The sport of car racing has seen plenty of icons and big names over the years, though none have left behind a legacy of greatness quite like Richard Trickle. “Dick,” as most knew him, epitomized the everyman spirit, and despite humble beginnings, he came away as one of the winningest drivers in history. For an aspiring racer, there was no better man to look to than Dick Trickle.
Sadly, all the admiration in the world couldn’t prevent tragedy from striking, and in the years since his death, the legendary driver continues to be a subject of controversy among racing fans. Not only was Dick’s life marred by hardship and misconception, but his final days prove that even the biggest heroes are still only human.
Dick Trickle spent decades racing around the short tracks of his hometown in Wisconsin. He won numerous championships and loyal fans along the way. And though he has a firm footing in sports history, his road to fame was not a smooth one, even for a legendary driver.
Dick himself learned of his own mortality very early on, for when he was just eight years old, he fell two floors into the basement of a house under construction and shattered his hip. According to doctors, he’d never walk again.
During this difficult time, Dick attended his first race at Crown Speedway in Wisconsin Rapids and quickly fell in love with the sport. He resolved then and there that he was going to walk again — and one day, he was going to race, too.
After three years in a lower body cast, Dick regained his ability to walk and quickly set to work to fund his racing career. He spent his days working on local farms, and at night, he learned to weld at his father’s blacksmith shop.
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At 16, Dick had finally earned enough to purchase a 1950 Ford, immediately putting it to the test in a drag race against a classmate. He lost the race clean, though, seeing an opportunity, he decided to purchase the opposing car and stuck its motor in his own.
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Dick debuted in local short track races starting in 1958, though the amateur quality of his car led to limited success. Still, Dick had his heart set on racing, and with the support of his wife, Darlene, he decided to pursue the sport full time.
Dick’s racing skills continued to improve as the years went on, eventually earning him enough to convert a 1956 Ford into a quality racer. This Ford would carry him to dozens of top-5 finishes, though it wasn’t until 1966 that a true turning point came.
Midwest Racing Archives
Despite jeers from opposing racers with top-of-the-line cars, Dick quieted the doubters with his first overall victory at the National Short Track Championship. He carried this winning momentum into 1967, finishing the year with 25 feature victories.
For the next 15 years, Dick was the man to beat on the short track scene, winning feature events at an unprecedented rate. Racing up to 100 times a year, he established himself as a premiere driver, racking up 67 wins in 1972 alone.
Midwest Racing Archives
By the time the 1980s came to a close, Dick had achieved over 1,000 wins and was hailed as the winningest short track racer of all time. With such an impressive pedigree, it was only a matter of time before the big boys started to take notice.
In 1989, Dick was signed to NASCAR and made his debut in the No. 84 Miller High Life Buick for Stavola Brothers Racing. Without missing a beat, Dick continued his winning ways and walked away as the Winston Cup Series rookie of the year.
At age 48 — and a grandfather, no less — Dick became the oldest driver in Winston Cup history to be given the award. From there, however, the victories wouldn’t be so easy to come by.
Despite racing full time for NASCAR over the next decade, victory lane eluded Dick, with five third place finishes marking his best performances. Fortunately, this lack of success didn’t affect Dick’s popularity among racing fans.
The Circle Track Archives
Given Dick’s rather… unique name, ESPN’s Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann would often make a point of mentioning him during races regardless of where he placed. This made him something of a fan favorite, even despite his lack of major victories.
The Circle Track Archives
Dick also gained a reputation as somewhat of “party guy,” his penchant for smoking and drinking known far and wide. In fact, Dick even had a cigarette lighter installed in his cars and a hole drilled in his helmet so he could smoke at the starting line.
However, his love of drink was actually just a misconception, as the beers he was often spotted with were typically his first and only. Dick would actually just hold onto empty beers after he’d finished them so no one would offer him another.
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But even with such a bold personality and loyal fanbase, the aches and pains of growing old began to outweigh Dick’s love for the sport. And so, in 2002, Dick raced his final NASCAR race and retired at the age of 61.
The Circle Track Archives
Over 461 career starts across the Winston Cup and Busch Series, Dick had 39 top five finishes and 78 top tens, a respectable total to add to his historic 1,200 short track wins. Sadly, such an impressive career couldn’t keep Dick from tragedy.
On May 16, 2013, a call was made to North Carolina’s Lincoln County Communications Center explaining that there would soon be a body outside of the Forest Lawn Cemetery. The caller was Dick, and when officers arrived they found the 71-year-old dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In the years since his retirement, Dick had been dealing with severe, chronic pain that doctors simply couldn’t find a cure for. Rather than suffer any longer, he’d decided to take his own life, leaving the entire racing world shocked and devastated.
