Dick Trickle (right) with Kenny Wallace in 2005. (AP)

Dick Trickle, a legendary race-car driver who died Thursday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, was mourned with affectionate humor, which no doubt would have pleased him.

The body of Trickle, 71, was found near his pick-up truck in a Boger City, N.C., cemetery after the Lincoln County sheriff’s office said they received a call believed to be from Trickle. The man said “there would be a dead body and it would be his,” police said, and there was no answer when authorities called the number back. Trickle’s granddaughter, according to the Charlotte Observer, was buried in the cemetery after a 2001 auto accident.

(AP) (AP)

With a colorful name, a chain-smoking habit and a fun streak a mile wide, Trickle was a highly successful short-track driver before joining the Winston Cup series in 1989 and becoming rookie of the year when he was nearing 50.  Although he never won a Cup race in over 300 tries, but reached the kind of cult status that helped boost NASCAR’s popularity — thanks in part to his willingness to lampoon his lack of a win and persistent, winking mentions of his name on ESPN by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann.

“In a time in which athletes were really getting overly sensitive to what we and everyone was starting to do, his attitude was, ‘Hey, you guys made me money, all I’ve got to do is put up with a little giggling and I have to put up with the giggling anyway,” Olbermann said (via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

“But this is a guy that got in a car, drove it as fast as it would go, that would light up a butt, smoke at 160 mph. There was just something spectacularly old-school about him.”

Geoff Bodine told the Associated Press that the best way to describe Trickle was “fun. Just plain fun. … People everywhere knew his name. That’s why they used his likeness in that movie `Days of Thunder’ [with Tom Cruise portraying a driver named Cole Trickle]. He was such a character.”

Trickle was born in Wisconsin and his success began at Midwestern short tracks. “Dick Trickle was one of the best race drivers of the `80s, no one knew how many races he won,” Humpy Wheeler, the former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, said. “… He was a product of the rich Wisconsin soil, where they race eight races a week in the season, and he could win all of them.”

Rusty Wallace said he was “in 100 percent shock” after learning of Trickle’s death.

“Dick Trickle was my mentor,” Wallace said in a statement. “When I was short track racing, I would call him every Monday morning and he would always help me with race setups and stuff. He and I had such a good time telling little stories, but he was the guy that taught me almost everything in the American Speed Association. And he was the guy that I battled right to the end for my 1983 ASA championship. I barely beat the guy that taught me everything. I’d not seen Dick as much as I’d like to of late. He was a legend. A man that … was a role model to many short track racers coming up. Could just do magic with the race car and he taught me so much about racing.”

Brad Keselowski said Thursday that Trickle was “the guy” during the great short-track era. “His loss, in some ways, is a symbol of the end of that era. That’s very sad to see.”

Landon Cassill told USA Today that Trickle “punted” him out of the way in a race in Madison when Cassil was 14.

“We had raced side-by-side for 100 laps and then he put the fender to me at the end. After the race, he came and offered me a cigarette.”

He drove when he was in his 60s, filling in for NASCAR teams. He finally quit though, because heart problems required him to take blood thinners.

“For all the victories I’ve had, which I appreciate, you know I had a few times when I came in backwards, too,” Trickle told the Journal Sentinel in 2009.

“I’m paying for some of my good times, but at the same time, I’m getting better and better with old age.”

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