Saturday, April 8, 2017

"Remembering" Tim Richmond

June 7, 1955 – August 13, 1989 
Tim Richmond
Born in Ashland, Ohio, USA.
Tim's driving days started as a toddler when he was given a go-kart that he often drove inside buildings and across his lawn. He later raced the kart at tracks in Moreland and New Pittsburg. Richmond grew up in a well-to-do family, and was sometimes therefore treated differently by his classmates so his parents enrolled him in Miami Military Academy in Miami, Florida. During his years in Miami, Tim and his mother moved to Florida and his father stayed in Ohio. While home in Ohio over a summer break, he met local drag racer Raymond Beadle through lifelong friend Fred Miller. When Richmond reached age 16, his parents purchased him a Pontiac Trans Am, a speedboat and a Piper Cherokee airplane for his birthday. Yet his mother Evelyn often worried about spoiling her only son. She once said, "Tim was lazy...", and "... I did everything for him. I ruined him, I admit it. He was my whole life."

Richmond excelled in sports; he set a conference record in high hurdles and his high school football career was stellar enough that the academy retired his sports jersey after his gridiron days were over. Miami Military Academy named him Athlete of the Year in 1970. Richmond's other interests included flying, and he earned his private pilot license at age 16. Following high school graduation, Richmond attended Ashland University for about one year before dropping out.

A friend of Richmond's father co-owned a sprint car and Richmond joined the team as a crew member for Dave Shoemaker. In 1976, 21-year-old Richmond took the car onto Lakeville Speedway at Lakeville, Ohio for some practice laps. "Somebody put a stopwatch on me," Richmond said. "I was running laps faster than Dave had been. It was the first time I had ever driven a race car." Richmond and his father found a red, white and blue-colored No. 98 car in Pennsylvania, which was the same number and paint scheme that Richmond used on model cars as a child. In his first competition at the track, officials placed Richmond in the slowest heat. He passed several cars before spinning out and breaking an axle. Although he made several attempts to get the car pointed in the right direction, the broken axle prevented the car from driving straight. After being towed to the pits, he parked the car for the rest of the event. Later that season, they towed the car to Eldora Speedway, only to have Richmond crash the car again. In response, Richmond's father fired him as the driver. The next season, Al Richmond bought a SuperModified better suited to his son's driving style. In 1977 Tim Richmond became both Sandusky Speedway's Rookie of the Year and the SuperModified class track champion.

Richmond returned to racing sprint cars in the United States Automobile Club's (USAC) national sprint car tour in 1978. Competing in 12 races, he finished 30th in points as the series' Rookie of the Year. That year he attended Jim Russell's road racing school at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park, setting a student course record. Richmond raced in a 1978 Mini Indy car event at Phoenix International Raceway, winning the Formula Super Vee support event in a Lola T620. The win attracted sponsors and attention from major owners like Roger Penske. He also competed in USAC's Silver Crown series.

Richmond's father bought an Eagle Indy Car chassis and an Offenhauser engine for the 1979 race at Michigan International Speedway. Richmond qualified 21st fastest with a 175.768 mph (282.871 km/h) lap, significantly slower than Bobby Unser's 203.879 mph (328.111 km/h) pole position speed. The race ended for him when his motor blew up on the fourth lap, and he finished last (23rd). Owner Pat Santello was looking for a driver to replace Larry Rice for his CART team at the following race at Watkins Glen International, so he gave Richmond a test at Willow Spring where he had previously set the student record. Santello hired Richmond, who then qualified 15th fastest for the event and finished in eighth place, the best of his IndyCar career. Richmond raced in three more events that season.

After crashing during the first day of qualifying for the 1980 Indianapolis 500, Richmond nevertheless obtained the 19th starting position in the race. He worked his way up to the top 10 during the race, led a lap, and finished ninth as he ran out of fuel at the end of the race. To the delight of the crowd, winner Johnny Rutherford gave him a ride back to the pits. He was named the 1980 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. "I busted up a few Indy cars right after that," he said. "Milwaukee, Mid-Ohio. . . at Michigan I cut one in two. I was afraid my racing career would come to a halt. So when I got an offer to drive stock cars, I took it, and it turned out I liked driving them better."

Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend. Richmond achieved his top NASCAR season in 1986 when he finished third in points. He won seven races that season, more than any other driver on the tour. When he missed the season-opening Daytona 500 in February 1987, media reported that he had pneumonia. The infection most likely resulted from his compromised immune system, which was weakened by AIDS. Despite the state of his health, Richmond competed in eight races in 1987, winning two events and one pole position before his final race in August of that year. He attempted a comeback in 1988 before NASCAR banned him for testing positive for a banned substance; after NASCAR insisted on access to his entire medical record before reinstating him, Richmond withdrew from racing. NASCAR later stated their original test was inaccurate.

