other reason." It was indeed a very sad day for racing fans. The "Winningest Driver" had died, and fans will long remember Trickle for being such a down-to-earth driver.
He Died In A Cemetery
Trickle laid his body down in a cemetery, next to his truck, before he took his life. The cemetery was in Boger City, North Carolina, the site where his granddaughter, who preceded him in death, is also buried.
Trickle made sure that his body could be found by first responders, by calling the Lincoln County Communication Center to let them know what he was doing. He let them know a body would be in the cemetery, and that the body was his. Chuck Trickle maintains Richard ended his life due to the immense pain he had that doctors couldn't treat.
The Statement From The Family
The family of the NASCAR racecar driver released a full statement to the public and the press after Richard Trickle took his own life in 2013. "He had been suffering for some time with severe chronic pain, had seen many doctors, none of which could find the source of his pain," the statement read.
It went on: "His family as well as all those who knew him find his death very hard to accept, and though we will hurt from losing him for some time, he's no longer suffering and we take comfort knowing he's with his very special angel."
Jimmy Fennig Warned Him About The Cowboy Boots
Trickle was warned about those cowboy boots! Jimmy Fennig told him it would be a bad idea to race with them on, and let him know they had a set of Simpson shoes (a type of racing footwear) ready for him to change into, if he figured out that the boots were a bad idea in time.
Halfway through the race, sure enough, Fennig recalled that he got radio contact from Trickle. He got on the line and asked, "where are them shoes?" Trickle wanted to do things his own way, but when they didnt work, he wasn't too proud to admit he was wrong.
Butch Fedewa's Memories Of Trickle
Dick Trickle was a fan favorite, but he was also well-liked by his fellow racers. Butch Fedewa once recalled about Trickle, "You remembered every race" you had against him. Fedewa would be the authority on the matter — the two competed during Trickle's heyday in NASCAR.
Fedewa also remembered Trickle's life outside of the racetrack — specifically, after the races were over. "Back in that time, we all drank a lot after the race, partied, and he was at the head of the pack," Fedewa said. "Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a cigarette -- after the races, you couldn't catch him without either one."
Short Track Wins
The number of wins Trickle had before his entrance into NASCAR is around 1,200. If that sounds like too round of a number to be true, well, that's because it's based on an estimate — Trickle's own estimation, to be precise.
Even though it's a guess on Trickle's part, it's not hard to believe it being true. Trickle won tons of short track races, and his racing style influenced drivers long after he left. He even mentored some of the great drivers in NASCAR, so believing he won thousands of short track races isn't that hard to take at face value.
Buying A "Rolex" In NYC
When Trickle was just entering NASCAR, television cameras from Motor Week Illustrated followed him on the streets of New York. Trickle stopped for a hot dog, and also wanted to buy a "Rolex" from a street vendor. He wanted the fake watch because he knew he wasn't going to spend a lot for it, and also that if it broke he could replace it for a low price — although he wanted a guarantee from the vendor he could get a new one for free if that happened!
Trickle also joked around with the camera crew. When they entered the subway system, he quipped, "You think you've got one [a train] that goes to Wisconsin Rapids?" Always the jokester!
Kyle Petty's Words On Trickle
Kyle Petty was another person who will never forget his friend, Richard Trickle. The former racecar driver, now a NASCAR commentator compared Trickle to his father, legendary driver Richard Petty, as well as other drivers that are household names to fans from around the world.
"He was the Richard Petty, the A.J. Foyt, the Mario Andretti of the Midwest tracks. It's like saying Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty taught people here how to be Cup drivers. He taught people how to be short-track drovers," Kyle Petty said of Trickle. He recognized Trickle as being an established driver, even before his rookie season in NASCAR.
A funeral was held for Richard Trickle four days after he died. The funeral was a small ordeal, perhaps 50 individuals or less, and mostly comprised of close friends, family, and former crew members. Both Rusty and Kenny Wallace were in attendance. Rusty was mentored by Trickle, and would go on to win the Winston Cup. They remained close for years, with Rusty calling him every Monday.
The ceremony wasn't just small, but also short. Kenny Wallace tried to comfort Trickle's son after it was done. "Seventy-one years," he said. "That's pretty good." To many, that outlook sounds like a Trickle-ism, too.
Who Called Him Richard? Just One Person...
Only one person called Trickle by the longer version of his name, Richard. It was his wife, Darlene. The two got married in 1961, and lived in his grandmother's home until they could afford a place of their own. He had great love for his wife, according to those who knew them.
Otherwise, everyone else called him Dick Trickle. He knew it was a funny name, but it didn't bother him much — if it brought people happiness, that's all that really mattered to Trickle. From ESPN anchors to his crew, Dick Trickle was happy to be called Dick Trickle — no matter what the reason may have been.
Trickle In NASCAR Today?
Would Dick Trickle make it in the world of NASCAR today? It's hard to imagine he would. For starters, Trickle liked to do things the "old school" way, and was typically stubborn when it came to doing things differently (recall the cowboy boots incident in his first race). Humpy Wheeler commented about Trickle's ways, and how sponsors wouldn't have put up with him.
"Today, they would have tried to put him through the clothes wash, and he wouldn't have gotten in the clothes wash," Wheeler once said, regarding keeping Trickle looking nice. Knowing how Trickle behaved, Wheeler was probably right.
Dick Trickle And Beer
Dick Trickle loved to drink beer, even if he didn't get drunk a lot. Hanging out with people who DID get drunk was also something he liked to do. Sometimes that led to him poking fun with his fellow drivers — like he did to Rich Bickle.
