Just last month, Rich Bickle was forced to sit out the Snowball Derby due to COVID-19 complications. Over the weekend, the Wisconsin legend made his return to racing by scoring a win – on the snow and ice.
The five-time Snowball Derby and Slinger Nationals champion returned to snowmobile racing for the first time in eight years over the weekend and won the Outlaw 600 main event at the Vintage World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River, WI. The event serves as an appetizer for the World Championship Snowmobile Derby, widely considered one of the biggest snowmobile racing events on the planet.
He spent many years building snowmobiles for races like the World Championship Snowmobile Derby before selling the business off. This weekend’s opportunity started off as an invitation to this coming weekend’s event, but scheduling conflicts for Bickle moved the return to snowmobile racing to this past weekend’s vintage event.
“I did this deal up until 2012 when I was building sleds, then I sold the business and I haven’t done it in eight years,” Bickle told Speed51. “Bob Richardson asked if I wanted to go drive his and I said we’re actually going to test at Daytona that weekend. He said then come up the weekend before and run the vintage series.”
Bickle nearly pulled a clean sweep of the weekend, suffering a mechanical issue during a heat race Saturday night. For Sunday’s main event, he started at the tail by his own choice and ran down the field in very little time, showing he never lost a step on the snow.
“We had the race won Saturday night in the heat race when we broke a motor. They were going to line us up on the pole for the main race yesterday and I said no I’m not starting up front, I’m starting in the back like real racing’s done. We started in the back, took the lead right away and won the race. It’s pretty cool after eight years to go back being almost 60 years old and beating them guys.”
The past weekend’s Vintage World Championship Snowmobile Derby marked his first race since he contracted COVID-19 in October and was forced to miss the Snowball Derby as he recovered from blood clots in his lungs from the virus.
It was a rare time in Bickle’s career, who wasn’t accustomed to missing scheduled races during his long career.
“It’s really funny, I missed the Derby and the Dells finale and in 44 years that’s the first races that I can remember missing. When I wrecked in Indy in 1997, I broke all my ribs off my back and half my side and raced the next week at Flemington. I had the race won there until a piece of tubing went through the radiator with 15 to go and melted the motor down.
“A couple years ago I had a seizure in my sleep and blew my arm off my body. To make a long story short, they put a plate and four screws in and three days later a guy ran a stop-and-go light in front of me and my seat belt broke it off and they put another plate and nine more screws in. I had two plates and 13 screws in on a Friday night, then I raced Sunday at Madison for the opener and ran the whole race and didn’t have a problem.”
Bickle is planning a full schedule for his 45th and final racing season in 2021. Along with his usual stops competing full-time with the ARCA Midwest Tour and Dells Raceway Park’s Alive For Five Series, he also has plans to head south for CRA SpeedFest at Showtime Speedway at the end of this month, and the Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway in March.
It was also announced last week he will compete in the ARCA Menards Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway next month, his first start with the series since 1996. Bickle also teased more announcements that could be coming out soon.
“We’re going to go down this weekend and test the ARCA car at Daytona. We were going to run Cordele but that got canceled, I think we’re planning on running Showtime Speedway, which I think I still have the track record down there from the late-80s. We’re going to come down and race that race the week after Daytona.
“I have some other crazy things happening this weekend, I might be driving other vehicles at different tracks this year besides my short track program,” he added. “If I can run 50 races, I’m going to run 50. I tell people back in 1990 I ran 136 races that year and they look at you like you’re crazy because not very many people run more than 20 or 25 races.”
Bickle’s storied career will come to an end following the 54th Annual Snowball Derby in December, a race with his name written all over the record books. He has two names dubbed for his farewell season; the ’45 for 45’ and the ‘Snow to Snow Tour’ following his win at Eagle River over the weekend.
“To me, racing’s racing. If it’s going in circles or road course racing, I have to learn how to do it. It’s been 45 years and what’s cool about the story is I get to start off the year on the snow and ice, and my last race ever will be at the Snowball Derby. It’s the ’45 for 45’ and the ‘Snow to Snow Tour,’ it’s cool to see how it works out. It’s nice to start it off with a win on the ice and snow, hopefully we can carry that over throughout the year and have a bunch of good runs, then go down to the Derby and hopefully win that. It would be icing on the cake to win that thing one more time.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: @RacersPub Twitter