Every race has a king. The Daytona 500 has Richard Petty, the Indy 500 has AJ Foyt and the Snowball Derby has Rich Bickle Jr. The Edgerton, Wisconsin driver might be widely known for his limited success in the NASCAR top three series, but there is so much more to his legacy in the short track world. Bickle tasted victory not once, twice, or even three times, but a record five times in the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
“To win the Derby five times in 10 starts is amazing,” said Bickle. “We had a lot of good cars and a lot of good luck down there in Pensacola. I can honestly say I don’t think that it will ever happen again. The competition is so tough getting one win is hard enough let alone five.”
In fact, Bickle’s Derby record is hands down unrealistic. In 11 Derby starts, he had five wins and seven podium finishes. In additions to his wins in 1990, 91, 96, 98, 99 he also scored runner-up finishes in 1989 and 2002.
“I won over 500 races in my short track career and that’s what got me to NASCAR,” said Bickle. “Winning races at the short track level meant a lot because we did it with nothing. We didn’t have lots of money, but we worked hard and won races all across the county and even up into Canada. We always ended the year with a trip to Pensacola no matter what the funds were. “
Although he won three NASCAR truck races, Evergreen, Portland and Martinsville, (incidentally all on short tracks) he will remember the Derby as the best years and best triumphs of his career.
“I tell a lot of people that I am happy of what I accomplished in my NASCAR career, but I am truly proud of what I did in my short track career,” said Bickle.
Anyone who has raced the Snowball Derby will have plenty of stories to tell. Someone who has won it five times would also be a wealth of information on the historic event. Bickle can reflect on every race when he looks at his trophy case.
“We had to take the hood off one year and everyone thought that was our secret, but it actually made the car worse with down force. All the wins were unique, but I remember losing to Rick Crawford by half a car length in 1989 and then having the V6 that lapped the field (in 1992) and we blew up. You tend to remember the ones you lose over the ones you win.”
His success even turned into some jealousy from other drivers who waited years before they won the trophy.
“Rich came down here with a real laid back attitude and won four or five of these things and made us all look like idiots,” said 2005 Derby Champion Eddie Mercer.
These days, Bickle is still racing close to home in the Midwest. He recently ran some new tracks for the first time which added to his career resume.
“We built a new Outlaw car this year and ran two new tracks that I have not been too,” said Bickle. “That puts me at 205 different race tracks we have raced at. I can still have fun racing and that’s what we’re doing.”
**Since the original posting of this story Rich Bickle has retired from Short Track racing. In his final season he won the Slinger Nationals for the fourth time.**
By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Operations Manager. Twitter: @Elgin Traylor – Photo from Pensacola News Journal
Bickle’s Derby History
1989 – Bickle ran his first Derby only to finish second by half a car length to Rick Crawford.
1990 – Bickle wins his first Snowball Derby in only his second start.
1991 – Bickle pockets $8,500 and becomes the first driver to win back-to-back Derby’s
1992 – Engine trouble ends Bickle Derby bid and he finishes 36th.
1993 – Rich Bickle Finishes Third, his fourth podium in five starts.
1994 – Bickle does not run the Derby.
1995 – Bickle leads laps and finishes eighth.
1996 – From the pole, Bickle wins the race with no hood after an early wreck
1997 – Bickle get’s taken out in a wreck, finishes 24th.
1998 – Bickle takes the lead with two laps to go and wins again with no hood.
1999 – Bickle is awarded the $100,00 bonus and the win after Bobby Gill was found to be a lap down.
2000 – Bickle misses Derby due to a points battle elsewhere in racing.
2002 – Bickle returns for his final Derby to date and finished second to Ricky Turner.