Recently I’ve been reading about one of NASCAR’s fallen heroes, a driver from the 1980s whose star shown very brightly for an all too brief period of time. His name was Tim Richmond.
If you missed his era you may not know a lot, or anything, about him. I became a fan of NASCAR in 1990 and missed everything about Richmond. While I was filling my coffers with all things NASCAR past, present and right now, Richmond’s name was rarely, if ever, mentioned.
Once I became active on Facebook, with its NASCAR and fan sites, his name came up more regularly.
I knew Richmond had a reputation for being a man with whom women wanted to associate and men wanted to emulate. His racing prowess was enviable – and, to be honest, so was his reputation as a lothario.
At a time when jeans, cowboy hats, and big belt buckles were the dress uniform for many drivers and crewmen in and around the garage, Richmond showed up in Italian suits, feathered and coiffed long hair and a devil-may-care attitude.
There was no mistaking his intensity. He was, forgive the pun, totally driven in a race car. Whether it was in IndyCar or NASCAR, Richmond drove a car to the outer limits. He won many poles in his short Winston Cup career, running hard and fast – some say even recklessly – but initially he found it difficult to win races.
In Richmond’s first two years in Cup, 1980 and 1981, he had no poles, wins, or top fives, but he did earn six top 10s.
Paired with a legendary crew chief Harry Hyde in 1986 on Rick Hendrick’s fledgling team, Richmond learned to rein in his aggressiveness just enough to produce wins and challenge for a championship.
He challenged, but his good friend Dale Earnhardt denied him the title. Regardless, in that season Richmond’s statistics were very impressive. He won eight poles, seven races, earned 13 top fives and 17 top 10s. Richmond finished third that year, only six points behind second-place Darrell Waltrip.
That was the pinnacle of Richmond’s career. Unbeknownst to many, a disease was riddling Richmond’s body, weakening him and stealing his thunder in the sport he so desperately loved.
Richmond, it’s now known, had contracted HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. This happened at a time when hysteria was high about the disease and knowledge was pathetically little.
Masking his illness with lies and bravado, Richmond was able to return to a partial schedule. In eight races in 1987, he earned one pole, two wins, three top fives and four top 10s. But those were the last glimpses of Richmond’s greatness.
By the summer of 1987 Richmond’s erratic behavior, reminiscent of drunkenness and/or drug abuse, caused uproar among many of NASCAR’s drivers, crew members, and officials.
Not knowing or understanding the true cause of Richmond’s behaviors – manic moods one moment and sleeping for hours afterward regardless of what appearances were on his itinerary – gave concern to those with whom he was in close competition.
Drug tests were implemented, results were mishandled, and judgments – mostly wrong – were made. All the while, Richmond continued to hide the fact he was stricken with AIDS.
He desperately took the only medicinal cocktail available at the time, AZT. He went so far as to take himself off the medicine to make certain he passed NASCAR’s drug test.
But it was too late. The prejudice against Richmond was palpable. His career was over in NASCAR. Unfortunately, his health was deteriorating at a rapid pace as well.
Richmond shook things up dramatically in NASCAR. The mostly Southeastern sport full of “good ol’ boys” was not sure how to handle the slick Midwesterner who was a natty dresser, had “pretty hair” and drove his race car full bore on every track.
Richmond not only provided a Hollywood feel to NASCAR during the time he was present, he also posthumously brought a discussion to the table about AIDS affecting the NASCAR community, not just the homosexual or Hollywood ones.
As for the man himself, all of that has only gone so far. Even after noted journalist David Poole wrote a book about Richmond, who died on August 13, 1989, entitled “Tim Richmond: The Fast Life And Remarkable Times Of NASCAR’s Top Gun” (2005), I still heard remarkably little about him and his place in the sport I had grown to love.
If nothing else, I’d love to read the thoughts, remembered and reminisced about Richmond from those who actually saw him race.
Teach me about the Tim Richmond I cannot access through books and YouTube clips. I’d love to learn more about the man some said was NASCAR’s most dynamic driver.