The Circle Track Archives
Today, many short tracks hold annual Trickle Memorial races in Dick’s honor, with most being 99 laps for his car number. A statue of Dick also stands in his hometown of Wisconsin Rapids, commemorating a man whose vision and determination helped change the sport of racing forever.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Trickle rose out of complete obscurity to achieve athletic fame, he inspired generations, just like his Midwestern predecessor, Jim Thorpe. While both of these champions have been immortalized in statues, one tribute is still shrouded in controversy.
Kristy Birchard/The Morning Call
Any visitors to the town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, will undoubtedly notice a shrine dedicated to an athlete of the same name. In fact, his tomb is right near the site. Many sports fans assume that Jim Thorpe was born there, but that’s far from the truth.
Los Angeles Times / David Zucchino
Jim Thorpe never even set foot in the Pennsylvania community. So how did he come to be buried there? That saga is a complicated one, and it begins on the Sac and Fox reservation in Oklahoma.
Born Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe, his childhood on the Native American reservation was never easy. Jim frequently tried to run away and was greatly depressed by the deaths of his mother and twin brother.
The Washington Post
There seemed to be little future for him in Oklahoma, but Jim had certain qualities that convinced him he was destined for greatness. His athletic prowess making him a god among men, Jim saw an opportunity to rise from his station in life.
Jim shipped up north to Pennsylvania, where he enrolled in the prestigious Carlisle Industrial Indian School. He wasted no time showing off his physical ability, as on his first day there, he confidently strode over to the track in street clothes.
Without even the proper gear — or a formal invitation — he approached the high jump bar and effortlessly cleared 5 feet, 9 inches. Jim’s try-out for the track and field team ended there. But he puzzled coaches when he suggested trying another sport.
What Jim really wanted to play was football. And he immediately showed his worth in practice by seamlessly switching between the halfback, defensive back, kicker, and punter positions. Nobody at Carlisle was surprised when Jim Thorpe was named an All-American — twice.
A pro career likely awaited Jim after graduation, but in 1912, he poured all his energy into training for the Olympics. The Stockholm games that year introduced the multi-event pentathlon and decathlon, which was perfect for Carlisle’s Swiss Army Knife of an athlete.
The unknown won the pentathlon with ease, though many bigger-name European competitors didn’t take kindly to Jim’s victory. Hours before the decathlon, he found his running shoes mysteriously vanished. He had no choice but to pull two mismatched shoes out of the garbage.
YouTube / Comedy Central
Even in the face of such adversity, Thorpe came out on top. Not only did he win gold, but he also set an Olympic record that would stand for decades. Spectators could barely process what they just witnessed, but one monumental figure summed it up quite nicely.
King Gustav V of Sweden, as he placed the medal around Jim’s neck, declared, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Jim, too cool to get caught up in the fanfare of the moment, replied, “Thanks, King.”
Jim’s subsequent professional career was the stuff of legend. Before his retirement at age 41, he played pro baseball, basketball, and football. At a time when the U.S. preferred to keep Native Americans out of the spotlight, Thorpe was a universally beloved champion.
Sadly, Jim’s post-athletic life was less than triumphant. Money issues, family troubles, and alcoholism proved to be bars that even he couldn’t leap over. After a period of poor health, the entire world mourned when he passed in 1953.
The large Thorpe family and a mass of fans came together in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to celebrate Jim’s life. They raised funds for a large memorial, and his Sac and Fox countrymen began their traditional burial ceremony. But they never got the chance to finish.
Crazy Crow Trading Post
Without warning, a police squadron arrived on the scene. They seemed to be taking orders from Jim’s third wife, Patsy. Shoving aside angry mourners, the authorities picked up the great athlete’s remains and drove them away.
Apparently, Patsy made a deal like no other. She decided that she should be compensated for the loss of her heroic husband and effectively auctioned off the burial rights to his body. Oklahoma fought to keep him, but one northern town was determined to get Jim Thorpe.
Near Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, the tiny boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were preparing to merge into a single town. Besides needing a new name, these communities needed a way to provide for their families.
Flickr / Raji Vathyam
Mauch Chunk had long been a mining town, but that industry dried up by the 1950s. If they restyled themselves as a tribute to America’s greatest athlete, however, maybe they could become a tourist hotspot. The local government paid Patsy an undisclosed sum.
