Friends and competitors continue to mourn the passing of Dick Trickle, after the Wisconsin native died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a North Carolina cemetery on May 16 at age 71.
Monday, May 27, 2013
Friends Continue To Struggle With Trickle’s Passing
The former NASCAR Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year took his own life at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Highway 150 in Boger City, NC, moments after placing a 911 call to the Lincoln County Communications Center to report “there will be a dead body and it will be mine.” Communications Center workers tried to place a return call, but did not get an answer. EMTs arrived on the scene to find Trickle’s body lying next to his pickup truck.
“I’m still in shock,” said NASCAR Nationwide Series veteran and longtime friend Kenny Wallace. “Dick taught me a lot about racing and even more about life. I’m a pretty outgoing guy – a little loud sometimes – and that rubs some people the wrong way. I have a loud laugh, and my brother Rusty used to give me grief saying, `Kenny, quiet down. Why do you have to laugh like that?’”
Dick always stuck up for me, saying, “Rusty, leave him alone. Kenny’s just being Kenny.”
He always told me, “Be yourself and never apologize for who you are.”
Mark Martin also spoke of his friend and rival, after battling Trickle as a youngster on the ASA and ARTGO circuits, before moving south to a NASCAR career that now includes 40 Sprint Cup Series wins.
“Dick made himself a mentor to many,” said Martin. “Rusty, myself, Alan Kulwicki -- we wouldn’t have been the racers we were when we got (to NASCAR) had we not come under his influence.”
Despite more than 1,000 career wins, Trickle didn’t always lead by example. He was a chain smoker for most of his life, and built cigarette lighters into the dashboard of his race cars in order to grab a quick smoke under caution. He was rarely seen without a beverage of some kind – hot coffee until the races were finished, then a lengthy series of cold beers afterward – and he was famous for espousing one hour of sleep for each 100 laps of racing the following day.
But Wallace, Martin and others learned plenty from the Wisconsin veteran, both on and off the race track.
“I was proud of the influence that he had on us,”said Martin. “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.
“He was the first to tell me that, `in order to finish first, first you must finish.’ It’s kind of corny, but it isn't when you're 18 or 19 years old. That always stuck with me.”
While they rarely crossed paths in recent years, Martin called Trickle “part of the influence that helped mold the people and racers that we were.”
Wallace, meanwhile, recalled the Wisconsin native visiting him in his North Carolina shop just a week prior to his death, giving no indication of the tragedy to come.
“He was his usual self,” said Wallace, “laughing, cracking jokes and telling me what I should be doing with my dirt cars. I knew he’d been in pain, and the doctors couldn’t seem to figure out why. But I never thought it would come to this.”
Trickle’s younger brother told ESPN.com last week that it was the pain that drove Trickle to suicide. The day before his death, Trickle had undergone the latest in a lengthy series of tests at Duke University Medical Center, hoping to determine the cause of the severe chest pain he had battled for months.
"He told me, 'I don't know how much longer I can put up with this,'" said Chuck Trickle. “They were going to put something in him to help with the pain. It was a five-step process (but) I don't know how far along he was. He must have just decided the pain was too high, because he would have never done it for any other reason."
Trickle ran his final NASCAR race in 2002 and returned to his short-track roots for a time, before cardiac issues and hip replacement surgery forced him from the cockpit for good. He mourned the loss of his granddaughter, Nicole Ann Bowman, in a highway crash in 2001, burying her in the same cemetery where he would ultimately take his own life.
"I'm confused and broken-hearted about what happened," said Martin, recalling the times hebattled Trickle night after night on tracks around the Midwest. One evening – Martin believes it to be 1977-- the promoter of Golden Sands Speedway in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., offered a $100 bonus to anyone who could break the existing track record. The 18-year old Arkansas hot shot smashed the mark en route to the provisional pole, and as qualifying wound down, began planning ways to spend the extra cash.
Suddenly, an open trailer rolled into the pit area, with a racecar idling on the back. A crewman leapt from the trailer and dropped the ramps, allowing Trickle to drive the car directly onto the race track, without benefit of a single practice lap.
Trickle knocked Martin off the pole with a new track record of his own that night, then schooled the youngster again with a bit of vintage short-track advice.
"He got on to me for breaking the record by too much,” laughed Martin. “He said we were only supposed to break it a little at a time, so we could collect the $100 every week!
“Dick lived on his terms, and he died on his terms” said former championship-winning crew chief Ray Evernham. “That's the only sense I can make of what happened."
“I wish I had known he was in pain,” echoed Wallace. “Maybe I could have talked to him and reminded him how much he meant to all of us. Maybe it would have helped. Maybe it would have made a difference.
“I just never knew. I guess none of us did.”