EDGERTON, WI (November 21, 2021) – After 45 years, more than 400 feature victories, three NASCAR Truck Series wins, multiple track and series championships, Hall of Fame inductions and a record-setting five Snowball Derby Championships, Rich Bickle has just two races left until he calls it quits.
Next up is the Bill Bigley, Sr 128 Super Late Model Memorial at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda, FL on Sunday, Nov. 27. The following weekend will be Bickle’s last year in the 54th Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL.
For both races, Bickle will drive his usual No. 45 for T1 Racing and each event will be available to view through Speed51.TV’s broadcast.
Bickle, who turned 60 on May 13, said before the season started that 2021 would be his last year driving. He kicked it off winning the Outlaw 600 feature at the World Vintage Snowmobile Derby at Eagle River, WI. Trading sled tracks for oval tracks, Bickle then qualified fourth for the February ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway.
This year, among his seven feature wins, Bickle claimed the Joe Shear Classic at Madison International Speedway and the Jim Sauter Classic at Dells Raceway Park. In an exclusive interview with RacingAmerica.com, the much-respected and fan-favorite driver talked about the next few weeks ahead.
“I plan on approaching the next two weeks like I have every time I ever strapped in and put my helmet on to race,” Bickle said. “I’m looking to lap the entire field and win. We started the season racing a snowmobile on the ice, and we’re going to end it in the Snowball Derby
“Hopefully, we’ll end the Snowball like we did the snowmobile race with a victory. I mean, that’s why we do what we do, right?”
Bickle has been doing it right on shorts tracks all over the Midwest since his first race at the age of 15. Going to tracks like Slinger Speedway as a kid, where he would later be a four-time Slinger Nationals Champion, Bickle remembers standing by the fence watching drivers do their victory lane interviews.
Remembering those times inspired Bickle to start a tradition when he began racing and winning.
“When I would be standing there, I was hoping the driver would give me the trophy,” Bickle reflected, with a laugh. “When I got to winning, I started giving my trophies to some lucky kid.
“The look in their eye and smile on their faces makes it worthwhile. I have kids I race against now who bring me pictures of when I gave them trophies back in the day. Think that makes me feel old?"
When I got to winning, I started giving my trophies to some lucky kid ... I have kids I race against now who bring me pictures of when I gave them trophies back in the day. Think that makes me feel old?
“My hope is it inspires them to do nice things for other people and to have a really cool memory from a night at the races. Of all the wins I’ve had, on all levels, I think I have maybe 10 trophies that I kept.”
Bickle has his own share of memories reaching the pinnacle of racing in the NASCAR ranks. Winning three Truck Series races and finishing second in points were great achievements. Of all those starts in the big leagues, there is one race in particular that sticks out to this day.
“When we qualified for the Inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 with Melling Racing, that was huge,” Bickle said. “There were 85 cars entered for 43 starting positions. we qualified 19th and finished 29th.
“I will never forget driving down that chasm between the fronstretch and grandstands behind pit wall. That’s something a guy like me from Edgerton, WI can only dream of doing.”
Feared by some on the track, revered by fans in the stands and pretty much the last one to leave the pits after race nights; the legacy of Rich Bickle and what he means to them may not be written in the immediate future.
With the Bigley and Snowball left as the only two races remaining before Bickle hangs up the helmet after four-and-a-half decades behind the wheel, he hasn’t given it too much thought – yet. A busy schedule isn’t leaving much room to ponder the significance, either.
“We head down to Five Flags to test for the Snowball Derby, then we go to Punta Gorda to race the Bigley, and head straight back to Five Flags for the Derby,” Bickle said. “With all the work Tony (Ambrose, crew chief) and the guys are doing, we really haven’t thought much about after the final race. I’m sure they’ve thought about it, but we haven’t talked amongst ourselves.
“I’ve had a few people come up to me and say something about it being two to go, but not very many,” Bickle said. “Honestly, I haven’t given it too much thought myself. I really don’t know how I’m going to feel or react after the final checkers at Snowball.
“I’ve had 45 years to get ready for it, that’s for sure. Looks like there’s only going to be one way to find out.”
-Story by: Tim Packman, special to Racing America