“America’s Winningest Driver” Richard Trickle Was a True Racing Legend

athletes | 1/17/19

Richard Trickle was more than just a funny name. He was a racing legend who knew that his name had marketing value. He knew that any jokes thrown his way because of it wouldn’t just help him get attention, but also the attention of NASCAR. When he retired, Keith Olbermann even credited Trickle with making NASCAR mainstream. He won more races than anyone in history and inspired a new generation of drivers to get behind the wheel. Tragically, at 71 years old, Trickle took his life. Although he may be gone, he is far from forgotten. This is everything you need to know about Richard Trickle.

You won’t believe when he built his first car!

He Was The Short Track Hero

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Richard Trickle won over 1,200 short track races in his career before he started racing for NASCAR. The unfathomable number of wins earned him the nickname “America’s Winningest Driver.” Unsurprisingly, part of his drive came from his upbringing.

As a boy, Trickle grew up on Welfare. He started working at 13 and learned an incredible work ethic. Once he started short track racing, he couldn’t stop. For 15 years, Trickle raced in over 1,500 races. His winning percentage was unmatched, causing NASCAR owners to take notice. In 1989, he made his NASCAR debut.

He Was The Oldest Driver To Win Rookie Of The Year

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At 48 years old, Richard Trickle won the NASCAR Rookie of the Year award. The honor made him the oldest rookie ever crowned. When he was given the award at NASCAR’s year-end banquet he said, “I guess I’d like to thank everyone who gave a young guy like me a chance.”

During that sensational year, he drove the number 84 Miller High Life car. Over the next 12 years, he participated in 303 races in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series (now Monster Energy Cup Series). It was what he wasn’t able to do, however, that would define his NASCAR career.

Find out the big prize that eluded him on the next slide!

Victory Lane Was Left Empty By Trickle

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In 303 attempts, Richard Trickle never won a Winston Cup Series race. He retired with 36 top-ten finishes, but never found his way to Victory Lane. Luckily, he had a good sense of humor about his misfortune, one time saying, “I think we get champagne.”

Still, his massive popularity with sports media turned him into one of racing’s great cult heroes. In NASCAR’s lower-tier Xfinity Series (then Busch Series), Trickle found more success. Taking part in 158 races over 11 years, he had 42 top ten finishes and two trips to Victory Lane.

An Accident Nearly Ended His Life At 8 Years Old

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Trickle was eight years old when he was playing tag with his cousin. The two were running around a house that was still under construction when Trickle fell two stories down to the basement. The accident broke his hip, nearly ended his life, and put an end to his childhood innocence.

His injury was so bad that he was put in a cast and doctors stopped treating him. They determined he was never going to get better and would be an invalid. For the next three years, he wore a lower body cast and miraculously recovered.

His Racecar Had A Working Lighter

dick trickle cigarette lighter
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One of the most defining traits of Richard Trickle was the working cigarette lighter he had in his stock car so he could smoke while racing. Maybe not the healthiest habit in the world, but Trickle preferred to live life on his own terms.

The most memorable image of Trickle smoking came during the Winston 500 one year. Just before the green light went off, Trickle inhaled through a hole specially made in his helmet. When the light changed and the race started, he flicked the cigarette butt out of his car and slammed his foot on the pedal.

On the next slide, found out how many racecars Trickle made himself before finding success.

He Built His First Stock Cars

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Growing up on Welfare, Richard Trickle had to build something himself if he wanted it. When he started working in a blacksmith shop he saved junked parts and learned how to weld. Eventually, he had enough money to buy a 1950 Ford ($100) and made it race ready.

Then he began drag racing. His car was slow though, so he bought his competitor’s car for $32.50, took the engine out, and put it in his car. For the next decade, he continued to race and learn how cars work, eventually buying a 1956 Ford and turning it into his second stock car.

Cole Trickle In Days Of Thunder Was Not Based On Him

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Paramount Pictures

Despite sharing the same last name with Tom Cruise’s character in Days of Thunder, Cole Trickle was not based on Richard Trickle. He was based on another famous driver; Tim Richmond. Richmond was known for his hard partying, bad boy lifestyle.

Richard Trickle was not known as a ladies man. Other than the last name, Cole and Richard Trickle had nothing in common. In this case, the name is nothing more than a coincidence. The rumor likely started because Days of Thunder came out one year after Trickle won Rookie of the Year.

His Nickname Made For Great Marketing

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When ESPN sportscasters Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann began referring to Richard Trickle by the shortened version of his name, he could have complained. He could have told them that he didn’t think it was as funny as they did. Instead, he saw a marketing opportunity.

Trickle knew his name was funny, and also knew he was making Sportcenter nightly because of it. He could finish last in the Daytona 500, but the show would still air highlights from the race just so Olbermann could say his name on the air. For Trickle, any exposure was good exposure.