With that shady deal in place, the Olympian’s body was paid for, and the town officially became Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. His remains still lie there today, though not without controversy. Since 2011, the Thorpe family has filed lawsuits attempting to win back their patriarch’s body.
But each suit has fizzled on its way to the higher courts. The Pennsylvania town has no qualms about keeping their mascot either. “We lived up to our end of the bargain,’’ explained mayor Michael Sofranko. ‘‘That’s about as American as you can get.”
Vimeo / FireRock Productions
Even if the final resting place of Jim Thorpe is never fully settled, nobody can dispute his golden legacy. The Native American champion opened up doors for athletes of all colors. Baseball’s bravest hero certainly looked up to him.
Born in Cairo, Georgia, as the youngest of five siblings, Jack Roosevelt Robinson didn’t have much in the way of opportunity growing up. His parents were poor sharecroppers, and after moving to Pasadena, California, in 1920, he joined a street gang.
Jackie Robinson Foundation
But Jackie’s family — especially his brother, future Olympic silver medalist Mack Robinson — didn’t want to see him go down the wrong path. Seeing his younger sibling’s immense physical gifts, Mack encouraged Jackie to pursue his interest in sports.
Jackie shined as an athlete at John Muir High School, excelling at basketball, football, track, and, of course, baseball. He even played tennis, winning the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament in 1936.
His athletic dominance continued into junior college and his time at UCLA, as he won the 1940 NCAA championship in the long jump while also earning varsity letters in basketball, football, and baseball. He never finished college, instead choosing to pursue a career in pro football.
Jackie Robinson Foundation
But all that changed in 1942 when Jackie was drafted into the U.S. Army following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Jackie was commissioned as a second lieutenant following OCS training, though his military career soon hit a snag.
While riding an army-commissioned, nonsegregated bus, Jackie was told to sit in the back by the driver. He refused, leading to his arrest by military police and a subsequent recommendation for a court-martial.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Despite a slew of fabricated charges against the 25-year-old, Jackie was ultimately acquitted by an all-white panel. He received an honorable discharge in November 1944 and saw no combat, though Jackie wouldn’t soon forget the racially charged treatment he’d received.
After taking a job as the athletic director at Sam Huston College in Austin, Texas, Jackie received an offer to play in the Negro baseball league. He accepted, though the disorganization of the league and its grueling travel schedule soon left him wanting more.
That chance came on November 1, 1945, when Brooklyn Dodgers owner and general manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie to the team’s International League farm club, the Montreal Royals. The move marked an enormous victory for athletes of color, though the goodwill wouldn’t last long.
Jackie’s time in the minors was met with open hostility and racism, with some ballparks even forbidding him from playing. Still, Jackie’s star power was undeniable, and by season’s end, he’d captured the International League’s Most Valuable Player award.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie made history by becoming the first player since 1884 to break professional baseball’s color barrier. Though he failed to record a base hit, it was clear that the 28-year-old Georgia native had changed the sport forever.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Racism from fans and players alike continued to plague Jackie throughout his early career, though instead of fighting hate with hate, he let his bat do the talking. He established himself as a premiere hitter and base runner.
As Jackie’s prowess on the baseball field grew, so too did his fame outside of it. The Dodgers second baseman could be found on everything from baseball cards to cereal boxes, and children flocked to see him almost everywhere he went.
The early ’50s saw Jackie lead his Dodgers to several World Series appearances, though each time they came up just short to the New York Yankees. It wasn’t until 1955 — Jackie’s worst season statistically — that the Dodgers took home the title.
Long Island Pulse
Jackie retired shortly after the 1956 season following a proposed trade to the New York Giants. See, the 37-year-old had already agreed to become vice president of personnel for Chuck full O’Nuts, making him the first black person to serve as VP of a major corporation.
In 1962, Jackie became eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, though he encouraged voters to consider him on the merits of his play rather than his cultural impact. He was elected on the first ballot, making him the first black player in Cooperstown.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Baseball remained a major part of Jackie’s life. He became an analyst for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts in 1965 — the first black person to do so. He also briefly served as a commentator for the Montreal Expos.
Jackie remained heavily involved in community outreach in his post-baseball life. He served on the board of the NAACP, founded the Freedom National Bank in Harlem in 1964, and established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company in 1970 to build housing for low-income families.
Sadly, Robinson wouldn’t get to enjoy his retirement for long. The combined effects of heart disease and diabetes deteriorated his body and made him nearly blind by middle age, and on October 24, 1972, Jackie died of a heart attack at age 53.
