Monday, July 30, 2018

Tim Richmond

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 of NASCAR history, NASCAR past and present, and NASCAR now, Richmond’s name was rarely if ever mentioned.

Once I became active on Facebook NASCAR and racing fan sites his name came up more regularly.

I knew Richmond had a reputation for being a man women wanted to be with and men wanted to emulate. His racing prowess was enviable as 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 crew men 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 racecar. Whether it was IndyCar or a NASCAR Winston Cup Car, Richmond drove it to the outer limits. He won many poles in his short NASCAR Winston Cup career, running hard and fast, some say even recklessly, but found it difficult initially to win races. Richmond’s first two years in Cup, 1980 and 1981, he had no poles, wins, or Top Fives, but did earn six Top 10s.

Paired with a legendary crew chief, Harry Hyde, in 1986 in Rick Hendrick’s fledgling stable, Richmond learned to rein in his talent just enough to produce wins and challenge for a championship. He challenged alright, but he was denied the championship in that year by his good friend Dale Earnhardt. Regardless, in that one season Richmond’s statistics were very impressive. He won eight poles, seven races, and earned 13 Top Fives and 17 Top 10s. Richmond finished third that year, only six points behind Darrell Waltrip in second.

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 of racing in the Cup scene. With eight races run in 1987, Richmond captured one pole, two wins, and three Top Fives and four Top 10s. But those were the last glimpses of Richmond’s greatness.

By summer 1987 Richmond’s erratic behavior akin to drunkenness and/or drug abuse caused uproar among many of NASCAR’s elite, drivers, crew members, and NASCAR officials. Not knowing or understanding the true cause of Richmond’s behaviors – manic moods one moment and sleeping for hours after that regardless of what appearances were on his itinerary – gave concern to those he was in close competition.

Drug tests were implemented, results were mishandled, and judgments were made, right or wrong. All the while Richmond continued to hide the fact he was fallen with AIDS, desperately taking the only medicinal cocktail available at the time, AZT. He went so far as to take himself off AZT 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 thinks 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 ran his racecar at 11/10s at every outing on a track.

Richmond not only brought a Hollywood feel to NASCAR for the time he was present, but he would posthumously bring a discussion to the table about AIDS affecting the NASCAR community, not just the homosexual or Hollywood ones.

That conversation 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 this man in the sport I had grown to love.

If nothing else, I’d love to read what others think, remember, and reminisce about Tim Richmond from those who actually saw him race. So, I’m opening the comments up to you all to do just that.

Teach me about the Tim Richmond I cannot access through books and YouTube clips. I’d love to learn more about NASCAR’s most dynamic driver.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Remembering Davey Allison

Today is bittersweet as it is the 25th Anniversary of losing Davey Allison.

For those of you who don’t remember this son of racing legend Bobby Allison, he was the real deal in NASCAR.

Although he never won a Cup, Davey Allison was in the middle of a very promising and successful career in NASCAR’s top level of competition when he was killed in a helicopter crash in Talladega, Alabama.

Along with his famous racing father Bobby and uncle Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett, and Red Farmer, Davey Allison was a famed member of the Alabama Gang.

Allison began his Cup career in 1987 winning Rookie of the Year honors. He was the only rookie ever to win two Winston Cup races.

At the start of the 1988 season Davey Allison finished second to his father Bobby Allison’s victory at the Great American Race. This was the first father/son one/two finish in the Daytona 500.

Life changed irreversibly in June of 1988 when father Bobby Allison was involved in a career-ending accident that propelled Davey Allison, the oldest of four children, into the role of decision-making man of the family.

In October 1988 Robert Yates bought the #28 team from Harry Ranier landing Yates as Allison’s team owner. 

In addition to the added stresses and family responsibility, Davey Allison went on to win his third and fourth Winston Cup races landing eighth in points for his second season in the circuit.

His four year marriage quietly ended by the end of the 1988 season.

1989 was a fabulous year personally and professionally for Davey Allison.  Earning his fifth and sixth wins in Cup, including the Talladega victory that was his second at the track, Allison finished eleventh in points. He also claimed his second wife, “Liz”, and welcomed his first child, Krista Marie.