He Was A One-Beer Man

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During his life, many people got the wrong idea about Richard Trickle’s drinking habits. His close friends knew although he always had a beer in his hand it was probably empty. Anyone looking at him from the outside believed something else.

Trickle had a trick to keep from drinking too much. When he was handed a beer he would drink it. When it was empty, he wouldn’t toss the can out. He would keep it in his grasp as long as he could, signaling to anyone around that he didn’t need anymore.

The unbelievable sleeping habits of Trickle are revealed on the next slide!

One Hour Of Sleep For Every Hundred Miles

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As his career grew, Trickle began telling people that for ever 100 miles he would race, he only needed one hour of sleep. He also claimed he could drink 40 cups of coffee a day. Trickle, it turns out, loved talking just as much as he loved racing.

He could carry a conversation all night, responding to people’s questions with questions of his own. He also loved to talk while his friends got drunk. Rusty Wallace even asked him rhetorically once, “You know how may times I’ve gotten drunk because of you?”

The Anti Ricky Bobby

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Columbia Pictures

In the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the title character lives by the mantra, “If you ain’t first, you last.” If you were to ask Richard Trickle what his mantra was, he tell you “To finish first, you need to finish the race.”

He also told drivers that whatever position they finished in, they needed to tell themselves they won that spot. They would say “I won fifth place,” instead of “I finished fifth place,” because anyone who finished worse would have been happy placing fifth.

Old School Made Him Happy

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As NASCAR became a national phenomenon in ’90s, Trickle stuck to his old school roots. While drivers like Jeff Gordon were buying planes and buses, Trickle built himself a garage. The glitz and glamor wasn’t for him. He raced because he loved the sport.

He was open about his preference for simplicity, too. In one interview he said, “I don’t need none of that stuff.” So, despite winning $343,000 in 1989, he stuck with the frugal spending habits he was raised with in Wisconsin.

“Your Eyes Are What Bring You Down”

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Richard Trickle was 61 years old when he raced his last race in 2002. No matter how hard he tried, age eventually caught up with him. Everyone one has an expiration date, and his came later than most. As Humpy Wheeler said, “Your eyes are what bring you down.”

On average, a NASCAR vehicle runs 300 feet per second. That kind of speed catches up to most drivers well before their 60s. Of course, Trickle couldn’t stay away from the track and continued to make appearances until 2007 when he finally called it quits.

Find out why retirement was so hard for Trickle next!

NASCAR Was His Second Life

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Entering NASCAR as a 48-year-old seemed impossible in 1989. That’s not how Trickle looked at it, though. He saw NASCAR as a new life. Or as he put it, “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.”

Trickle never closed the door on returning to racing either. He revealed to BGN Racing, “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.”

He Bought A Fake Rolex Once

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In 1989, Trickle was being followed by television cameras for Motor Week Illustrated when he stopped by a fake watch seller. He wanted to buy a “Rolex,” but wasn’t willing to spend more than $10. He also wanted a guarantee that if the watch fell apart right away he could replace it for free.

The published story was called “Trickle Takes Manhattan.” Along with the watch segment, he bought a hot dog from street vendor and took the subway to Grand Central Station. Always a joker, he asked, “You think you’ve got one [train] that goes to Wisconsin Rapids?”

His Big Break Came After A Concussion

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Sadly, before Richard Trickle’s NASCAR career started, another had to end. Bobby Allison was racing at the Miller 500 in 1988 when he got T-boned by another car after blowing a tired. Allison survived, but for the rest of the 1988 season, Mike Alexander drove his car.

During the offseason, Alexander hit an embankment at the Snowball Derby. He suffered a concussion but didn’t tell anyone. During the Daytona 500, Alexander hit a wall, ending his season. Trickle was next in line, and the rest is history.

Cowboy Boots Were A Problem

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In Richard Trickle’s first race, he wore cowboy boots, and he learned pretty quickly that was a terrible idea. His foot kept swelling because of the heat the throttle of his car was generating. During yellow flags, he kept checking into pit lane.

TV commentators thought he was dealing with a transmission issue. The reality was he needed to have his boots removed, and it took several pit stops to do so. He still finished the first race of his career in 13th place. The next race, without boots, he finished in third.

He Loved The Fans

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After NASCAR races, drivers would conduct two-hour meet and greets with fans. This was one of Trickle’s favorite parts of the job. He loved talking to new people. When the two hours were up, he’d often ask if he could stay longer.

It was actions like this that made him a fan favorite, even though he never won a race. It wasn’t about winning. It was about the experience, and Trickle had one of the best NASCAR experiences of all-time.

One Controversial Win

dick trickle controversial win
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During his Winston Cup Series career, Richard Trickle never won a race. For NASCAR historians this is considered fact. For others, this is considered an alternative fact. Technically, Trickle won one race in his career, but it was a race with no season points assigned to it.

