Dick Trickle (C), with granddaughter Courtney and Charlotte promoter Humpy Wheeler (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Dick Trickle could strike such an iconic pose -- cup of coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other.
In a sport filled with legends, this man was a classic.
How many racers had a cigarette lighter installed in their cars?
He was an ironman, seemingly indefatigable, running short track races around the country, and winning them at a truly prodigious rate in his prime. Then establishing himself on the NASCAR Cup tour
Now one of stock car racing's biggest winners ever, and one of the sport's most famous Midwesterners, is dead, at 71.
Trickle apparently killing himself at a cemetery not far from Charlotte Motor Speedway. He's lived in this area for the past 20 years, west of the track, in Iron Station.
The Wisconsin-to-NASCAR connection is a famous one, with stars like Alan Kulwicki. And Trickle was one of the first, and one of the biggest, when Charlotte promoters Richard Howard and Humpy Wheeler first began inviting him to the spring 600 in the early 1970s.
Trickle finally turned from journeyman to full-timer when the Stavola brothers hired him in 1989, pairing him with crew chief Jimmy Fennig (an eventual Hall of Famer himself, now working with Carl Edwards and Jack Roush). Trickle's reputation was so solid that the Stavolas picked him to take Bobby Allison's ride, after the 1988 Daytona 500 winner's career-ending crash at Pocono. Trickle went on to win rookie of the year on the major league tour, at age 48.
Though Trickle never won a Cup race in his 24 seasons, he was always a player, driving for an assortment of owners, including Bud Moore, Butch Mock, Junie Donlavey, Larry Hedrick, Dave Marcis and Cale Yarborough. His last Cup start was in the spring of 2002.
And the death of Dick Trickle has hit men in this sport hard.
Not just the usual sympathies and all that.
In part because Dick Trickle was a classic NASCAR journeyman, a true stock car racing Everyman.
And one of America's winningest drivers in his prime, with well over 1,000 feature wins.
"Man, Dick was a legend, especially up in Wisconsin short track racing where I grew up," Matt Kenseth was saying Friday morning, as practice began for Saturday night's All-Star race.
"Dick Trickle... to Midwestern short track racing, and to the sport in his era, he was the guy," Brad Keselowski adds. "He was the most significant racer in that era. And his loss, in a way, is a symbol of the end of that era, that genre.
"It's very sad to see."
Trickle died Thursday, just as Charlotte Motor Speedway opened for the All-Star weekend, at 71.
He never won a Cup event, but he was a fixture on the stock car tour for years.
And Dick Trickle was quite a character...
"Really, that era of stock car racing up in that area died with him," Kenseth said. "It's just crazy, surprising news. I don't really know all the circumstances.
"Last time I saw him was at Slinger Speedway (in Wisconsin) last year. 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 awhile; it was right after the news came out that I was moving to Joe Gibbs Racing. He peeked in the trailer, and of course he asked if we had any beer in there. And he came in.
"Man, we sat in there for two hours last July... and that was the last time I saw him.
"We talked for two hours. He always 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.
"He went on for about an hour just about my move and what he thought was great about it, and just a lot of other interesting things that made me feel good.
"Ninety percent of the stuff he told me through all the years I raced with him proved to be right.
"That's the last time I saw him. I'm still in shock. I don't really get it."
Kenseth, at 41, came up in a different generation from Trickle.
"By the time I started racing short track stuff (in the Midwest), Dick was down here running Cup," Kenseth recalled. "He was gone (from the Wisconsin scene) for probably five or six years before I started.
"Being a little kid in the stands I used to watch him a lot. And, man, there was some great races up there.
"I remember the first time we went to Madison (Wis.); there was an ASA (American Speed Association) race, and it was Trickle and Mark Martin and Ted Musgrave and Bobby Dotter... and I mean it was just like you couldn't believe all the people who were in that race, like Alan Kulwicki.
"Dick is a legend, and for a lot things: For the way he raced... for the way he conducted himself after the races... for all his different formulas for how much sleep he needed...
"He just was a racer's racer. That's all he cared about, and all he worked on, and all he did."
And just why should Wisconsin have produced such a disproportionate number of really great racers?
"When I started racing short tracks, there were still a lot of places you could race up there," Kenseth said. "The season is relatively short; from middle of April or beginning of May until October 1st. So the season was short... but you could run five nights a week at weekly shows. The only nights that you couldn't race was Mondays and Tuesdays.
"So there were a lot of tracks, and a lot of race cars.
"And they had a different way of racing. If you had fast time (in qualifying), you always had to start in the back; so you had to learn how to work traffic and pass cars.
"Now certainly there's been a fair amount of time passed since he raced a lot, and things change over the years. But at Slinger, he would always come back up there and just sign autographs and be the grand marshal and wave the flag.
"Anybody that knew Dick -- when you'd talk to him about stuff, I don't know that I ever talked to him about anything except for racing.... so I'm not really sure what he did outside of racing once he retired. You'd ask him something, and he'd give you a three or four word answer, and then he'd go off into a racing story.
"Almost every conversation I ever had with him was about racing. Either current events or going forward, or he'd be telling me what he thought about something, or stories from the past...because he had a whole bunch of them."
Dick Trickle at the wheel, 1989 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)