Dick Trickle is the stuff legends are made of. While short track record keeping was questionable in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, it is believed that Trickle has won over 1200 races in his barnstorming, short track career.
And even though he has not raced regularly in the Midwest in nearly a generation, his following is still huge.
But would Dick just drive around, take a promoters choice to get in the race and do the short-track equivalent of a “Start and Park?” Guess again! The new Medicare applicant qualified third of the 52 drivers in attendance and was running sixth in the feature when he got sent into the wall with just a handful of laps remaining.
“When I come here, I come to win," said Trickle. "I don’t come to show."
Never Seen A Trailer Win A Race
To his credit, Tommy Pecaro has figured out what many racers have yet to do. And that is, you never see a trailer win a race.
Dick Trickle is still one of the fan favorites any track he goes to. (Doug Hornickel Photos)
Lost amongst Peterbilt haulers and two-car stacker trailers was a borrowed white van and an open trailer purchased for $400. It’s what Pecaro uses to get to and from the race track.
“Every bit of money that I have to go racing goes back into the car,” said Pecaro.
And race is what he did. Pecaro qualified 5th and advanced to the 250-lap Nationals. Mechanical gremlins kept Pecaro from completing the full distance, but the small budget team accomplished a lot by just qualifying for the race.
Last Minute Sub
Tommy Pecaro's open trailer stood out in the Slinger pit area.
The “semi-retired” driver made his annual trip to Slinger Speedway for the Miller Lite Nationals on Tuesday night. Trickle has been a regular at the event ever since he and promoter Wayne Erickson formulated the idea 27 years ago.
And just weeks before coming to Slinger, Trickle did something that most seniors do: He signed up for Medicare. Trickle turns 65 in October.
Trickle, who makes a handful of paid appearances during the year has slowed down somewhat…Slinger was his first event of the 2006 season. It came behind the wheel of a car normally campaigned by Tim Rothe.
On Tuesday morning, Brad Mueller got the call to relieve Rich Loch behind the wheel of his family owned #55.
Loch badly hurt the index finger on his right hand loading up the race car that morning. And while team took the car to the track, Loch went to the hospital to get the finger checked out. And what Loch thought was a just a badly mangled nail turned out to also be a broken finger.
With the Loch car already at the track, attention turned to finding a suitable replacement, ASAP. Mueller has been out of the Slinger late model wars since the end of May when he destroyed his potent new ride.
Mueller’s hopes for making the Nationals were dashed when he was involved in a chain reaction incident in the last chance race.
With 52 drivers in attendance and only 16 spots in the main available through qualifying, the emphasis on the three-lap time trial session was obvious.
Lowell Bennett set fast time with an 11.393 second lap around the high-banked ¼-mile. The difference between first and 52nd Chris Blawat was .59-seconds and the difference between Bennett and 40th Chris Wimmer was .256-seconds
As noted above, Brad Muller missed the show. He qualified 28th with an 11.555-second lap. Had he gone an 11.510, he’d have been 16th and in the show.
And feeling even worse were Mike Egan, Fred Winn and John Mueller. All three went 11.512. Dennis Prunty was the final car to make the field on time…he turned an 11.511 second lap.
Lowell Bennett was the fast qualifier.
Last Chance Feature
Tuesday nights Slinger Nationals last chance qualifying race looked more like a feature.
Sixteen drivers were locked into the main event through qualifying, meaning just the top four advancers from the last chance race would advance.
In the 30-lap qualifier was: Defending Nationals winner Nathan Haseleu; three-time and defending Slinger Speedway track champion Brad Mueller; five-time Slinger champion Al Schill; John Mueller, the fast qualifier in Slinger’s weekly show just two weeks prior; Mike Egan, a winner of two Slinger features in 2005 and former Madison (Wis) Int’l Speedway and Wisconsin Dells Motor Speedway track champion Dave Feiler. Add to the mix the normally steady Andrew Morrissey, Ken Wills and Nick Schumacher and you can see it was a very stout semi-feature.
And with so much on the line, there was plenty of bumping, banging and body damage. When the checkers fell, Schumacher, Egan, Feiler and Randy Schuler all advanced.
Kelly Bires helped out All Schill during the Slinger Nationals. (Mary Fraundorf photo)
Aside from Bires, other Midwestern short track notables seen wondering the pit area were pavement drivers Steve Carlson (the nine-time Midwest Series champion), Russ Blakeley (former Midwest Series Rookie of the Year), Jeff Storm (former Mid-American Sportsman and current late model standout) as well as dirt late model driving brothers Jake and T.J. Dolhun.
