CONCORD, N.C. — Dick Trickle, a former NASCAR driver whose larger-than-life personality and penchant for fun won him legions of fans despite a lack of success beyond the nation's small tracks, died Thursday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said. He was 71.
The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office said authorities received a call believed to be from Trickle, who said "there would be a dead body and it would be his." Authorities tried to call the number back, but no one answered.
Trickle's body was found near his truck at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Boger City, N.C., about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. Foul play was not suspected.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Dick Trickle on his passing," NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said. "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."
Trickle earned his reputation as a successful short-track driver before joining the Cup series and earning NASCAR's rookie of the year in 1989 at age 48.
He competed in more than 300 Cup races. And although he never won a Cup race and won just two Busch series races, Trickle earned cult status. Former ESPN anchors Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann were enamored with his name and would regularly mention where he finished after each race.
"No sports figure Dan (and) I had fun with took it more graciously. In fact, gratefully," Olbermann tweeted.
"People everywhere knew his name," former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine said. "That's why they used his likeness in that movie Days of Thunder." The main character in that racing movie, played by Tom Cruise, was named Cole Trickle.
Dick Trickle lived in Iron Station, N.C., for more than 20 years and was never one to be told how to live his life. He was known for cutting a hole in his helmet so he could have a smoke break during cautions. Then the green flag hit and out the window went the cigarette.
"Dick always had a cigarette lighter in his car," Bodine said.
In 2001, Trickle's 16-year-old granddaughter was killed in a car crash. She's buried in the cemetery where police found Trickle's body.
"He never, ever got over that," Tom Higgins, a longtime Charlotte Observer racing writer and friend of Trickle's, said.