The Winston Open was a 201-mile NASCAR race that allowed the winning driver to qualify for the all-star race. During the 1990 running of the race, Trickle won by eight inches. This win, although not a regular season win, was enough for some fans to push against the narrative that Trickle was an unlucky loser.

Too Much Pain

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Tragically, Ricard Trickle took his own life in 2013. He was 71 years old and undergoing treatments for severe pain. His brother, Chuck Trickle, said, “Last week he told me, I don’t know how much longer I can put up with this.”

Speaking by phone, he added, “He must have just decided the pain was too high because he never would have done it for any other reason.” With his passing, Trickle left behind a legacy that will never be forgotten. He loved racing cars, and will always be remembered as “America’s Winningest Driver.”

Where He Was Found

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After Trickle took his own life, his body was found next to his truck. He had parked at a cemetery in Boger City, North Carolina. The graveyard is the same one his granddaughter is buried at.

Before committing himself to the ground, Trickle called the Lincoln County Communication Center to inform them there would be a body at the cemetery. He also informed them it would be his. His brother believes he ended his life because of severe pains that doctors were unable to treat.

The Full Statement

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After his death, Trickle’s family released a lengthy statement. It read, “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.”

“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

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Before racing in cowboy and having his foot swell, Trickle was warned by Jimmy Fennig it was a bad idea. He recalled telling the racer, “you ain’t gonna make it in cowboy boots.” He added, “we had a set of Simpson shoes there.”

Fennig remembered that halfway through the race, Trickle called over the radio and asked, “where are them shoes?” In this case, maybe the shoes made them man. As a short track driver he was unbeatable. As a NASCAR driver, he proved to be mortal.

Butch Fedewa Remembers Every Race

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Richard Trickle was not only legendary with his fans, but other drivers as well. Butch Fedewa said, “You remembered every race you raced against Trickle.” He would know, having raced against Trickle in his prime.

Fedewa also remembers the lifestyle of drivers back then, “Back in that time, we all drank a lot after the race, partied, and he was at the head of the pack. Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a cigarette — after the races, you couldn’t catch him without either one.”

He Estimated His Career Wins

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Earlier in this article, we told you that Richard Trickle won over 1,200 short track races. By some estimations, that number is actually just that; an estimation. According to the New York Times, Trickle estimated the number himself.

Knowing Trickle, that’s not surprising. He was the short track driver every other driver dreamed of being. He also mentored some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, so even though his short track prowess didn’t translate to the big show, his lasting impact affected it perhaps more than anyone.

Kyle Petty Compared Him To His Dad

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Kyle Petty will always remember Trickle. Speaking about his lost friend, he compared him to his father, another NASCAR legend, “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.”

The speech proved that even before Trickle joined the ranks of NASCAR he was well respected in the community. Petty added that his legend, “was established long, long, long, long before he ever came south to run the Cup stuff.”

It Was A Small Funeral

kenny wallace dick trickle
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Four days after he took his own life, a funeral was held for Richard Trickle. For someone who was so loved, it was surprisingly small. Maybe 50 people showed up, mostly family, old crew members, and close friends.

Rusty and Kenny Wallace were there. Trickle mentored Rusty, and he went on to win the Winston Cup. He called Trickle every Monday. The ceremony was short. As they left, Kenny pulled Trickle’s son aside and tried to comfort him. Sounding like Richard himself, he said, “Seventy-one years. That’s pretty good.”

Only His Wife Called Him Richard

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Throughout his career, Trickle let everyone call him by the shortened version of his name. He knew they thought it was funny. He knew they loved saying it. It was an excuse to say something you’d normally be scowled at for.

Just about the only person who called him by his real name was his wife, Darlene. They marries in 1961 and lived at Trickle’s grandmother’s house until they could afford a trailer of their own. No one was closer to him.

Trickle Would Struggle To Succeed In NASCAR Today

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In an elegy posted online about Trickle, Humpy Wheeler made a lot of claims about him. One interesting thing he said was, “Today, had he been 25 years old, his looks would have gotten him into a racecar.”

Wheeler was also quick to point out that Trickle would probably haven’t hated driving in the modern world, “Today, they would have tried to put him through the clothes wash, and he wouldn’t have gotten in the clothes wash.” Basically, Trickle liked doing things his way, which sponsors would never approve of.

He Had A Thing For Beer

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Richard Trickle didn’t get a drunk a lot, but he did love beer. He also loved hanging around people who did get drunk a lot. After losing the championship in 1996 to Rich Bickle’s team, Trickle found them the next morning and remarked, “you all are a bunch drunks.”

The funny thing was, he wasn’t lecturing them. He was wearing a shirt with the logo of a brewing company. He asked for a beer. He joked that he had a sponsorship that paid him in beer. He might not have gotten drunk a lot, but he could drink, and he loved beer.

