All his wins will never be remembered, there were too many, but Dick Trickle will never be forgotten.
A short-track legend who rose to folk hero status on ESPN’s “SportsCenter’’ and shared the surname of Tom Cruise’s character in “Days of Thunder’’ died Thursday of a self-inflicted gun shot wound, according to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
Trickle was 71.
The sheriff’s office stated the incident took place at 12:02 p.m at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Boger City, N.C. The Charlotte Observer reported that Trickle’s granddaughter, who died in a 2001 car accident, is buried there.
Trickle called the Lincoln County Communications Center and said that “there would be a dead body and it would be his,’’ according to the sheriff’s office. A return call from the communications center was not answered.
Emergency units located Trickle’s body lying near his pickup truck.
Trickle’s death stunned many in NASCAR and left some speechless with the way he died.
“Say it’s not so,’’ Mark Martin wrote on Twitter. “Sad news about a racing legend. Dick Trickle.’’
The Wisconsin native was a short-track hero before coming to NASCAR where he won rookie of the year honors in 1989 at age 48. He had six top-five finishes and nine top-10 finishes that season driving for the Stavola Brothers.
Trickle drove in 303 Cup races with 15 top-five finishes and 36 top-10 finishes, but he was more known among competitors for carrying a cup of coffee and a box of cigarettes along with the ability to enjoy life.
“He could stay up all night, get three hours of sleep and wear you out (on the track) the next day,’’ former driver Ricky Craven said.
Craven compared Trickle to the elite of racing - the ones many fans might not know.
“Trickle was part of that elite group of Richie Evans,’’ Craven said of the NASCAR Hall of Fame modified driver. “Richie dominated his discipline. There are people like Larry Phillips, Hershel McGriff, Red Farmer. Dick Trickle is in that category. He might have won 1,000 races and not everybody knows that.’’
It likely was more than that to go along with his seven titles in the regional ARTGO Challenge Series and championships in the ASA AC-Delco Challenge Series in 1984 and ’85.
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski, a Michigan native, says that Trickle’s marks the “end of (an) era.’’
“What Dick Trickle meant to Midwest short-track racing, to the sport and his era, he was the guy,’’ Keselowski said.
While many didn’t know how many races Trickle won, they knew his name.
ESPN anchors Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick provided weekly updates on Trickle’s finishes, alongside the series’ biggest stars during the height of “SportsCenter’s” popularity in the 1990s.
“No sports figure Dan + I had fun with took it more graciously,’’ Olbermann wrote on Twitter. “In fact, gratefully.’’
NASCAR Chairman Brian France noted Trickle’s role in the sport.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Dick Trickle on his passing today. Dick was a legend in the short-track racing community, particularly in his home state of Wisconsin, and he was a true fan favorite. Personalities like Dick Trickle helped shape our sport. He will be missed.”
Ward Burton called Trickle “one of the heroes of the sport’’ and said Trickle had a fan base that showed it.
“Dick Trickle had a lot of fans from all over,’’ Burton said. “Dick treated people the way he wanted to be treated. I think he was a good ambassador for the sport.’’
Rusty Wallace, who won his Cup title the same year Trickle was rookie of the year said he was “shocked’’ at the news.
“Dick Trickle was my mentor,’’ Wallace said in a statement. “When I was short-track racing, I would call him every Monday morning and he would always help me with race setups and stuff. He and I had such a good time telling little stories, but he was the guy that taught me almost everything in the American Speed Association. And he was the guy that I battled right to the end for my 1983 ASA championship. I barely beat the guy that taught me everything.
“My success in the ASA and what Trickle taught me is what got me into NASCAR.’’