(CNN) -- Richard "Dick" Trickle -- who parlayed a legendary reputation as a short-track driver into a full-time career on stock car racing's biggest stages in the 1990s -- died Thursday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, a North Carolina sheriff's office said. He was 71.
A Lincoln County dispatcher received a call -- believed to have been placed by Trickle -- that "there would be a dead body and it would be his," that county's sheriff's office said in a news release. There was no answer when authorities tried to call the number back.
Emergency units went to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Boger City and found a body lying near Trickle's pickup truck.
The Wisconsin-born Trickle raced during the 1970s and 1980s, then broke through as a full-time and widely recognized NASCAR driver in 1989. By that time, according to a Sports Illustrated article, the 48-year-old grandfather of two had won some 1,200 stock car competitions in 31 years of racing.
He settled in Lincoln County, in central North Carolina, in the early 1990s, according to the sheriff's office.
Though Trickle never managed a victory in NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup series, he did have 15 top-five finishes and won two Nationwide Series races before his retirement in 2002.
Some got to know him thanks to frequent references on ESPN's SportsCenter, with then co-anchor Keith Olbermann tweeting Thursday that "no sports figure Dan (Patrick and) I had fun with took it more graciously. In fact, gratefully."
In a statement Thursday, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France described Trickle as "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," France said. "He will be missed."
Past and present NASCAR drivers, like Mark Martin, similarly reacted with sadness Thursday to the news.
"At some point we were all short trackers," tweeted Joey Logano. "He was the best. #RIPDickTrickle."