Life Advice: Deploying The Dick Trickle Maneuver
The late great NASCAR driver had a deviously simple way of handling himself in social settings, and now you do too.
PODCAST NOTE! You can listen below to a big long discussion with ESPN’s Ryan McGee about the Dick Trickle Maneuver, the role of beer in old school NASCAR, and nostalgia for an era of racing that’s not come back. It’s all in this episode of the North Carolina Rabbit Hole podcast (formerly Away Message), which you can find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many other places.
People will sometimes go to great lengths to make it appear that they’re drinking, even when they’re not. More than a decade ago, my wife and I had a bunch of people over to our house for a party. Shortly afterward, one of my wife’s friends revealed that she was pregnant. My wife, WHO SEES EVERYTHING AND FORGETS NOTHING, recalled that her friend had been sipping on a Yuengling. That was a facade, her friend said. Her husband had saved the bottles, washed them out, filled them with apple juice, and put the caps back on. That seemed implausible until I went into the fridge, opened a Yuengling they’d left behind, and tasted something sweet instead of something bitter.
That story might go into a special category that shows the lengths that people will go to to avoid revealing their pregnancies before they want to. But at its heart, it was an elaborate trick to fit into a situation where people are drinking socially. Now, here’s the thing. I’m no social scientist. I only see what I see and read what I read. Back when I was in college, there were no breweries as we think of them today. There were only bars. And since my college days in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, youth drinking has been in decline. Compared to previous decades, young people are now less likely to drink alcohol and, if they do so, they start drinking at older ages, drink less often, consume smaller amounts and are less likely to get drunk,” notes one study, which gets into the weeds on the different reasons why that might be, whether that’ll hold up into adulthood, and what the policy and social implications might be going forward. Even so, non-alcoholic beer and mocktails are A Thing now. O’Douls walked so that the Athletic Brewing Company could run.
And yet, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re going to be somewhere for a while, and people are drinking, and you might want to have one beer, but you know you can’t possibly make it last for that long. What do you do? How do you quietly fit in without making a big deal about it?
For that, do as Dick Trickle did.
Dick Trickle, was that his real name?
Yes. Dick Trickle was his real name.
In short, Dick Trickle was one of the greatest short track racers of all time. In fact, he was so good that he was able to grind out a living by winning races all around Wisconsin and the Midwest. In the late 1970s, he was offered a full-time ride in NASCAR and turned it down, because the Winston Cup Series was riskier than bringing home first-place checks every weekend from places like LaCrosse, Wausau, and Wisconsin Dells. Later in the 1989, though, he figured he’d go for it, because why the hell not. Hence, Dick Trickle became NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year. At age 48.
Trickle never won a points-carrying Cup race, but became legendary because Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick loved saying his name and his usually middle- or back-of-the-pack finish on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Trickle got a commercial out of the attention.
In 1990, Trickle and his wife moved to Iron Station, North Carolina to be closer to NASCAR’s spiritual and logistical home in the Charlotte area. He drove full-time until 1998 and ran his last Cup series race in 2002. He took his own life in May 2013.
I know quite a bit about Dick Trickle because I wrote a big long story about him for SB Nation 11 years ago, a story that will probably be on my writer’s epitaph if a thing were to exist. I felt, then, that he hadn’t been given his due. “He was definitely one of the most talented race drivers that we've ever had in America,” Humpy Wheeler, the former promoter and president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, told me without a hint of his signature hyperbole. “He's up there with A.J. Foyt, [Richard] Petty, [Mario] Andretti, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon.” So, I started writing a proper biography of the man, and got a very specific direction from one of he drivers he mentored, Kenny Wallace. “Don’t you fuck it up,” Wallace told me.
Wallace is one of those guys who can talk your ear off and keep you entertained for a very long time. Over three hours, he told me story after story about Dick Trickle, mostly about his practical wisdom. A lot of it was applicable on the racetrack. A lot of of it was applicable in life. Including his philosophy on drinking beer.
A Legendary Beer Drinker With A Secret Strategy
Part of Dick Trickle’s mystique was that he was known as a legendary beer drinker who always seemed to have a can in his hand.
Trickle played into this perception. When he won his first NASCAR Busch Series race at Hickory in 1997, longtime racing reporter (and 2024 NMPA-award winner!) Ryan McGee remembered him saying: “I get free beer, right?” Trickle was Larry The Cable Guy’s favorite driver because he had “937 beer cans in front of him” when they first met. After his death, a lot of people came out to say that he was competitive but friendly, and that he’d have a cold one with you.
Everyone remembers Dick Trickle with a beer in his hand. People got drunk with Dick Trickle. And yet, Trickle himself never seemed to get drunk. In 2013, Wallace revealed the secret to me:
I’m not telling on him, but this was awesome. When Dick Trickle was drinkin’ beer, he had the same beer in his hand all night. That’s what made Dick Trickle great.
So everybody thought that Dick was just drinking all this beer. Well he did drink a beer, or two, or three. But Dick would take a beer, he’d drink it, it would be about empty, and he’d just keep it in his hand. And he loved people. So Dick was not this big drinker like everybody thought he was. He actually did stay out late, but he had so much camaraderie. You gotta remember, he was winning all the time! So when you’re winning, it’s easy to stay out and celebrate with your friends. But Dick didn’t slam 12 beers. He’d drink a beer, and there might have been a quarter-inch of beer left in that can. And he might hold on to that same can for an hour. Dick shared that with me. And I finally looked him and said “Oh my God, do you know how many times I got drunk because of you?”
I’m 100% percent positive that Dick Trickle did not invent this maneuver. But I’m also 100% sure that nobody else had had Kenny Wallace describe it in a way that makes it impossible to leave your brain.
Ever since then, I have deployed this strategy. At weddings. At bars. At parties. At neighborhood get-togethers. On the beach. In parking lots after beer league hockey games. Now, look. I am rarely, if ever, in situations where I am socially pressured into drinking a lot of beer, which I don’t like to do. And yet! I will hold on to an empty can of beer for a very long time. This trick was once harder to pull off when it came to bottles, but the great Koozie ascendance has completely changed the game.
Hence, there are moments when I’ll be out somewhere with my wife, and I’ll lean over and whisper: “I’m Dick Tricklin’ it over here.” And she will understand, immediately, that I’m referring to the can of beer in my hand and nothing else, you pervert.
I am not under the illusion that anyone cares whether I’m drinking or not, and I’m certainly not a life-of-the-party guy. And yet, I keep deploying the Dick Trickle Maneuver. I used it last month, walking around The Greenbrier resort as I tagged along with my wife on her work retreat. I spend a good chunk of the social hour with an empty bottle of Stella Artois in my hand, wrapped in a napkin. Nobody was wise to this (until now).
I don’t have to do this. But, I think I still do because I don’t like to turn down generosity. Dick Trickle understood this too. If someone threw him a beer, he’d take it. But people don’t tend to do that when you’ve already got one in your hand.
Or, maybe this is just a small tribute to a good guy who I never got to meet.
Anyhow, that is the Dick Trickle Maneuver. I’ve used it for a decade, and now you can use it too. Or not. It’s 2024. You do you.
One more note: This maneuver does not apply to another thing that Dick Trickle really, really enjoyed: cigarettes.