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As the long, long winter gave way to Monsoon Spring, and a scant few ballgames and track meets have sprouted up here and there, there hasn’t been a lot for Up North sports fans to do but enjoy sports on television -- particularly the fantastic Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the incredibly puzzling Minnesota Twins, who alternate between amazing us with their competitiveness and falling flat.
So this past week, we branched out in quest of our entertainment. It was Dylan Fest, and we went downtown Duluth to catch a show at Tycoon’s Grill, on the corner of 2nd Ave. East and Superior Street. Tycoon’s does great business, nestled in there as some sort of high-class interruption between The Last Place on Earth, and Fond duLuth Casino. We had a quick dinner, then settled in for the show.
Sarah Krueger was performing first, and she is always a treat, with a beautiful voice and presence, and she sang some of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, including Girl of the North Country. Following her came Diet Folk, a group that had aroused my curiosity, featuring Tim Saxhaug and Dave Carroll from Trampled by Turtles, and Marc Gartman, who has impressed fans locally since migrating here from New York. The three played a great set, an interesting array of Dylan songs that spanned over 50 years of Dylan’s prolific career. Gartman played 12-string, Saxhaug played his bass, and Carroll, the banjo player from Trampled by Turtles, played some inspired acoustic guitar.
It was a great night, and it served as sort of a palate-cleansing operation so I could turn back to following the Stanley Cup chase, where all four series are intriguing. The best, to me, is the Detroit-Chicago series, where the Red Wings, although seeded No. 7, have proven to be a stiff test for the top-seeded Blackhawks. Good as Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp are, which was good enough to end the Wild season in five games, Detroit counters with Pavel Datsyuk and Jason Zetterberg -- two of the absolute best players in hockey.
Ottawa playing tough against Pittsburgh, and Boston and the Rangers slugging it out, are interesting, and an extremely competitive series between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks is a perfect showcase for what NHL hockey can be.
But shift after shift, period after period, and game after game, lthe Blackhawks and Red Wings show a consistently high level of skill and tempo, making their great plays at incredible speed. All I hope for is that the series goes seven games, just so we can see as much of them as possible.
Coming up, we have the biggest auto racing weekend of the season. The Indianapolis 500 is a highlight, for sure, and NASCAR fans have their 600 at Charlotte, right after it. But get up early for the special treat, when the Monaco Grand Prix will run at about 7 a.m.
Monaco is special because of the wonderful scenario of the little Mediterranean principality, with its lavish seaside hotels and resorts, and the winding roads that connect them. The race is run on those streets, and there isn’t room for passing except maybe at one or two places. So qualifying will be vital, and so will pit stops.
But it’s Monaco, so watch it, and it’s the perfect way to start the biggest day in motorsports.
In what seems like a previous lifetime, I left the Duluth News-Tribune after a little over two years to accept the challenge of being a sportswriter at the Minneapolis Tribune. In my first year there, I tried to stretch out to cover as much hockey at any and all levels, but when winter gave way to spring, I went after my second passion -- auto racing.
It wasn’t big-time, but it was pretty big-time. I had enjoyed watching close-up as the dirt-track guys thrashed around Proctor and Superior short ovals, so it was a step up to cover the clean, almost sanitary stock cars on the asphalt short tracks at Elko, Raceway Park, and Twin City Speedway. The climax of their season was to go over to the Minnesota State Fair and try the hotter and more sophisticated cars on the half-mile oval.
The big names at that time included Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott, who would come up from Iowa and take home the big purses. Some of the top Twin Cities drivers evolved to be competitive, and the top guys from Wisconsin’s more competitive short tracks got there quicker. They included Dave Marcis, and a few others, and then, along came a scruffy, tough-talking character named Dick Trickle. He raced Mustangs, which were colorful in the early 1970s, and he raced Camaros. He got big money sponsorship from SuperAmerica, because he won.
During the summer, Elko promoters would bring in a couple of big shows, hiring in some hot names from the NASCAR circuit. I met Dale Earnhardt in the pits at Elko Speedway, and I still have a cap with his car’s image and scripted signature. Rusty Wallace, too, and Mark Martin, who was barely past being a teenager when he showed up to perform. Against those guys, Trickle was a “local.” He was from Wisconsin Rapids, but he had come over so frequently to race at Minnesota that he was “our” home favorite against the big-money drivers. And he’d beat them, almost always.
It seems like yesterday, in the pits at Elko in 1972, I think it was, I had watched all the best Upper Midwest short-track stock car pilots qualify in earnest for a large purse that was divided up three ways. There would be twin 100-lap feature races, with some of the purse going to the winner of the first one, then the entire field would be inverted for a second 100, with another chunk to that winner, and the rest would go to the driver who had the best combined finishes for the two 100s. I was hoping Trickle would be there, as promised, but as the qualifying ended, and he wasn’t there, I was prepared to watch one of the summer’s highlights regardless.
All of a sudden, I heard a horn honk, and somebody ran to the back gate to open it. In came a truck, driven by Trickle, hauling his race car. I talked to him, having written often about his exploits in big Minnesota races, and he talked casually as he worked swiftly and efficiently to unload his car, all by himself, then make sure all the settings were right. Because he had missed qualifying, he would have to start at the rear in the first 100-lap race around the one-third mile Elko oval. No problem. The race started, and the competition at the front was ferocious, but with stealthy certainty, Trickle’s Mustang moved up, virtually slaloming in and out to pass cars, until he got up to the leaders. It took a few more laps, but he picked them all off, and won the first 100.
He pulled into the pits, an ever-present cigarette in his teeth, and checked things over. Trickle always smoked, just as he always wore heavy engineer boots as his driving shoes. He had a lighter wired into his race cars, and he wore an open-face helmet so it would be easier to smoke, while he raced. I watched in amazement as he drove back out onto the track and lined up at the rear for the second 100-lap feature. Then he did the same thing -- picking off the drivers ahead, one by one, until he worked his way up to the front, and won that one, too. He waved to the crowd, collected his checks, socialized for a couple of hours in the pits, then loaded up his car, and drove off into the night.
Dick Trickle raced all over the smaller-time race series, ASA, ARTGO, and ARCA, after the IMCA faded from view. He raced every weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and he hauled off to anywhere within reason when some midweek special promised a big purse. He didn’t just compete, though; he won. In 1972, he won 67 feature races. Some top drivers don’t even race in 67 features in a season. They say he won over 1,200 races during his career.
He went off to join the big boys of NASCAR at age 48, and was named rookie of the year. I wasn’t sure that was the best thing, because he was a genuine legend on Upper Midwest short tracks, and I thought he might be too old to hook on with a competitive ride among NASCAR’s good-ol’ boys. Marcis had done it, and Alan Kulwicki, but not at 48. Still, he competed, and always gave a strong accounting of himself. Trickle moved to North Carolina, and he acquitted himself well, while Wisconsin tracks named big events after him, and whenever he showed up, he was a true celebrity. I always wondered what those NASCAR boys would have thought if Trickle had invaded them 10 years earlier, at the pinnacle of his career.
Word is, he suffered some ailments in the last few years. Knee replacement, they say, but also some bad disease. It led to some depression, which can be deadly. Part of it was when his grand-daughter was killed in a car accident in 2001. They said he never got over that. She’s buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery near Boger City, N.C.
Last week, at noon on Thursday, a phone call came to an emergency medical outfit at 12 noon. A voice on the other end said that if those officials came out to Forest Lawn Cemetery, they would find a dead man’s body. They asked how he knew, and he said because it would be his. They raced to the scene, and found Dick Trickle’s body. He had shot himself. A tragic ending to a legendary race driver, and person.