Former NASCAR Driver Dick Trickle Dies of Apparent Suicide

05/17/2013 at 08:20 AM EDT

Dick Trickle Dies of Apparent Suicide, Ex NASCAR Driver Was 71
Dick Trickle
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Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Dick Trickle, whose larger-than-life personality and penchant for fun won him legions of fans despite a lack of success beyond the nation's small tracks, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said. He was 71.

The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office said authorities received a call believed to be from Trickle, who said "there would be a dead body and it would be his." Authorities tried to call the number back, but no one answered.

Trickle's body was found near his pickup truck at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Boger City, N.C., about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. Sheriff's Lieutenant Tim Johnson said foul play was not suspected.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Dick Trickle on his passing today," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said Thursday.

"Dick was a legend in the short-track racing community, particularly in his home state of Wisconsin, and he was a true fan favorite. Personalities like Dick Trickle helped shape our sport. He will be missed."

Trickle earned his reputation as a successful short track driver before joining the Winston Cup series and earning rookie of the year in 1989 at age 48.

He competed in more than 300 Cup races. Although he never won a Cup race and won only two Busch Series races, Trickle earned cult status in the 1990s.

Fellow NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine said there was only one way to describe Trickle, a native of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

"Fun," Bodine said. "Just plain fun."

"People everywhere knew his name," Bodine said. "That's why they used his likeness in that movie Days of Thunder. He was such a character."

The main character in that popular niche racing movie, played by Tom Cruise, was named Cole Trickle.

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