Clinton, S.C., Friday, May 17, 2013, 9:32 a.m.
The first time I had an extended conversation with Dick Trickle was early in 1995. He was about to begin his only season in Bud Moore’s No. 15 Quality Care Ford. Bud’s shop was in Spartanburg, and I was the motorsports reporter at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal at the time. The Peach Blossom Diner was the local racers’ hangout back when there was such a thing. Several times I set out for some track like, oh, Martinsville, or Richmond, before the sun was up just so I could drop by the Peach Blossom and hear the likes of David Pearson, Cotton Owens and Moore tell tales and sip coffee.
It was perfect. I’d get them to talk about the track where I was headed. It was sweet as Carnation milk.
This time, though, was a scheduled interview, and it was Trickle who held court. He and Moore were as well matched as any driver and owner I ever experienced, but it was too late for both of them. Trickle qualified fourth twice during the season, but his best finish was a 10th at Pocono.
I sat there, tape recorder running, stirring two eggs, over-easy, into some thick grits. I chopped up the sausage patties with the fork and turned breakfast into one multi-flavored concoction. Trickle didn’t give his food nearly as much attention but drank at least three cups of coffee and smoked a couple Marlboros.
I couldn’t help but broach the subject of fitness. I asked Trickle how he stayed in shape to drive a race car.
“Well, I tell you one thing,” he said, giving the cigarette a small wave, “you won’t find me in leotards, dancing to the oldies.”
I had a thought – when was the last time I heard someone use the word “leotards”? – and a ridiculous image – Dick Trickle carrying on like Richard Simmons – and, not surprisingly, I laughed.
Trickle smiled. He liked to make people laugh.
Then he took a draw on that Marlboro – once, I watched him stuff Marlboros into Winston packs so he wouldn’t “make the sponsor look bad” – exhaled monstrously, and said, “You know how you get in shape to drive a [bleeping] race car? You drive a [bleeping] race car.”
I found some common ground in what he said. I thought of how I had been in the best shape of my life when I played high-school football, and yet the first time I played full-court basketball after the season, it nearly killed me. I remembered how, the first time I had ever played both ways in a ninth-grade football game, I had genuinely believed hospitalization was going to be necessary, and how from then on, it wasn’t that big a deal. Bodies acclimate to customized activities.
No one, not even at his then-age of 53, raced more often than Trickle. I was skeptical of the oft-repeated claim that he had won more than 1,000 races back in Wisconsin and around the Midwest. I didn’t see how a driver could average 50 victories a year for 20 years. Some drivers in his position, given his stature, would’ve gotten defensive. Trickle didn’t care.
“I got no idea,” he said. “I won lots of races. I never counted them up, at least not more than for a month or two. Nobody told me how to drive. I never told nobody how to count.”
At Darlington that year, Trickle was in contention up until a pit-road problem cost him precious time. He wound up finishing 15th. My notebook didn’t ascribe blame, but the desk man wrote a lurid headline, along the lines of “Pit-crew error dooms Trickle.” I never saw it. The next week I showed up at the track, and the crew was mysteriously distant. No one wanted to joke around. I asked around and found out what the problem was. I pleaded my case to Moore, telling him that I hadn’t claimed the crew did anything wrong in the story and that headlines were written back at the office.
Bud stared me in the eyes, thought a moment, and said, “Well, you gotta control that [goldang] headline.”
Trickle was nearby, never said a word and just chuckled watching me and Bud wrangle. I never knew him to complain about anything I wrote. I never had much indication that he even read it. He didn’t care, and it played no role at all in the interaction between us. Trickle had one of those functional “don’t give a damn” attitudes. He didn’t waste his time on anything he couldn’t control. He just did his job, bereft of ego, and let the chips fall where they may.
I can’t remember the last time I saw him. I vaguely recall passing him in a garage area and exchanging greetings five or six years ago. He and I weren’t friends. I liked him. I think he liked me. I think he remembered my name, and that was enough.
People are shocked he committed suicide. They wonder how in the world that ever happened to Dick Trickle, a man who never seemed to let anything get him down. They can’t imagine the man who used to party all night, holding court and claiming that he needed an hour’s sleep for every 100 laps he had to drive the next day, coming to the place where he felt compelled to end his own life.
I’m not going to dwell on it. I reckon he just got to where he figured he’d lived enough.