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Racin' Around: 1997

"People ask me what I'm going to do when I retire, and I tell them I'm going to watch Dick Trickle race."
-- Rusty Wallace
During a red flag, sitting in his car, over the scanner came the quote of 1997:
"What do you mean I can't get water. Someone just brought Trickle a cigarette."
-- Dale Jarrett
Geee....I think that's why it's called the "Winston" and not the Perrier Cup.

1997 Season

In 1997, Trickle was the only full-time Winston Cup Series driver to finish in the Top Fifteen Busch Series point standings. Trickle joined forces with Shoemaker less than two years ago, and their success since then has been nothing short of spectacular.

In spite of Trickle missing three races due to Winston Cup Schedule conflicts, Trickle finished the 1997 NASCAR Busch Series season in 12th position in Driver Standings. They won their first race together at Hickory, North Carolina, this past spring and had seven top five finishes in 28 starts, starting in the top-10 20 times, including two Bud Poles.

Dick is expected to compete in all but six of the season's Busch events, and a driver will be named to fill-in for Trickle when the Winston Cup Series conflicts. Brian Shaffer is the returning crew chief for the Chevrolets that Trickle will drive in 1998 for Shoemaker, who finished the 1997 season eleventh in the series owner points standings, the highest in his nine years in the Busch Grand National Series.

In his first start on the NASCAR Busch Series, in 1984, Trickle earned the Bud Pole at Milwaukee and finished in third. Trickle did not race on the NASCAR Busch Series for five seasons, until 1990, when he returned for three races. He started racing on his own in 1958 on dirt tracks in the midwest, then moved to asphalt racing and began winning races all over the midwest. He holds the title for most feature wins in a season (67) and in his 38 years of racing has won over 1,200 races, which earned him the title of "Winningest Stock Car Driver in America." Trickle was the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year back in 1989. Another distinguishing honor he cherishes is being voted the four-most popular NASCAR driver in 1997 by readers of NASCAR Winston Cup Scene.

For A Driver Who Began 1996 Without A Ride

Dick Trickle had quite a year. In Winston Cup Dick battled his way into the field at Daytona with a hastily prepared car. The engine packed up after 9 laps, but it was a feat just to get there through the Twin 125's. Recruited to drive the TriStar Motorsports' Ford, he put himself on the outside pole at Dover, started the Winston Select Open in the same position and posted an 8th place finish in the first Bristol race. In the Busch Series the veteran driver signed on with the Shoemaker #64 Dura Lube team at Atlanta last year. His first day with the team found Trickle on the pole with a record time. They finished in the Top 10 in the owner points battle with Trickle commanding a 12th place driver points finish after competing in only 23 of the 26 races held in 1996. He joined the Heilig-Meyers team when Mike Wallace was released and qualified the #90 car 9th at Loudon, 4th at Michigan, 7th at Dover and 8th at Martinsville.

Pulling double duty again this year, Junie Donlavey and Trickle agreed to a full 1997 season with Bob Johnson remaining as crew chief on a newly reorganized crew and with the Dennis Shoemaker Racing team staying pretty much the same, they should be a Top 10 contender for the 1997 Busch Series Championship. This should be the year for Dick to have a chance to show the talent that made him a midwest short-track legend with more than 1,200 feature wins. Look for both teams in the winner's circle in 1997.

Richmond native Donlavey is able to talk nearly the complete history of NASCAR and the Winston Cup. He fielded his first car in 1950, a true pioneer and legend, he has been at it ever since. Some of the biggest names in the sport have driven his cars over the last 40 plus years and he is truly one of the good guys of NASCAR.

Johnson fielded modified cars for the likes of Ron Bouchard and Satch Worley and worked with Junie during the 1987 season when Ken Schrader finished 10th in the #90 car with 10 top-10 finishes. Bob signed back up in 1996 preparing Wallace's cars after a good run as crew chief with the Richard Petty owned Rodney Combs Busch Series team.

Look for the #99 car running again this year at each of the legs of the Slinger Nationals held in Wisconsin. Then there is always the Minnesota State Fair on Labor Day.

Dick has once again been chosen to be one of the test drivers for the International Race of Champions series. Dave Marcis, Jim Sauter and Trickle set up all the cars used in each leg of the series.

Almost immediately after Dick was named driver in 1996, the Fords began running much stronger and had some extremely impressive runs. Returning for the full 1997 season in the Ford Thunderbirds, Trickle, Donlavey, Johnson and Heilig-Meyers are expecting more of the same moves to the front of the field.


Donlavey Team Trickle(s) Into Future

1997 seen as pivotal for Richmond outfit

Friday, February 28, 1997 By Ben W. Blake Staff Writer Times-Dispatch

It's still called Donlavey Racing, and it still works out of the side-street group of buildings at Belt Boulevard and Midlothian Turnpike in South Richmond.