Richmond grew up in a wealthy family and lived a freewheeling lifestyle, earning him the nickname "Hollywood". When Richmond reached age 16, his parents purchased him a Pontiac Trans Am, a speedboat and a Piper Cherokee airplane for his birthday. In describing Richmond's influence in racing, Charlotte Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler said: "We've never had a race driver like Tim in stock car racing. He was almost a James Dean-like character." When Richmond was cast for a bit part in the 1983 movie Stroker Ace, "He fell right in with the group working on the film," said director Hal Needham. Cole Trickle, the main character in the movie Days of Thunder, played by Tom Cruise, was loosely based on Richmond and his interaction with Harry Hyde and Rick Hendrick.

Richmond fell ill the day after the 1986 NASCAR annual banquet during a promotional trip to New York. Media later reported that he had tested positive for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). He returned in 1987 to Pocono for the Miller High Life 500 during the middle of the year. Starting third, he led by the fifth lap and ultimately led 82 laps, including the final 46, to win the race by eight car-lengths over Bill Elliott. In the middle of the race, Richmond's car suffered gearbox problems. Because he could use only fourth gear, he had to use that gear to slowly exit the pits. Richmond was emotional after the victory, saying, "I had tears in my eyes when I took the checkered flag. Then every time anyone congratulated me, I started bawling again." Richmond earned a victory in the next race at Riverside, and made his final 1987 start at Michigan International Speedway's Champion Spark Plug 400 that August, finishing 29th with a blown engine. He resigned from Hendrick Motorsports in September 1987.

Although Richmond attempted a comeback in 1988, NASCAR suspended him for testing positive for banned substances. The substances were identified as Sudafed, a non-prescription over-the-counter allergy medication, and Advil, an over-the-counter pain reliever. In April 1988, Richmond sued NASCAR over the suspension. Although he retested later that year and was reinstated, he could not find a car to drive. In his final public appearance in February 1988, Richmond denied that he abused drugs and said that a mistake had been made in his drug test. His suit with NASCAR was settled out-of-court, the terms sealed.

Richmond withdrew into his condo in Florida. There were by then rumors of HIV and AIDS, which he denied. He was later hospitalized in West Palm Beach.
ESPN sent a get-well-soon card to Richmond when it aired the July 1989 NASCAR race at Pocono. The television network showed highlights of Richmond's victory at the track from 1986. "Tim had Hollywood good looks and the charisma of Tom Cruise," said his friend Dr. Jerry Punch. "There he was in victory lane with the team all around him and beauty queens hanging all over him. It was important for the people at the hospital to see Tim the way he really was, when he was healthy and handsome and vital, not the way he was as they saw him every day in the hospital."

On August 13, 1989, Richmond died at the age of 34, about two years after his final NASCAR race. He was buried in Ashland, Ohio.

The secrecy surrounding the circumstance of his death caused speculation for several days. At the time, Punch stated that Richmond had been hospitalized due to a motorcycle accident, though it is unlikely that Richmond had the strength to ride a motorcycle during his last months. Ten days after his death, on August 23, the Richmond family held a press conference to reveal that Richmond died from complications from AIDS, which he acquired from an unknown woman. Richmond's physician, Dr. David Dodson, said: "There's no way of knowing who that woman was. Tim was a celebrity with a lot of charisma, a handsome guy. He naturally attracted a lot of women." Punch later claimed that more than 90 drivers and personnel underwent HIV testing in the wake of Richmond's death.

The Ashland County Sports Hall of Fame inducted Richmond in their second class in 1996. In 1998, NASCAR named Richmond one of its 50 greatest drivers of all time. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2002. The Mansfield Motorsports Park ARCA Re/Max Series race in 2009 was named the Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA Re/Max 250 in honor of the area native.

The documentary film Tim Richmond: To The Limit was produced as part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series with a premiere date of October 19, 2010.

2 comments:

  1. I was covering the Riverside race when Richmond won there. He had spun out on the damp clay, but recovered and won. In the media room, I could tell by his eyes that he was a very ill person, but he continued to joke with the press and his crew chief Harry Hyde, even putting on a woman's sunglasses upside-down while she went to get him a drink of water. He was fearless, and did not let Earnhardt, Sr. bully him in races like Sr. did to other drivers. If he had not become ill, I feel Tim could have become a NASCAR champion. Everyone should read the book about his life, very well-done.

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  2. Still to this very day one of my greatest influences of strength and vigor unmatched by anyone. Tim Richmond was as exciting to watch on track than most drivers before or after his near Championship Career & Life. Still very Missed in our Sport... Good Read, I recommend both the Literary works that chronicle his life and career and the espn 30 for 30 "To the Limit" special for some Insight to one of Our Sports Greatest! =)

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