He Mentored Numerous Up And Comers

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Of course, Richard couldn’t be as good as he was without having some people come looking to him for advice. That’s the natural way of things, people that are incredibly good at something teach the younger generation. Over the years, some of the main up-and-coming drivers that Richard mentored included Rusty and Kenny Wallace, Alan Kulwicki, and Mark Martin.

Kenny Wallace kept up his relationship with Trickle over the years up until the last year of his life. On his death, Wallace commented “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 Used Someone Else’s Water Pump During A Race

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Clearly, Richard Trickle didn’t earn his fame and reputation by being shy or not taking risks. On one occasion during a race, he blew a water pump on his car which would be the end of the race for most driver.

Yet, Trickle wasn’t ready to call it quits and got on his P.A. and asked the crowd if anyone had a Ford. An eager fan was then allowed to drive his car into the pits where Trickle pulled his water pump off, put it on his car, won the race, and then gave it back to the fan.

He Also Used A Tow Truck’s Engine

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The situation with the water pump wasn’t the only time that Trickle thought outside of the box in order to keep himself in the race. He put on an even more impressive show during a race when he blew and engine.

This is the end of the line for anyone driving a car, especially if you’re racing them, but not for Trickle. He thought fast and without hesitation pulled one out of a tow truck that had been in the pits and put it in his own car. To no real surprise, he won that race as well.

A Stolen Former Racecar Of His Was Found

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Trickle’s “Purple Knight” was sitting in storage since the 1980s. However, when the owner Kenneth Langreck went to get it out of storage to begin restoring it, it was gone. Finally, investigators found the car in the hands of someone that had purchased it from Landreck’s brother who had apparently stolen it and sold it off.

While the person who purchased it and where the car is now is unknown, Langreck’s brother, Patrick, face criminal charges. Kenneth Langreck even stated, “It’s just like trying to hide the moon, you know. It’s a hard thing to hide, you know.”

His Nephew Died In A Drive-By Shooting

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On February 9, 1997, Trickle’s nephew, Chris, left his home in Las Vegas to meet with his friend to play tennis. While driving on the freeway, a gunman open fired on him, hitting him in the head. While he didn’t die instantly, he clung to life for a painfully long 409 days until he died on March 25, 1988 from complications of his wounds.

At the time, Nevada law limited murder prosecution to one year and a day, and his death unfortunately surpassed one year. The case was never solved and appeared twice on America’s Most Wanted.

There’s A Permanent Memorial In His Hometown

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Being such an inspiration and icon in the racing community, it’s no surprise that the people that adored him so much during both his career and years of failing health, many thought it was right that he had a memorial.

So, many of his Wisconsin friends and competitors such as Tom Reffiner and Marv Marzofka started a memorial fund in hopes of creating a permanent memorial statue of him at Randolph Community Park. Today at some Midwestern short tracks there are Trickle Memorial laps, 99 laps for his car number.

He Didn’t Hang Around After He Retired

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As described by Humpy Wheeler, the former President and General Manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, “Great drivers don’t hang around, they fade away like old soldiers.” This is exactly what Trickle did. After he had stopped racing in the Winston Cup, he didn’t make a big deal announcing his retirement, he just kind of retired and that was it.

Some people might go on to buy a company and stay in the business, but not him. While he made appearances every now and then to watch races and sometimes sign autographs, he spent most of his time with his family, doing things that he never got around to because of racing.

He Didn’t Care If People Liked Him Or Not

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At the point in his career when Trickle began to get a reputation, he had a lot of mixed reviews from the crowds. Drinking canned beer, the constant smoking, and the cowboy boots got some people going, but the other people didn’t take too kindly to it. One time at an ASA race, he was booed by a decent amount of fans when he was announced.

One driver asked him if that bothered him. He responded by saying 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 Worked Hard When He Was Starting Out

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When starting out racing, Trickle couldn’t just put his life on hold, instead, he had to do the complete opposite and work two times harder. This way, he could support himself while simultaneously have enough money to scrape by in his racing career.

Although he was doing well racing, he still had a day job and worked 66 hours a week at a service station while racing four nights a week. During his free time he worked on his cars, usually at night, using the information from what he learned at his job at the shop during the day.

A Humble Wedding And Start To Marriage

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Trickle married his wife Darlene in 1961, and paid just $8 for a motel room the night of their wedding. The next day, he had two races at Wausau and Griffith Park. At the beginning of his marriage, he worked for a telephone company but hated working on the poles so high off of the ground.

So, he formulated a plan where he could make racing a full-time career.

While he and Darlene knew that it would be a risk wouldn’t be easy at first, they both worked hard and thought smart in order to make it happen. Luckily for them, it did.