It was Bickle’s first career win in 52 starts in the ARCA Midwest Tour. It ended a long winless drought, marking his first victory in the 2020s. It came as part of Bickle’s final season of racing ahead of his impending retirement. It also came in a tribute to Shear, bearing the late racer’s stylized No. 36 rather than Bickle’s traditional No. 45.
Rich Bickle won the Joe Shear Classic 200 at Madison International Speedway Sunday, his first Super Late Model win during his farewell season.
For all of those reasons, Bickle had plenty of cause for celebration Sunday evening.
“I’ve always celebrated, but last night was special,” Bickle told Speed51. “We had a little fun at the race track. Like tradition, we were the last ones to leave. We got home, carried on for a while, and that was it.
“Especially being with Shear’s deal, having the tribute to him, my last year. That’s now the fifth decade I’ve won a Super Late Model feature in. I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say that.”
The seeds for the Shear tribute were planted two years ago when Bickle took part in the Joe Shear Classic. While there, someone pointed out that, like in Sunday’s race, he was the only driver in the field who competed against the two-time ARTGO Challenge Series champion.
Two years ago at the race, somebody walked up and said, ‘God, you’re the only guy here who has raced with Joe.’ It dumbfounded me. How? How can I be the only guy left here who has raced with the man? I looked around and said, ‘Oh my God, you’re right.’
“I was going to do the white car, with the 80s scheme like the trophy had on it, the red, white and blue, but then we decided to bring the black car. I remembered when I was down south, he had a black Lumina, all black. He very seldom had a black car, but we did that, copied the number and put it on it.”
The win was anything but a leisurely Sunday drive for Bickle. There were several complications and challenges throughout the weekend.
You couldn’t have wrote yesterday’s story, you couldn’t make a movie about it. As many problems as we had before the race, everything that could have went wrong yesterday did. The clutch was going out of it, the spring gear broke, I broke two shocks in practice, the left-front brake caliper was locking up all day.
“It was just crazy. It was like, if we ever get this thing good, they’re really going to be in trouble.”
The trouble didn’t stop there. Overheating issues brought Bickle to pit road early in the race, putting him in position to charge through the field.
“The race started and they forgot to take the tape off the grille a little bit and the motor got hot, so I had to go all the way to the trunk. We had to go from dead last to the win.”
The drought was one of the longest of Bickle’s career, but he has maintained his confidence and belief that he was still capable of winning against the stout Super Late Model competition in the Midwest.
We should have won probably 20 races in the last three years. We just keep breaking parts and having dumb s— happen. In 1990 I couldn’t lose a race, now I can’t win one. You just look back at it and say, ‘How could this be?’ Back then, I didn’t have money. I had used stuff. Now it’s all high-dollar new stuff that’s breaking.
“I know we’ve been fast. I know we’ve been good. I can’t wait to go to Jefferson and the next one and the next one and try to win every one we go to.”
While Bickle hopes to score a few more wins during his retirement season, one date heavily circled on his calendar is June 20. That day, he hopes to score his first career victory at The Milwaukee Mile.
“The one we’re really looking forward to is Milwaukee. It’s the only track in Wisconsin I haven’t won at. We’ve had a couple shots at it. We’re building a special car for there. That would be the icing on my career and my cake if I could win there. That would be so special, and we’re really putting a lot of effort into that. We’ve come up with some new stuff and ideas, and I think we’re going to try something that will be pretty sporty.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Kevin Ramsell