After missing the field for the Snowball Derby in 2017, five-time race winner Rich Bickle was confident he had a race car to work with last month in Pensacola, Florida. Unfortunately, he didn't get the chance to prove that after being forced to sit out due to a prolonged recovery from a planned operation in the fall.
With a fresh race car still sitting in the shop, Bickle looked at the early 2019 schedule for Super Late Models, picking what has become one of the country’s marquee early-season Late Model events: CRA SpeedFest at Crisp Motorsports Park in Georgia.
A series of tests by the Wisconsin veteran driver has left the "Snowball Derby King" confident that he has a car that can be competitive on January 26.
“We got a new car put together last year that we tested for the Derby, but I ended up having my third and final shoulder surgery, which put me out of the Derby," Bickle told Speed51.com. "We’re looking forward to it, the car was really good at the last test."
The trip south to Cordele also serves as an opportunity for Bickle to take care of some important business away from the track. That opportunity happens to be on Friday, the day reserved for practice and qualifying. Meaning that he will only get to race the car on Saturday and will start shotgun on the field.
“I’ve got a meeting in Concord (N.C.) that Friday, so we’re going to look for someone to practice and qualify the car, and I’ll start in the back Saturday.”
Despite this disadvantage, Bickle is still optimistic that he move to the front over the 200-lap feature for the ARCA/CRA Super Series. In addition, he does not want to pass up the chance of adding another big money race and yet another track to his nearly five-decade long resume which covers Late Models, motorcycles, and even the highest levels of NASCAR.
“What’s funny is that I’ve been looking for a track I haven’t raced at anyways. My whole career, this will be the 225th place I’ve raced at, been trying to hit that number for some time," he stated. "It’s hard to imagine. I’ve also raced motorcycles, but I’ve probably done 85 different asphalt race tracks. Been racing for 47 years, a long time.”
Having been back living in Wisconsin for now over 10 years, running off and on in ARCA Midwest Tour competition, Bickle has been out of touch on a couple of fronts; including on the rise of short track racing events such as SpeedFest. Now he’s looking forward to the chance to see what it’s all about.
“Looking forward to getting down there, I’ve seen some of those races online. Not sure what to expect, since I’ve never been there, and haven’t paid a lot of attention to it since I retired and then un-retired. It’s a cool track and it will be good to get back in the car for the first time since October.”
He is also eager to take on some of the newer talent that has risen in the Super Late Model ranks over the last few years, including many drivers he has yet to face.
“There are guys like Bubba Pollard who have been up here a few times the last couple of years, but a lot of them I don’t know anymore. Especially the ones from down south since I moved back home in 2007. But, some of these guys are so young, they probably don’t even know who I am,” Bickle chuckled.
The main goal is still to be competitive and possibly go for a win, with Bickle reiterating that he has a car to do it. It all comes down to him being able to hop aboard and give it his all.
“I wish we had this car at the Derby the year before. It was pretty sporty trying something new, and it worked pretty well. I think we can go down there, come from the back and be competitive.”
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com