No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota driver Mark Martin finished a media session Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and walked only a few steps away before quickly turning around.
“I remember one more thing,” he said as a smile came across his face. He had just spent five minutes talking about Dick Trickle to the assembled NASCAR media.
But even after the session his memories kept coming.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Trickle, 71, racing’s “winningest short track driver” had ended a life that included over 1,200 race victories and mentoring some of the sport’s brightest stars on the short tracks of middle America.
One teenager seeking Trickle’s wisdom was Martin who battled the Wisconsin legend in several stock car series before moving south to win 40 NASCAR Sprint Cup races and likely earn a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“Dick made himself a mentor to many, Rusty (Wallace), myself, Alan Kulwicki -- you know we wouldn’t have been the racers that we were when we got here had we not come under his influence,” said Martin.
Martin didn’t subscribe to everything in Trickle’s legendary lifestyle. Martin didn’t smoke in the race car and he certainly couldn’t keep up with Trickle’s rule of needing only an hour of sleep for each 100 laps of the next day’s race. But Martin and others learned plenty.
“I was proud of who we were and the racers we were. For the influence that he had on us and the etiquette and the way he raced. He raced us real hard on the race track, but off the race track, he was very free with parts or advice -- he gave freely.”
Those short track days may be a memory but the lessons learned as a teenager under Trickle’s guidance are still around. When Martin starts Sunday’s Coke 600 he’ll remember one of the first lessons.
"He was the one that told me, and this is kind of corny, but it isn't when you're 18 or 19 years old. He told me in order to finish first, first you must finish. That has always kind of stuck with me.”
Trickle’s last NASCAR race came in 2002 and Martin said the pair had rarely crossed paths of late, but “he was part of the influence that helped mold the people and racers that we were.”
As for that extra memory Martin added after the media session?
It goes back to 1977 when the 18-year-old Martin travelled from Arkansas to Wisconsin where they raced five nights a week. The promoter at Wisconsin Rapids’, high-banked, third-mile Golden Sands Speedway offered $100 bonus to anyone breaking the track record.
Martin set a new track record and grabbed the provisional pole. As qualifying wound down he started thinking of ways to spend the extra cash.
All of sudden an open trailer arrived at the track then rolled through the pits with an idling racecar sitting on the back. The crew climbed from the trailer, dropped the gate and Trickle drove the car down the ramp then onto the track where he knocked Martin off the pole and set a new track record.
"After beating me he got on to me for breaking the record too much. He said we were only supposed to break it a little at a time so we could collect the 100$ every week,” laughed Martin.
“I'm sure he'd like to be remembered the way all of us that knew him remember him -- and that is he was a hell of a hard guy to beat.”
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