Quest To Learn More About Tim Richmond, NASCAR’s Fallen Hero

In just a short time Tim Richmond became one of NASCAR's most exciting, winning drivers. But during a good portion of his short career, he battled a very deadly disease.

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.

Richmond cut a dashing figure and was considered something new and different in NASCAR circles as far as drivers were concerned. But what he might have achieved was cut short by AIDS.

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.

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Comments

  1. Srenshaw5 says:

    wow seen him win at the Glen and pocono and got his autograph< amazing talent and with harry hyde they coulda won alot of races and more than likely a cup, got to see him and dale and darrel duel it out at wilksboro, them 3 boys  smoked the tires every lap, sad tale cuz i was a young when it all went down,the rumours of needle use and him being bi-sexual we runnin in some of nascars tightest circles, his motto was better to burn out than fade out was thrown around in a few conversations i was privey too buy a couple of former nascar employees and a nascar hof inductee…..what coulda been with him in the mighty hendrick stable of cars,hell they already made a movie loosly based on him, tom cruise couldnt carry richmonds helmet bag

  2. Justin Tucker says:

    Had this guy lived another 10 years Dale Earnhardt wouldn’t have won 7 championships I can promise you. Next to Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon in my opinion there wasn’t a better wheel man than Tim Richmond.

  3. Reggiedd says:

    He was a great driver but sad the aids got him…he would have won many championships

  4. Mike says:

    Actually Candice, the drug test wasn’t mishandled. It was blatantly fraudulent against Tim. This was proven under deposition with Dr. Tennant. This is a great link to read more from others that knew of the issue. http://stockcar.racersreunion.com/forum/topics/found-during-a-search-for-tim. Nicely done Candice. Also on this page is Jimmy Johnson who has on his calender every year, Tim died on this day.

    • ~PattyKay says:

      Mike and Candice, this is PattyKay Lilley, the author of the partial article on the late Tim Richmond that Mike found on RacersReunion. I wrote for several years before retiring, but all of my work on the Internet disappeared at the hands of a server crash years ago. That piece on Tim will appear in its entirely on 
      http://racersreunion.com/ .com in close proximity to the upcoming Pocono race. I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy it when it does. Link will be on Jayski, as always. 
      ~PattyKay

  5. Mike says:

    Dale Sr. was interview one time and was asked who was the best stock car driver he’d ever seen. He said the guy driving the 25 car.

  6. Grant Rader says:

    Knew Tim very well. My Wife Patti was the Controller for JD Stacy’s race related businesses. Tim came aboard after Joe Ruttman left and he won his first two races driving the #2. Tim had a heart of gold but tried hard to put on a tough s…kin. You never knew what he might say or do, he was a real character and a lot of fun to be around most of the time. He could sulk if he thought you slighted him, his emotions were right below the surface. Heck of a driver, one of the best ever and we lost him way too soon. Tragic!

  7. Ernie Saxton says:

    I have been in the motorsports business for close to 50 years and I think Tim Richmond was one of the best. If he had lived and continued to race he would be one of the people I get to vote for as a NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel member. He had a dynamic personality. I wish I would have written a column about the morning I had breakfast with Tim and Linda Vaughn in Daytona Beach. While I was president of the Eastern Motorsport Press Association we werre able to vote him into our Hall of Fame. He was not only a great NASCAR talent but a great Indy Car talent.

    Ernie Saxton
    Writer-Broadcaster-Publisher

  8. dawg says:

    Tim was Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart, good. Like the aforementioned drivers, his first step into the national racing spotlight, was on the Indy car stage. Had he have chosen to have stayed there, he would have dominated the series.
    His choice of, & success in NASCAR show his talent.
     We’ve all heard of Sex, Drugs, & rock & roll.
    Don’t know about the drug part, but Tim definitely lived the life of a rock star. In the end it was the endless supply of willing young attractive women that did him, (& them) in. That & the ignorance of Aids, which at the time was thought to be a homosexual disease. This was the reason that NASCAR tried to erase his presence from the sport.
    The real tragedy is that not only was Tim infected, & ultimately died. But that he in turn infected large numbers of others, who also died. This was due to ignorance, not malice on any one’s part.
    The only malice was on the part of NASCAR, trying to cover up, what could have been a chance to educate people about this new, & misunderstood epidemic that was loosed on the land. Shame on them.

  9. Terry says:

    Thanks for the article. We do need to keep his accomplishments and spirit alive. And I keep him in a special place just like I do Alan Kulwicki. I’ve watched NASCAR since the late 1980s, and just missed Tim’s time in the old real days. A good documentary came out in 2010 by ESPN called ‘To the Limit’. I believe there was a quote somewhere in it along the lines that Dale Earnhardt had approached Harry Hyde (or his son) crewing the car for Tim, telling them be sure to bolt everything tight on Tim’s car because he was running the heck out of it. That sure seems like a compliment coming from him. And I have also seen some tape of Tim at N. Wilkesboro (talking during a caution that went green and continuning to talk) and also at I think Sears Point. He was absolutely an amazing talent in a stock car. Many corners at the road course (Sears Point?), the car was at best on one wheel. If you can find old tape of him, watch it. Astounding.

  10. Ed Dellis says:

    After Tim won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona and finished his post-race interviews, he came wandering back to pits to pick up a windshield that I closely guarded. 

    Yup, the Whale’s Rib in Deerfield Beach is where we’d eat/drink, and Tim told us before the race started that he wanted to come home with a souvenir.  So, I said, “Hey Tim, why don’t we bring the cracked windshield back for the Whale’s Rib?”  “Great idea!  Put in the backseat of the Z.”   It took all three of us to keep it in one piece, but we finally got it settled in there.

    As I was about to get in my 2-seat V8 LUV truck to caravan home, he looked over at me and said, “How’d ya like to do a lap?”  “In what?”, I said.  Since I missed claiming Shotgun, Tim ordered, “Get in the backseat.” Not to miss this opportunity, I sat on top of the broken glass as we pulled enough g’s on the high banks to transform it into a soup bowl.

    Sure enough, security came flying out from every direction Code 3, and when they surrounded us at pit-in, we stopped. Pulling up his gun belt, the Chief came sauntering over to Tim’s window, leaned in and said, “Ah, Tim…come on, man.  You should know better than that.”  He just looked up and smiled.

    Mind you, this was after Tim asked me and my friend to join him on the top step of the podium after he pulled into The Winner’s Circle and did his “hat dance”…great guy.

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