CONCORD, North Carolina - Dick Trickle, whose larger-than-life personality made him a cult figure among legions of stock-car racing fans, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said on Thursday (May 15). He was 71There is a lasting image of Trickle in the Winston 500 lighting up a cigarette while driving his car with his knees during a caution lap. He places the cigarette through a hole he carved in his helmet for a quick drag and exhales.LASTING MEMORYThe green flag hits and out the window goes the cigarette butt and back to racing goes Trickle.Fellow Nascar driver Geoff Bodine said: "Dick always had a cigarette lighter in his car."The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office said authorities received a phone call believed to be from Trickle, who said "there would be a dead body and it would be his". Authorities tried to call back but nobody answered.Trickle's body was found near his bakkie at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Boger City, North Carolina, about 65km north-west of Charlotte. Sheriff's Lieutenant Tim Johnson said foul play was not suspected.Nascar chairman and CEO Brian France said: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Dick Trickle on his passing today." "Dick was a legend in the short-track racing community, particularly in his home state of Wisconsin. He was a true fan favourite. Personalities such as Dick Trickle helped shape our sport. He will be missed," said France.Trickle earned his reputation as a successful short-track driver before joining the Winston Cup series and earning rookie of the Year in 1989 at age 48. He competed in more than 300 Cup races. Although he never won a Cup race and won only two Busch Series races, Trickle earned cult status in the 1990's.Former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann would regularly mention where Trickle finished after talking about each Nascar. It caught on and drew snickers from race fans around the country. Bodine said there was only one way to describe Trickle, a native of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. "Fun," Bodine said. "Just plain fun."Trickle was never one to be told how to live his life.Bodine added: "It's all just sad. We don't understand why he would do this. Hopefully we will all learn why he would do that. There was something that triggered him to take his own life. We are all really saddened by this in the racing community."FRONT-RUNNERNascar does not keep track of short-track records but according to the (Milwaukee) Journal-Sentinel, Trickle won more than 1000 such races throughout the country during his prime. He was a seven-times winner in the regional Artgo Challenge Series in the late 1970's and mid '80s. He also captured the ASA AC-Delco Challenge Series in back-to-back years in 1984-85 before turning to Cup racing.Humpy Wheeler, a former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway said: "Dick Trickle was one of the best race drivers of the 1980s, nobody knew how many races he won.""He was right there with Red Farmer and other short-track drivers - the wins kind of got so big that they blended into each other. 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 'em," he added.Wheeler said he asked Trickle to try Nascar in the 1980s but Trickle initially declined because he was so successful on the short-track circuit."He could not make enough money then as he could on those Midwest tracks, so he deferred," Wheeler recalled. "For a guy who really won at least 700 races, I could see why. In those days, unless you were a top Cup driver, you couldn't win enough money to over-compensate for that."Trickle eventually did move to Nascr, settling into Iron Station, North Carolina, where he lived for more than 20 years.