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April 20, 2014

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Chuck and Barbara Trickle recall the promise of young Chris

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Barbara and Chuck Trickle (the brace is for an injured right shoulder) relax at LVMS.

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Barbara and young Chris Trickle, the next in line in the racing Trickle family.

With the Trickles, it’s always about what would have been, what could have been, what should have been. They are out here today, Chuck and Barbara, watching stock cars roar around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Shelby 427 Sprint Cup Series race. They watch from the infield, from their behemoth, slate-colored RV, flipping burgers and dishing out chips and snacks of grapes and string cheese. They seem almost hypnotized by the sights and sounds, as some of the drivers their son used to whip are competing now in front of 120,000 race fans.

What might have been …

The Trickles are wearing T-shirts decorated with the familiar light-blue and Dayglo orange No. 70 racing logo that was once painted on the Chevy Monte Carlo driven by young Chris Trickle. Today that number has been gifted to the next in line in the racing Trickle family, grandson Chris Trickle, who at age 8 is already a holy terror in a go-kart. He’s racing today in a Bandelaro event after the Cup race, near the LVMS start-finish line. He’s four years younger than most of the drivers and will likely not win, but wait four years from now. “He’ll be great,” Chuck says. “He’s got it in his blood.”

Remembering Chris Trickle

Barbara and Chuck Trickle remember their son, Chris, a NASCAR driver who was murdered 11 years ago.

Most longtime local race fans remember the heart-wrenching Chris Trickle saga, but when the Cup tour makes its annual visit to Vegas, it bears repeating, lest anyone forget what happened on the night of Feb. 9, 1997. One of the rising stars on the Southwest Tour (a “starter” tour for some of the best young drivers in the country), 25-year-old Chris was heading out to meet a friend, Greg Hadges, for a game of tennis at Sunset Park. Soon after he left the house, Trickle was shot in the head while driving the family’s 1995 Chrysler LeBeron convertible on Blue Diamond Road near Interstate 15, just east of the just-opened Silverton hotel-casino. He survived, barely, and slipped in and out of a semi-comatose state for more than a year before succumbing to complications of the bullet wound to his head on March 25, 1998. Few leads ever surfaced on what authorities have theorized was a simple “thrill kill” or a road-rage incident with tragic results.

The murder of Chris Trickle has long been a “cold case.” Ice cold. The Trickles long ago gave up hope that the assailant would be caught. A $35,000 reward offered soon after the shooting went uncollected.

Chris Trickle would be 36 years old today. His mother often slips and refers to him in the present tense, “Chris races against Greg Biffle,” like that. She says there is “no question in my mind” he would have become one of the top stars in the Cup series. He was good-looking, charismatic, a menace on the track.

Beyond the Sun

“He had it all,” Barbara says, talking above the whine of dozens of stock cars whizzing around the LVMS tri-oval.

“He would have made millions racing cars,” Chuck adds. Whenever Chuck speaks about Chris, his eyes well up. “I cry a lot,” he says. “Probably too much.”

I remember Chuck Trickle telling me once he thought he might actually cry his eyes out. That was 11 years ago.

Compounding the grief is that the driver who stepped into Chris’ Star Nursery Monte Carlo in 1998 was Kurt Busch, who of course has become a Sprint Cup star along with his brother, Kyle, the winner of today's NASCAR race. Both Trickles have harshly criticized the elder Busch for his often hot-headed behavior on and off the track, comparing his conduct unflatteringly to the more magnanimous Chris. But such talk is not for today. “It’s not the Busches fault, what happened,” Chuck says. “I am friendly with them. I talked to Kurt out here for a half-hour yesterday.” The younger Trickles have been promised a meet-and-greet with the brothers, too.

“I can’t harbor any hard feelings,” Barbara says. “Chuck says it best. It’s not their fault.”

More ear-splitting noise. Chuck is talking up young Chris, saying he might well be the real racing star of the family. Barbara says he has the same passion for racing as Chris the first, and is certainly on the fast track with as much support as the family can provide.

I ask Chuck if being around the track so often is too much. “There were times, at first, when it was. But not now. I love this life.” Chuck himself climbed back into the driver’s seat and won a track championship at the LVMS Bullring as recently as 2003.

“I once asked Chris how he was so fast,” Chuck says, smiling slightly. “He said, ‘Watch the car in front of you.’ So simple. I started doing that, just watching the car in front of me. I’ve probably passed more cars on that track than anyone, ever. Chris taught me that.”

What might have been …

I’ve talked to the Trickles many times over the years at their business, Western Mailing Services and at their house off Blue Diamond Road, not far from where Chris was shot. Our conversations span more than a decade. But this was the first time I’d spoken to them from the speedway infield, their living room. Maybe this was the first time I’d actually spent time with them at home, in the open air of a racetrack. It seemed right. I expect Chris Trickle would agree.

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