Prominent Chicagoland media members Pete Pistone and Stan Kalwasinski were also in the house. Madison Int’l Speedway promoter Steve Einhaus was in attendance as was John Kaishian, the owner of the now shuttered Hales Corners Speedway.
And finally, a who’s who of racing manufacturers were in attendance. Among them Bill Tandetzke (Diamond Racing Wheel), Wayne Lensing (Lefthander Chassis), Carl Wegner (Wegner Automotive Research), Fran Prestay (Five Star Stock Car Bodies) and Bruce Mueller (B&B Race Engines).
I’ll Trade ‘Ya
Scott Wimmer returned to Slinger Speedway for Tuesday nights Nationals and rather than renting an unfamiliar car, he brought his own…and it was a car with an interesting history.
Kelly Bires The Crew Member
Kelly Bires, the latest Howie Lettow hot shoe who has been tearing it up on the ASA Late Model Series was in attendance on Tuesday night at Slinger Speedway, but not behind the wheel of a race car.
Instead Bires was busy swinging a sledge hammer and wrenching with a pop rivet gun. Al Schill got the nose of his ride tore off in the last chance race. The obvious choice for one of the four promoters options, Bires jumped in to help the Schill crew make repairs to the machine.
“Al is a friend,” said Bires. “He’s been out to watch me race before and I’m just returning the favor, helping him out.”
Schill did get a promoters option starting spot, but dropped out early and was credited with a 20th place finish.
Other Faces In The Crowd
The Miller Lite Slinger Nationals is not only a collection of some of the best short track drivers in the Midwest on the track, for many it’s a reunion and a place to see and be seen.
“We actually traded my old ASA car, the one I won my first two races with, to Russ Blakeley for this car,” recalls Wimmer. “When the ASA series went away we had no need for it. We really didn’t need a short track car, but we figured it’d be easier to sell a short track car. It sat in my dads barn and we got a wild idea to pull it out, work on it and bring it down here. It’s a good race car. I just wish we had more time to go through the car…we had a little brake problem and ultimately we broke a sway bar bolt which is just time on the car.”
Wimmer arguably had one of the best cars in the field, but the sway bar issue relegated him to a 14th place finish.
Former Southeastern Wisconsin short-track team owner Don Fanetti is busy battling health issue and was not in attendance at Slinger on Tuesday. None the less he had a presence at the Nationals.
Fanetti’s Ford GT, of which only a couple thousand were built, served as one of the pace vehicles. Before Tuesday nights laps, the rare Ford had never seen the asphalt.
Reports are that the car has been kept in Fanetti’s climate controlled display room.
Mad At Himself
Rich Bickle ran as high as second in Tuesday night’s Slinger Nationals and feels as though he had the car to beat. But a slew of small mechanical issues added up to a disappointing finish.
“I don’t like working on race cars anymore and I guess I’m mad at myself for letting some things slide, because I still want to win races,” said Bickle. “I built the car in 1992 and I really don’t do any maintenance on it. The power steering tank cap is leaking and the clutch cap is bad. The thing needs to be just taken apart and gone through because when it runs it hauls ass.”
In spite of being a major factor in the front of the field for much of the first half of the race, Bickle was forced to settle for 16th at the checkers.
Todd Kluever returned to his home state of Wisconsin Tuesday to compete in the Miller Lite Nationals at Slinger Speedway. Each year track owner Wayne Erickson brings in several NASCAR drivers with Midwestern ties to race in the event.
Rich Bickle (top, #45), Matt Kenseth (top, #17) and Todd Kluever (bottom) were some of the big names who made starts in the Slinger Nats.
Kluever, driving one of Gerry Gundermann’s potent rides, qualified ninth and ran very well in the first half of the race. He was up to third in the main when he was involved in an incident with Dick Trickle which knocked him out of the race with about 85 laps to go. Kluever's Roush Racing teammate Matt Kenseth won the race.
"It was a good night and we were having a lot of fun," Kluever said. "We had a pretty strong car in the second half and there was a car outside of me who got in the back of the #99 car (Trickle) and knocked him into the front stretch wall. When he tried to cut back down to get to the bottom, I was already there. Our wheels made contact and I think it broke the steering rack, but I was having a ball out there."