But Junie Donlavey's old tag-along team isn't quite what it used to be, and general manager Jeff Kirk believes the changes, in the long run, will be for the better. With major backing and direction from sponsor Heilig-Meyers Co. and with Kirk at the controls, the Donlavey group is moving delicately but firmly into the future. That process will take time, Kirk says, and 1997 could be pivotal. Heilig-Meyers, entering its fifth season with the Donlavey team, does not have a lot to show for its money — only two top-10 finishes in four years.

The deal is up for renewal later this year, and Kirk wants to deliver some results. "If we show some improvement over the next year, they'll certainly sign up for a longer extension. Once that happens, we can really go full-bore. I'm not going to sit here and tell you we're going to build this in a day, a year or two years. I would think most teams in the Charlotte area have a three-year turnaround from where you are to where you want to be. Up here, let's say it's a four-year program. I'm not saying four years from where we started, but maybe a year from right now, we should be a solid top-10 team week in and week out. We're not in the mainstream of Charlotte, good and bad, so we have to develop our own talent. We get younger kids and build what we want to build. OK, we're not going to excel as quickly with our people as we'd do in Charlotte, but we don't have the turnover you'd have in Charlotte. We've got people who have been here 26 years, 17 years, whatever. We've got a good group of guys."

As Kirk noted, a team operating outside NASCAR's Charlotte hub faces challenges that require creative approaches. But a team outside Charlotte also faces less competition for personnel and can keep innovations to itself.

Let it be clear that Donlavey, 72, still owns the race team, as he has for 50 years. Donlavey, a Richmond native and life-long resident, raced within his means all those years, taking his one and only Winston Cup victory with Jody Ridley at Dover, Del., in 1981. In the mid-1980s, NASCAR moved from the back yards to the board rooms, and the Donlavey team somehow lost the draft of the big-bucks boys. Big fish such as Rick Hendrick, Felix Sabates and Jack Roush took over the pond, leaving little for old regulars such as Jimmy Means, J.D. McDuffie, Dave Marcis and the like. After 1988, when Kraft/Bull's Eye pulled the plug, Donlavey kept going with sketchy sponsorship, running a dozen or so races a year.

Heilig-Meyers, the national furniture retailer based in Richmond, gave Donlavey one more chance, signing on with driver Bobby Hillin in 1993. Hillin lasted just more than a year, and Mike Wallace took over early in 1994. He was replaced by Dick Trickle last year. At $3 million, $4 million, $5 million a year, Heilig-Meyers and associates are paying as much as any top sponsor in the business. But the company quickly learned that money alone is not the answer. Wallace, a very businesslike racer, did not have much success on the track, but he helped pull Donlavey and Heilig-Meyers toward a more correct view of present-day racing.

One of the results was that Kirk was hired from the company that handled Heilig-Meyer's race marketing. While Donlavey ran his business like a racing team, Kirk runs the racing team like a business. "It's a business now, and we have to run it like a business. I'm not saying Junie's philosophy's not right. . . . Junie's been in the sport 50 years, but in 50 years, how many years has he run a full schedule? So I'm going to say this team having some of the things a new team would is only four years old."

In the past couple of years, the old Donlavey garages have been turned into a nice-looking, up-to-date race shop. Shop equipment has been upgraded, new machinery acquired. The team is with the mainstream in buying Laughlin and Hopkins cars and, in a step toward self-sufficiency, hangs its own bodies instead of sending the cars out. Much effort has gone into making parts more lightweight. Donlavey's engines come from Larry Wallace, who works for several other Cup teams. The team has 16 full-time employees, plus several road warriors. Included in that group are old Donlavey mainliners such as Kenny Bell and David Bowlin, along with newcomers from all over the map.

Kirk says he recruits in the Charlotte area with mixed results. He has had better luck bringing in skilled newcomers from Wisconsin, Connecticut, Nebraska, and so on, but they need time to learn on-the-edge NASCAR materials and methods. The team even has the latest NASCAR rage, an engineer. Hoyt Overbagh, champion sports-car racer and an employee of Reynolds Metals Co., approached the team about helping with data acquisition and analysis. Overbagh, familiar with sophisticated sports-car technology, can make quick reads and suggest changes to crew chief Bob Johnson. Donlavey laughs and calls himself "a consultant." Kirk says he doesn't always agree with Donlavey but that the old master's knowledge is invaluable. "He's not in the day-to-day operation of financing and ordering and getting things in, but when we come across something where he's got more knowledge, we certainly go to him. I think Junie is best served for his wealth of knowledge. If the car's loose or pushing, he can make a quick fix for us at the track. He can go down in the corner and watch, and Dick doesn't have to tell him what the car's doing. Junie sees what the car's doing."

Donlavey shakes his head at the changes. "You've got to be on top of everything that's going on. We needed all the new equipment that's been bought over there. We need all these people. Down through the years, if I had that many people I could have run eight or 10 teams. We've got the latest equipment, computers all hooked up to the cars, but you've still got to work with that driver. I don't care how good you make that car, if he can't drive it, it ain't worth nothing. I don't care what Bob does or I do, we've got to make that car comfortable for Dick Trickle."

