Notes on the Life and Death of Dick Trickle

You could’ve knocked me over with nothing when I first read this:

Also, here’s the Wikipedia piece concerning his bio and record. You’ll find more, but suffice to say his resumé is hard to equal.

To say I’m a fan of his would be pretty accurate. He was always that much more equal, one could say, on the track. And his legend of course extends off the track. He had a formula for how much he could party and still be in race shape: one hour’s sleep for every 100 laps. No one ever doubted that, either.

It cost him, over time. He developed medical issues, but I thought he was coming back from that. I guess he knew something his fan base didn’t. Whatever it was, was enough to bring him to suicide. I don’t want to speculate on the specific reasons, though. I want to respect the man.

I saw him win the Florida 200 In 1978 in utterly dominating fashion. At one point he had to deal with a lapped car by tapping him ever so softly coming out of turn four, then a little harder each time, until finally the driver let him pass. He didn’t want to wreck him, just “get his attention.” After the race he talked with a group of us for a long while; everybody knew this guy was definitely something special. That time I will never forget.

Maybe he should already have been in NASCAR by then; even when he finally did make the transition, he still won. He beat drivers half his age. Special? You betcha. He never got the equipment he truly needed on the Cup level, but on the Busch side he owns 2 wins, and you have to know (I repeat) that the Woods were right.

Still, the man wanted to enjoy his life. Which clearly he did, for the most part. He did not want to be told what to do and not do, and in that sense his life is an immense success. He lived on his own terms. He died the same way. Maybe like you, I have my questions. I’m not going to ask them right now. What story there is will become public, probably, but to be honest I don’t want to think about all that. The fact of his death by itself is already more than enough to deal with. But we have to.

I have a number of Trickle photos on my screen saver. Some go all the way back to Heidelberg Raceway in the nineteen-sixties, back before the SuperAmerica sponsorship. I remember seeing him the first time, and thought “He traveled a long way to get here.” It was a reminder that the Pittsburgher 200 was in fact a big deal. Trickle did a lot to confirm that.

Consider this: A conservative estimate would be that he won a thousand features during his career; some give him as much as sixteen hundred, although that has been called into question. However, consider this: Trickle raced in a region where tracks operated in a fairly cooperative manner, meaning that some operators would run their weekly shows on a weekday night (today that would be considered a terrible business model). Trickle hit them all, so….a thousand isn’t out of the question at all. We rightly respect Richard Petty for his 200 Cup wins, but Trickle’s win count is also legendary.

So: What might’ve happened had he gone NASCAR earlier? How about a couple of titles? How about a Daytona or two? What would have resulted? We will never know, but he made the choices he made; all the same, I’m convinced the racing world knows what he would’ve done had he made his move into NASCAR, say, in 1976 after his phenomenal 67-win season the year before. I wonder if anyone else will ever come close.

This is an absolute shock, his suicide. A lot of us are very sad right now.


About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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