June 08, 2005

Today in Automotive History

1986 Remembering Tim Richmond

Tim Richmond won the first of his seven Winston Cup Series races in 1986, a total that would vault him to third place in the Series point race and solidify his reputation as one of NASCAR's greatest drivers. NASCAR named he and fellow racer, Dale Earnhardt, co-drivers of the year.

Born in Ohio, Richmond started out racing USAC sprint cars and Indy cars, and he was named Rookie of the Year in his first year on each of those circuits.

He turned to NASCAR for the first time while recovering from an injury he suffered in an Indy race. Richmond immediately fell in love with stock car racing. He won his first superspeedway event in 1983 at Pocono International.

In late 1985, Richmond got his break with a powerful team. Team owner Rick Hendrick picked Richmond to drive his Folger's Coffee car. The 1986 season was Tim's breakthrough. He and Earnhardt captivated the stock-car world with their aggressive driving styles and their contrasting looks off the track. Earnhardt was the prototypical NASCAR racer. He wore boots and a cowboy hat, and drank beer on the weekends. Richmond, on the other hand, was a true child of the '80s. He wore Armani suits, dated beautiful women, and rubbed elbows with a variety of jetsetters, including actors and rock stars. On the track, Earnhardt and Richmond were both flat out all the time. NASCAR's executives were less accepting of Richmond's flamboyance, but they could do little to prevent their sport's newest star from expressing his opinions. The fans, for the most part, loved him, and his teammates and co-competitors respected him.

Richmond fell sick during the winter of 1986-1987. At first diagnosed with pneumonia, Richmond struggled to get himself ready for the 1987 season. His condition continued to worsen and he was soon diagnosed with the AIDS virus. His friends and family were caught off-guard. His team leader and mentor Rick Hendrick explained, "It was like my first time... I didn't know what it actually meant--what the prognosis was. The more you found out... it just killed you." AIDS was still a mystery to most at that stage. Richmond missed the 1987 Daytona 500 with double pneumonia. Slowly, rumors leaked about his condition. The Miller 500 at the Pocono Speedway was Richmond's first race back. Earnhardt approached him before the race and asked, "You ready to get it on?" Richmond won the race. Earnhardt, Kyle Petty, and Bill Elliott drove alongside him to offer congratulations, and Richmond burst into tears. He remained in tears on victory lane. It was his last victory.

In September 1987, Richmond resigned from Hendrick's team. When he attempted to arrange a comeback at Daytona in 1988, NASCAR did everything they could to keep him off the track. Slowly, Tim's friends and supporters dwindled. NASCAR trumped up a failed drug-test charge to keep Richmond off the track. He sued, but later withdrew his case on the grounds that he wanted to keep his condition private. He died that winter.

Richmond has virtually disappeared in the NASCAR history books. "It all boils down to AIDS," said his friend Kyle Petty, "I don't care what anybody tells you, nobody knows how to handle AIDS, especially in a sport as backward-thinking on so many things as this sport is." Recently asked about Richmond, Earnhardt responded, "I miss him. Period." Undeniably, Tim Richmond was one of the most talented drivers to ever race a stock car.

Posted by Quality Weenie at June 8, 2005 08:22 AM