Veteran Trickle has made a difference as well, showing again that money and business aren't all of what makes a race car go. When Trickle replaced Wallace in June, results, especially in qualifying, improved.

In 1997, the Donlavey team is trying to keep a couple of oranges in the air at once. To be successful, it needs a long-range growth plan. But to apply the plan, it needs long-range commitment from the sponsors. Kirk says, "Any race team, to be the best it can be, has got to have everything in-house. Here at Donlavey Racing, we have to look at things in stages. We finished back in the 30s in points last year. Our goal this year is to finish in the top 20, 25. Then certainly there's another stage from that point to another point, whether it be finances or people, that we'll cross next year. I think to be in the top 10, you have to have everything totally in-house."

Heilig-Meyers' chairman and chief executive officer, William C. DeRusha, is dedicated to having a race team in Richmond. There are whispers that DeRusha eventually would like to have a team of his own. Donlavey enjoys his livelihood, but he's not going to go on forever. He enjoys being around racing and the friends he's made over a lifetime, and he says he has more time to visit these days. And, deep down, he's still in charge of the little empire he built over 50 years. "I would like to stay in the same position I'm in, just try to make sure the people we have working are doing the job the right way, everybody getting along, everybody putting out 100 percent. They've upgraded our team with the rest of them. We've got everything everybody else has got. All we need to do is to make good use of it. This year will tell whether we need to keep going or not. If we can produce and put this car up there where it needs to be, we can do a good job for Heilig-Meyers."


Nephew's Shooting Wears On Dick Trickle

Trickle's Mood Changed Because Of A Family Tragedy

Friday, March 14, 1997 - By Matt Jacob; Review-Journal

He could finish first or dead last. It never mattered. The smile on Dick Trickle's face was always there. One of Trickle's crew members says the stock-car driver's motto is, Just happy to be here. But in the past month, the happy-go-lucky Trickle hasn't had much reason to smile. And it's not because of poor performance on the racetrack.

Trickle's mood changed because of a family tragedy, the kind most people assume happens to someone else: On the night of Feb. 9, Trickle's 24-year-old nephew, Chris Trickle, a Las Vegas racer who aspired to follow in his uncle's footsteps, was shot in the head while driving alone in his car on Blue Diamond Road.

As Dick Trickle took his first spin Thursday around Las Vegas Motor Speedway in preparation for Sunday's Las Vegas 300 Busch Grand National Series race, Chris was lying comatose in serious condition at University Medical Center. This was supposed to be the weekend when uncle and nephew would finally get a chance to see each other race on the same track. Chris was scheduled to compete in Saturday night's NASCAR Southwest Tour event.

For years, thousands of miles separated them. Dick resides in Charlotte, N.C., but both shared the common bond of racing. In fact, Chris traveled to Daytona, Fla., two years ago to watch his uncle compete in the Daytona 500. After that, Chris said it was his dream to compete in the fabled race. He appeared on his way to achieving that goal until five weeks ago. Despite pleas from the Trickle family and a substantial reward offer, no suspects have been identified. It's not known if Chris was an intended target or a random victim. This much, however, is known: If Chris survives the attack, he will never race again, never get the opportunity to fulfill his dream. Trickle continued to race on the Winston Cup and Busch Grand National series since the tragedy. He said time on the track helped clear his mind.

You never think it's going to happen in your family or to anyone close to you. Chris was coming along, really maturing and a very smooth driver. I try not to respond a whole lot about it, but the biggest response I have is there was no reason for it to happen. That says it all. ... My heart just goes out to the whole family — Chuck, (mother) Barbara, the whole nucleus that's been around Chris in these last few years and these years coming up. For Chris it's terrible, but the effect is felt on a lot of people who are close to him. I've been checking in with my brother Chuck during the week when I can sit down and talk to him at length, versus a quick report. I've really been so busy, and being busy at this point has been a good thing. Racing and my schedule takes so much of my mental time that it doesn't let me sit and think about it.

A fellow driver presented Dick with a personal check made out to Chris for $1,000 Thursday morning. It was a common gesture in the racing industry, which is like a tight family whose members always support their own in times of need. "It's been tough for (Dick). You can tell it's been on his mind a lot since it happened," said Dale Jarrett, one of Sunday's competitors who races with Trickle on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. "Dick's a great guy. Most of the time he's very happy and outgoing, (but) you can just tell that he's had a lot of things on his mind, and understandably so. It's very unfortunate," Jarrett said of Chris Trickle's misfortune. "I know he was a really talented young man and had a promising future ahead of him. ... Yeah, he wasn't to the level that we're at, but those were his aspirations. And now those things have been taken from him." <bgsound src="abmedia/trickle1.wav">



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