Retired race car driver Dick Trickle, 71, died Thursday from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Lincoln County deputies said.
Trickle, a long-time Lincoln County resident, was found dead next to his pick-up truck just after noon. His truck was parked at Forest Lawn Cemetery on N.C. 150 East in Boger City.
Authorities said Trickle called the Lincoln County Communications Center and said “there would be a dead body and it would be his.” Communications Center workers tried to place a return call to the number but did not get an answer.
Trickle was a short-track hero during the 1970s and 1980s who won more than 500 regional races as a part-time driver from Wisconsin, said longtime friend and former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway Humpy Wheeler.
“He won a tremendous amount of races but never got national acclaim because he won in a regional area,” Wheeler said Thursday.
According to the book “Golden Age of Wisconsin Racing,” Trickle was billed at tracks as the “winningest short track driver in history.” He won seven championships in ARTGO in nine years between 1979 and 1987.
Wheeler said he tried to convince Trickle to start racing bigger NASCAR tracks full time in the early 1980s, but was unsuccessful because Trickle was making good money on short tracks.
Several years later, though, he began racing for NASCAR – first on his own team and later for other teams, including Stavola Brothers Racing, Butch Mock Motorsports and Larry Hedrick Motorsports.
In 1989, Trickle was named NASCAR’s rookie of the year – at age 48.
He never won a Cup series race in 303 starts but did win two races in what is now the Nationwide Series, with his last victory coming in 1998 at Darlington Raceway, holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win.
“I have no regrets. I’ve enjoyed everything,” Trickle told the Observer in a 1992 interview. “It ain’t what I’ve done, it’s what I can do that counts.”
In recent years Trickle raced occasionally in Wisconsin, including the 2007 Slinger Nationals and on the ASA MidWest Tour.
“I’m firmly convinced that if he had started (NASCAR) Cup racing earlier, he would’ve been one of the biggest winners of all time,” Wheeler said. “He would have been another Waltrip, another Petty.”
“Personalities like Dick Trickle helped shape our sport,” NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France said in a statement Thursday. “He will be missed.”
In 2001, Trickle’s granddaughter Nicole Ann Bowman was killed in a car accident in front of East Lincoln High School. She is buried in the cemetery where police found his truck and body Thursday.
Tom Higgins, a longtime Observer racing writer and friend of Trickle’s, said the former race car driver had been distraught after his granddaughter’s death.
“He never, ever got over that,” Higgins said. Observer staff writer Jim Utter and researcher Maria David contributed.