Bickle had just won the championship in 1996, and after a long night of drinking, Trickle found him, and said to him and his team, "you all are a bunch of drunks." This wasn't a judgment on Trickle's part: quite the contrary. It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, because a lot of the drivers in those days had a lot to drink. The difference was, Trickle could hold his own, while others had a hard time. It might've helped that Trickle was sponsored by a beer company, and frequently joked his sponsor paid him in beer.
Trickle Was A Mentor
One of the main ways people knew that Trickle was an amazing driver (in spite of never winning while with NASCAR) was the fact that people kept asking him for racing advice. The legend of his short track prowess proceeded his entrance into NASCAR, and so he was asked a lot of questions by up-and-coming racers.
Trickle mentored some of the big names, including Rusty and Kenny Wallace, Alan Kulwicki, and Mark Martin. Kelly's relationship, in particular, was deeper than just a simple teacher who showed him racing techniques. When he died, Kelly said, "I want everybody to know what a great man he was. People only know about everybody making fun of his name on ESPN. But he was an incredibly awesome man."
He Once Asked Fans For A Water Pump, In The Middle Of The Race
Trickle wasn't shy about asking for help when he needed it — even if it was from his fans. Before he joined NASCAR, he was in a race where his water pump blew out. Most racers would call it quits by that point, but not Trickle — he got on the P.A. system, and asked the crowd if anyone had a Ford. One fan was happy to help Trickle.
He was able to replace his busted water pump with the fan's donated one, and ended up winning the race. Now that's dedication to a sport — from both Trickle and the fan.
Switching Out His Busted Engine
Asking a fan for a water pump is one thing: but what happens when your engine breaks down in the middle of the race? You can't exactly ask a fan for that. Fortunately, in Trickle's pit was a tow truck. When his car's engine broke down in the middle of a race, he thought outside the box once again, taking the engine out of the truck and putting it into his racecar.
And wouldn't you know it? He won that race, too. Sometimes, thinking in unique ways, like how Trickle always has an answer for fixing a busted part in his car, pays off.
The Purple Knight
Trickle had a car called "The Purple Knight," which had been sitting in a garage since the 1980s. The owner of the vehicle, Kenneth Langreck, went to take it out one day but found out there wasn't a car where he had left it! It turns out, Langreck's brother had stolen the car himself and sold it from under his brother. Ouch!
Where the car is and who purchased it from Langreck's brother is unknown at this time, but Langreck had a few choice words for his kin — mainly on how dumb it was to try and get away with the sale in the first place. "It's just like trying to hide the moon, you know. It's a hard thing to hide, you know," Langreck reportedly said.
Trickle's Nephew Died By Gunshot
Tragedy has hit Richard Trickle's family a few times, before he died by suicide. In February 1997, Trickle's nephew died in a drive-by shooting on his way to play tennis with a friend in Las Vegas. Trickle's nephew didn't die instantly from the shooting — he lived for another 409 days, before dying in March 1998. Chris Trickle was also a stock car driver.
The case was never solved, but appeared twice on America's Most Wanted. Prior to his death, the law in Nevada limited prosecution of murders to one year and one day after the event happened. The state of Nevada changed the law in response to Chris's death.
The Trickle Statue
Dick Trickle was beloved by fans across America. His down-to-earthness and his passion for the sport made him a fan favorite for millions. He was perhaps most beloved, however, in his home state and his home town.
Residents in a small Wisconsin city set up a fundraiser to establish a memorial for him. Racers Tom Reffner and Marv Marzofka also started a memorial fund for him, too, with hopes of putting up a statue. Today, in Rudolph, Wisconsin, you can see a likeness of Trickle, encased in bronze. Several Wisconsin short track races also have Trickle Memorial races, which are 99 laps long, in honor of his old number.
There's a saying, attributed to Humpy Wheeler, that talks about drivers after they leave the sport. "Great drivers don't hang around, they fade away like old soldiers." This was definitely true of Trickle. While he did make appearances once in awhile, and signed autographs for fans whenever he could at races he attended, he didn't prolong his retirement when he quit — he just announced it, then left the sport to others to compete in. Some drivers like to stick around, maybe buying a company to manage or try their hand at announcing, but not Trickle. He was able to spend more time with his family, and he was alright with that.
Not Loved By Everyone, But That Was Alright
Trickle wasn't loved by EVERYONE — it's impossible for anyone to really be loved 100 percent by any fan base — and there were a few people who didn't take kindly to his ways. Sure, the cowboy boots, drinking, and smoking appealed to a number of fans, but not all. He was even booed at an ASA race when his name was announced over the loudspeaker one time.
Asked if the booing ever bothered him, Trickle just brushed it off. "When you get introduced there may be 500 or a thousand people that cheer [...] But when I get introduced, 100 percent of the crowd reacts, one way or the other," he explained.
Amateur race car drivers don't get paid a lot — in fact, a lot barely get paid anything at all. They have to work full-time besides racing, and for Trickle, that was definitely the case. Even one of the greatest in short track history had to work, and Trickle worked hard, having a day job at a service station.
Trickle worked around 60-70 hours per week, and still managed to find time to spend with his family, AND race four nights a week, when he was first starting out. That's a tough balance to manage, but Trickle made it work.
A Humble Wedding And Start To Marriage
Dick Trickle married his wife, Darlene, in 1961. They had a, shall we say, economically feasible honeymoon — the Trickle's paid just $8 for the hotel they stayed in on their wedding night. Both lived frugally at the time, so this wasn't a big deal to either Dick or Darlene.
The following day, Trickle did what he loved to do: he took part in two races. But this time, he could do so with the love of his life, his wife, by his side.