Davey Allison racked up a couple more wins in 1990 bringing his total Cup wins up to eight. He finished thirteenth in points.

When Larry McReynolds took over crew chief responsibility for Davey Allison in 1991, the team really gelled. In that season Davey Allison had five wins, 12 top-five and 16 top-ten finishes, and three pole positions.

Finishing third for the year, Allison told champion Dale Earnhardt at the Winston Cup Awards Banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City that the next year, “I’ll be sitting at the head table!”

Davey and Liz welcomed their second child, a son, Robert Grey in that same year.

Adding his name to the NASCAR history books once again, Davey Allison won the 1992 Daytona 500. This feat was the second time a father and son had each won at the historic track.

Injuries and tragedies plagued Davey Allison in the 1992 season, losing his paternal grandfather and later in the year his younger brother Clifford who was involved in a horrific accident in Brooklyn, Michigan at the Michigan International Speedway during a Busch Race practice session.

But despite these trying events, Davey’s heart-breaking situation did not tarnish his place in the Winston Cup point’s standings.

Coming out of Phoenix with a win and the points lead, Davey Allison was primed to win the 1992 Winston Cup, but fate was to intervene.

An accident involving Ernie Irvan, who had lost control of his car and spun in front of Davey Allison with less than a hundred laps to go, ended Davey’s chances at winning the Cup at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the last race of the 1992 season.

Alan Kulwicki would take that championship beating runner up Bill Elliot and leaving a disappointed Davey Allison third in points to end the season.

A frustrating start to the 1993 season found Davey Allison, who was used to excelling at Daytona, finishing a dismal 28th in the Great American Race. The following week in Rockingham Davey Allison posted a 16th.

A win in Richmond would turn out to be the last of the young Davey Allison’s life. The first half of the 1993 season would be decent landing him fifth in points and determined to claw his way back into championship contention in the second half of the season.

But that was not to be.

Davey Allison, a novice helicopter pilot, wanted to support his fellow Alabama Gang friend Neil Bonnett and his son David as David was testing a car for his Busch Series debut at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama on July 12, 1993.

Allison, who had also picked up legendary racer Red Farmer, family friend and member of the Alabama Gang, tried to land his helicopter at the track but crashed instead.

Neil Bonnett heroically rescued a semi-conscious Red Farmer from the wreckage but was unable to reach Davey Allison. Rescue workers arrived on the scene, freed Allison, and rushed him to the hospital with serious head injuries.

Davey Allison was pronounced dead on July 13, 1993, the day after the accident, leaving a family and a NASCAR Nation reeling.

In his stunted career Davey Allison posted 19 wins, 66 top-five and 92 top-ten finishes. He captured 14 poles and earned $6,724,174. He was survived by his wife Liz and their children Krista Marie and Robert Grey.

His death also left a gaping hole in NASCAR.

On the cusp of superstardom and potentially a candidate to win several Winston Cups, Davey Allison could well have cut into Dale Earnhardt’s record-setting seven championships, Jeff Gordon’s sensational debut in the series, and could have carried on the dynasty created by his father Bobby and uncle Donnie Allison.

The Alabama Gang is now mostly a memory with the loss of Clifford, Davey, and Neil Bonnett.

I was not a Davey Allison fan, but I saw his talent firsthand. When he passed it hit me hard. I mourned not only for a great racecar driver, but for a wife who had lost her husband, young children who had lost and would never know their father, a mother and father who would mourn the unnatural and punishing reality of laying to rest not one but two sons, and a NASCAR Family that would never see true greatness reach its full potential.

I often think about Davey Allison, Neil Bonnett, Adam Petty, and Dale Earnhardt palling around together, exchanging war stories with the likes of “Big” Bill France, Roy Hall, Red Byron, and Lee Petty.

NASCAR has given us many great heroes and stars to look up to, and many have been taken far too early.

Davey Allison was one of those stars that shown fiercely for a short while.

And a quarter century later we still remember him.