When the Midwest’s short tracks were ruled by brawny knights

There are unforgettable numbers in sport, like 42 for the number that Jackie Robinson wore, or 100 for the number of points Wilt Chamberlain scored in a single game for the Philadelphia Warriors, or seven for the number of NASCAR Cup titles won by Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Here’s a couple of other immortal numbers: 67, an astonishing number of single-season victories in short-track Late Model racing on asphalt, and two, for the number of drivers who reached that stunning milestone in separate seasons just a few years apart. This is the story about how a couple of heartland heroes accomplished such an achievement.

67: Trickle and Reffner tells how an impossible goal was reached not just once, but twice, by a couple of guys who grew up in small Wisconsin towns. With something around 1,000 feature wins, the late Dick Trickle ramrodded his way from the Midwest bullrings all the way to NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series, and in 1972, he scored 67 Late Model victories at a time when stock cars ran literally seven nights a week across Wisconsin. Seemingly, it was an impossible mark to duplicate. It also led to Trickle being known as The White Knight. Yet just three years later, his Wisconsin rival, Tom Reffner, matched that number of victories driving, of all things, an AMC Javelin. Reffner therefore became known as The Blue Knight. This story is a huge (484 pages) effort to capture both men’s scintillating seasons in the most minute detail possible. It’s the work of a Roman Catholic priest, Wisconsin racing historian and New York City Marathon veteran named Father Dale Grubba, who wrote for Stock Car Racing magazine before penning a definitive biography of Alan Kulwicki and a history of Modified racing around Milwaukee. The author catalogues the dizzying level of competition that trademarked Wisconsin short-track competition in the 1970s, a fact that makes the win streaks of Trickle and Reffner all the more amazing. Trickle and Reffner were two of the very, very best ever, and their accomplishments deserved this intensive study. Any serious student of short-track stock cars will want to read it. It retails for $32.00 from Coastal 181 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where you can also find a biography on another legend of the Wisconsin bullrings, Rich Bickle.

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