Gardens of Stone
On April 15, 1997, Jackie’s jersey number, 42, was retired across MLB, and every year since 2004, April 15 has served as Jackie Robinson Day for all players, fans, and personnel — a testament to a hero both on and off the field.
Many athletes today continue to honor Jackie’s legacy through their work. With the help of his LeBron James Family Foundation, the basketball legend has donated millions toward improving living and education standards for the people of Akron, Ohio — his hometown.
But what is perhaps James’ most significant act of giving is the creation of his I Promise School. After learning of Akron’s high school dropout rate, James created the IPS to provide a stable education for at-risk children.
Lake Show Life
2. Serena Williams: Like James, Williams has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in youth scholarships, but she’s even worked to build schools in underprivileged nations like Jamaica and Kenya.
Not only that, but Williams is also active in violence prevention. Her Serena Williams Fund is dedicated to assisting families and communities affected by senseless violence.
Hip and Healthy
3. J.J. Watt: While he’s definitely not the type of guy you’d want to cross on the football field, as president and founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, the football star has raised over $1 million toward helping children get involved in athletics within a safe environment.
Watt’s giving doesn’t stop there, as in 2017, he was a major part of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey recovery effort. Through crowdfunding and his own personal donations, Watt raised almost $40 million for the city and was subsequently named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
4. Maria Sharapova: Tennis and charity seem to go hand in hand, as, like Williams, Sharapova is also actively engaged in helping those in need. Through her Maria Sharapova Foundation, the legendary Russian tennis player has donated over $500k to communities affected by the Chernobyl disaster.
Sharapova is also heavily involved in global disaster recovery and tragedy relief efforts as well. The tennis star donated $50k to those affected by the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004 and even aided fellow competitor Monica Puig in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
5. Russell Wilson: The star quarterback holds dozens of charity events in and around Seattle, and in 2016, his Wilson’s Why Not You Foundation raised $1.06 million for the Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Strong Against Cancer initiative.
While Wilson’s charitable contributions are no doubt impressive, the personal relationships he’s forged through his philanthropy are just as valuable. When he isn’t training or prepping for game day, Wilson makes weekly visits to Seattle Children’s to spend time with sick fans.
6. Kristi Yamaguchi: A shift from figure skating to charity work may not seem like a natural transition, but the 1992 Olympic champion has taken to her new passion in stride. Yamaguchi works to provide literacy programs to underserved children nationwide.
Yamaguchi has also expanded into the world of fashion through her active lifestyle brand, Tsuya. The clothing line is designed to empower women to look and feel their best, and a portion of the proceeds from Tsuya sales are donated to her youth literacy efforts.
7. John Cena: The WWE legend is one of the most charitable athletes out there, having granted the most wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation with 500… and counting!
Even in the ring, Cena has been an ambassador for numerous charities. From late 2011 to early 2012, Cena sported a “Rise Above Hate” shirt to promote the “Be a Star” anti-bullying campaign, and during his October appearances, he wore pink in support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
8. Mia Hamm: For a woman that’s done it all both in and out of the sports world, Mia Hamm’s charitable pursuits are no less impressive. As the founder of the Mia Hamm Foundation, the soccer legend strives to empower and create athletic opportunities for young women.
Mia Hamm Foundation
Since her brother’s death from aplastic anemia in 1997, Hamm has also been an advocate for the demand for bone marrow and cord blood transplants in the U.S. Through her foundation, Hamm encourages enrollment in the national bone marrow registry.
9. Eli Manning: He’s won two Super Bowls and raised millions for causes like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Operation Smile, and the Wounded Warrior Project. Surprisingly, however, the future Hall of Famer’s mission of giving extends far beyond the borders of New York and New Jersey.
In 2007, Manning donated $2.5 million to the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson, Mississippi to create The Eli Manning Children’s Clinics. The quarterback is also heavily involved in his hometown of New Orleans, having assisted in the delivery of 30,000 pounds of relief supplies following Hurricane Katrina.
10. Colin Kaepernick: There’s no denying the good that Kaepernick has done since taking a stand against injustice in 2016. The former NFL star pledged to donate $1 million to “organizations working in oppressed communities” and has since encouraged other celebrities to do the same.
The Grueling Truth
Kaepernick’s philanthropic efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, and since 2016 he has received numerous accolades. In 2017, Kaepernick was named GQ‘s “Citizen of the Year” and honored with Sports Illustrated‘s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. In 2018, he was given the Ambassador of Conscience Award and the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal.