Dick Trickle, a "short-track hero" in the '70s and '80s who moved to the NASCAR circuit later in his career, died Thursday.
According to The Charlotte Observer, the 71-year-old was killed by "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Lincoln County [N.C.] deputies said."
The Observer adds that "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." A friend of Trickle's tells the newspaper that Trickle never got over his granddaughter's death.
The Associated Press writes that "Trickle was a unique driver with a unique name who found cult-like status before his death. ... [His] larger-than-life personality and penchant for fun won him legions of fans despite a lack of success beyond the nation's small tracks."
Trickle grew famous on short-tracks throughout the Midwest. He won, longtime friend and former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway Humpy Wheeler tells the Observer, more than 500 regional races. Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel adds that Trickle would go on to win "more than 1,000 races across the United States and Canada — 67 features in 1972 alone — and [claim] nine championships in the '70s and '80s on the regional ARTGO and American Speed Association tours."
But his many victories weren't the only reason he was a fan favorite. The Journal Sentinel says "fans and friends will remember the stories. How Trickle won a race with the engine from his tow truck or with a water pump off a fan's car in the parking lot."
Trickle's name also helped him gain fame, of course. ESPN loved to report — with a wink and a nod — on his finishes in various races, no matter how far down the pack. On Friday, the sports network's Terry Blount wrote that "Trickle was so much more than a guy with a funny name." But the driver also "knew his name was hilarious and often the butt of jokes. It didn't bother him a bit. He embraced it. Trickle realized his name was marketing gold."
On his Twitter page Thursday, former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann wrote that "No sports figure Dan [Patrick] + I had fun with took it more graciously. In fact, gratefully."
According to Olbermann, "in a time in which athletes were really getting overly sensitive to what we and everyone was starting to do, his attitude was, 'Hey, you guys made me money. All I've got to do is put up with a little giggling, and I put up with the giggling anyway.' "
Trickle never won a NASCAR race, but in 1989 did become "its oldest rookie of the year at 48," the Journal Sentinel says.