Dick — you were the one.
By Joe Ewert
“I’m the one.”
Those are the last words anyone ever heard Dick Trickle speak. They were heard by a 911 operator, who fielded his call from his pickup truck parked at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Lincoln County, North Carolina, telling her there would be a dead body and it was going to be his. By the time emergency crews arrived, it was too late.
Dick Trickle was gone.
Trickle’s death on May 16, 2013 sent a shock-wave throughout the nation, but it hit the hardest in Trickle’s hometown of Wisconsin Rapids. There, memories of the past began flooding out as his closest friends remembered the early days.
“We first got to be friends in the Boy Scouts,” said Tom Reffner, Dick’s old friend and former competitor on the race track. “Marv (Marzofka) and Dick and I went to camp with the scouts and really got to be good friends then.”
It was the late 50s. Much simpler times. The trio had grown up together, now teenagers, and Marzofka brought something home one day that changed the course of their lives for good.
“We were probably seventeen or eighteen years old and we’d heard they were racing stock cars in Stratford,” said Marzofka. “I brought home an old Studebaker and we built it up and went to see what we could do on the race track.”
That same year, Trickle got behind the wheel of someone else’s car and raced it with Marzofka in Stratford. By 1959, Trickle, Marzofka and Reffner all had race cars of their own. The ingenuity soon followed.
“Dick and I built cars together at the start,” Marzofka says. “We’d be at my shop one night, then by Dick’s shop the next night, then we’d go to Tom’s shop the night after that. We figured out that if we took a torsion bar out of an old Chrysler and bent it to fit the front ends of our race cars, it was better than the normal setup on springs.”
When NASCAR legend Bobby Allison was severely injured in a crash in 1988, Trickle got a call to go down and drive in his place at Stavola Brothers Racing. He ran a full season for the team in 1989, earning NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors. It was at Stavola Brothers Racing that Trickle met a crew member with significant racing heritage himself, one who would eventually become a competitor in NASCAR.
“I was part of Bobby Hillin’s team at Stavola Brothers,” said Todd Bodine, a two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion. “What a character! He was your typical short track racing kind of guy. He was a lot of fun, a good person, but the hardest racer you’d ever want to meet.”
As Bodine’s own racing career began, the relationship with Trickle grew, and Bodine learned some big lessons early on.
“When I first started racing, I had a tendency to be over-aggressive too early,” Bodine said. “The one thing Dick always told me was not to be in such a hurry to get to the front. It was a long race so you had to take your time. He’d have his normal coffee and cigarette in his hand and kind of lean in and talk to me, and I learned a lot from him. Even though my brothers Geoff and Brett had come up and made it before me, he still treated me with the respect of a veteran, like someone he’d known for twenty years. He always made you feel like you were his best friend.”
Bodine also says the young racers of today have a lot they could have learned from Trickle. To him, a lot of what happens on the track should stay on the track.
“The young guys today lack so much respect for each other,” Bodine said. “You go out and race hard and pound each other’s fenders off, then when it’s over you invite the guy to your trailer and have a beer and laugh about it. That’s who Dick was as a racer. He always left it all on the race track.”
For Kenny Wallace, it was about life lessons. He too was a crew member on a race team when they first met, but as his own career began taking off, Wallace says, there was a lot he learned thanks to Dick Trickle.
“I met him through my brother Rusty,” Wallace said. “They were good friends and Dick started taking me under his wing. When I started ASA in 1986, I was a true rookie. My first race in ASA was only my second race ever. We would talk, he’d give me advice and I’d ask a lot of questions.”
Wallace is no stranger to this area, either. Whenever he could, he would come to Wisconsin Rapids to hang out at Dick’s shop and gain as much knowledge as he could.
“When it came to racing, Dick taught me to race the race track,” said Wallace. “When you get to longer races, you can’t focus so much on racing other guys. You need your car to handle well on the track and if you do that, you’ll go to the front no matter who you’re racing against. Dick taught me to race, and I would not have done what I’ve done in my career without him.”
Off the track, Wallace says there were many lessons in life that will be eternally true. Lessons he applies to his everyday life, and lessons he passes on to others as well.
“One thing I will always remember because it’s so true, is that things you do may not be right to some people,” Wallace said. “But as long as it makes sense to you and you can justify it, that’s all that matters.”
Perhaps that justification is all Trickle needed when he carried out the event that caused so much heartache for so many. Nobody could figure out why he would do such a thing. After all, he was loved by so many people. Maybe it was the death of his granddaughter, who is buried at the same cemetery where Trickle took his own life. Perhaps it was the still-unsolved murder of his nephew, Chris, in 1997. Maybe he was in so much physical pain that he couldn’t take it anymore.
Wallace says after reading up on some medical history, he has a glimpse into what caused Dick Trickle’s death.
“Dick’s wife, Darlene, let me see his medical records,” Wallace said. I read the doctors’ reports, I know about all the times he was in the hospital, and I understand. Life gets harder and harder the longer it goes on. I’m disappointed he took his own life, but I understand.”
Todd Bodine wishes there was something he could have done to help his friend out.
“I was just in total shock,” said Bodine. “I didn’t realize his pain was that bad. I wish I could have just sat with him when he had these thoughts and remind him how many people out there love him and we could all do what it takes to help him and figure things out. If I’d have known, I’d have been right there to help him.”
Today, Kenny Wallace can think back and smile as he reflects on his good buddy, Dick Trickle. The stories begin to roll.
“It was hard, but now I celebrate Dick’s life,” said Wallace. “I’ll never forget Dick and I in a bar down in Florida. Dick grabbed a chair and started dancing with it. I looked at him and asked what in the world he was doing. He told me ‘I don’t have anyone to dance with, so this is my partner. Besides, all my friends are here, and they don’t care so why should I?’”
Tom Reffner looks at what Trickle did for racing in the Midwest, and says he was one of the benchmarks.
“Dick went down south at a time when the only other guy from around here that was in NASCAR was Dave Marcis,” said Reffner. “Dick helped get Wisconsin noticed so guys like Matt Kenseth and Alan Kulwicki could have the success they did.”
Reffner is also putting together a permanent memorial for Trickle in Rudolph, where Trickle was born. There is a memorial event set for May 22 at the Rudolph village park that will feature music, plenty of food, a silent auction, and a raffle.
So, for a man who once bought one particular 15-year old his first beer and taught me, I mean “him”, the art of drinking half-beers, Dick Trickle is greatly missed. For a man who flexed his muscle and showed his dominance of Wisconsin’s short tracks, Dick Trickle is forever a legend. For a man who went down south to NASCAR and left an indelible mark on some of the sport’s best drivers and personalities, Dick Trickle will be always remembered.
“I’m the one.”
Yes you were, Dick. Yes you were.