Five-time Snowball Derby champion Rich Bickle, Jr. will not be among the competitors at Five Flags Speedway (FL) next week competing in the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby. However, he has big plans for the 2021 Snowball Derby, which will be the final race of his illustrious career.
Bickle made the decision to skip this year’s Snowball Derby following complications from COVID-19. While he is currently recovering well from the illness, he doesn’t want to show up at Pensacola at anything less than 100 percent.
Instead, his focus is turned towards the 54th Annual Snowball Derby, where Bickle hopes to win a sixth Tom Dawson Trophy to close out a storied run through the short track world.
“I got COVID here about a month or so ago,” Bickle explained on Speed51’s “The Bullring” on Monday. “I got a bunch of blood clots and stuff in my lungs. I’m about 50 percent back to normal. We were supposed to be down there testing this week, and I just don’t have the energy to do it.
“Going down there and not being able to perform is not in my DNA. We’ll get better and go down there next year. That’ll be my final race ever, the Derby next year. Me and Tim Bryant have talked about that, and we’re going to promote this. Hopefully, we’ll get all the people who have been a fan or worked on the crew down there to have one last blast.”
Over the course of his career, Bickle reached the pinnacle of the NASCAR Cup Series, won hundreds of short track races and became one of the most renowned drivers from the talent-laden Wisconsin racing scene. However, his career had a less than auspicious beginning.
“If people go to the store and buy my book, ‘The Barnyard to the Brickyard,’ they’ll understand it’s amazing. Me and a kid that lived in our subdivision, his dad took off on his wife and the three kids. Me and the oldest son stole his race car out of a barn when I was 15. We came down in their yard, painted it in the driveway, then went up to Jefferson with it.
“We made about six laps the first race and got knocked off the back straightaway and totaled the car out. I can’t believe there was a picture of it, my mom had it. That’s how it started. My dad raced for 33 years, and I grew up around the race track. That’s how the first race started.”
Topping the list of Bickle’s achievements are five Snowball Derby victories. Only 11 drivers have won the prestigious event more than once, and none have won it more than twice except for Bickle.
Bickle won the event five times during the 90s, an unparalleled run of dominance in the event. Amazingly enough, he could have won even more.
“In the 90s, we didn’t run in ’94 but we won five out of 10. I finished second in two more. I had the first one won in ’89. The yellow come out and they put Rick Crawford back in front of me and I lost by about three foot.”
During that hot streak, Bickle says he received his favorite compliment in the form of a request from Jody Ridley.
“We’re at the Derby in 1990 and my crew chief goes, ‘Let’s make some laps.’ I said, ‘For what? There ain’t no sense.’ This is on Thursday, everyone is running their tails off. He says, ‘C’mon, go make a few laps.’ I go out there on some 20-lap old tires and I was about three tenths faster than the field. Jody Ridley came over and said, ‘Isn’t it about time for you to go home?’
“The year before, we were in the show and I got dumped by a young kid passing for third. Last year, I don’t know man, it was just so frustrating. The car was super good. I told Tony it needs a little bit of rebound in the right-front shock and a little trailing-arm angle tomorrow and this car can win the race.
“Coming to the white flag, getting wrecked and take the whole field out. I don’t understand kids they days, how they race. You’re in the show. All you have to do is make a lap, smile and put it in the pits. It’s hard to go down there and not be in the race, but it’s a different world now and I guess you’ve got to deal with it.”
There will be some symbolism when Bickle steps away after next year’s Derby. Bickle, who will turn next May, has traditionally driven car No. 45 throughout his career. 2021 will mark his 45th year of racing.
“The third time I came out of the woodwork, I just said, ‘We’ll make it even. We’ll race for 45 years, the number on my car, I’ll be 60 and that’ll be it.’ Looking back at it, we’ve been at it this long. Last year we should have won four or five races. We’ve had dominant cars and just had crazy luck.”
Bickle is confident 2021 will also come with a return to victory lane.
“I told my guys if we win a race next year, and I know we will, I’ll have a win in five decades. I can’t imagine too many people can say that.”
When the final race is over, Bickle already has plans to head even further south to warm weather as he kicks off retirement.
“They’re having a great cruise for me in 2022, all the fans can go online to see that. Then I’m moving to Costa Rica to a vacation place, so if people want down and hang out for a week, come on down.”
Fans who missed BIckle’s interview can watch a replay of Speed51’s “The Bullring” presented by HMS Motorsport by clicking here.
Although Bickle will not be competing in this year’s Snowball Derby, a talented field will battle for the Tom Dawson Trophy on December 2-6. Fans can watch race via a live pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.TV.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo