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.


  1. Enjoyed your article about Tim Richmond, I don't know a lot more about him than your article revealed. Other than drivers pretty much respect his battle to succeed. He knew what he was doing behind the wheel of a race car. He was one of the first Indy car drivers to which over to NASCAR.

    Thanks Candice, well written and reminded me of his battle with HIV

  2. What a beautiful article! Thank you for sharing. I grew up going to races in the 70’s and 80’s and picked Tim out as my favorite driver long before he drove for Rick Hendrick. My family was involved in scoring, so we were lucky enough to get to meet the drivers and even get to know some of them. My first memory of Tim is at Martinsville when he drove #12 I believe (probably 1981). We always asked for autographs and pics of any drivers we were lucky enough to see on race day, and I remember him being so incredibly friendly. It got to the point where every time I would see him, he would know that we wanted a picture with him, so even if he was talking to somebody, he would hold up a finger to us (as if to say I’ll be there in a minute). We would patiently wait and then he always walked over and talked to us. Never was there an instance when he didn’t take just a moment or two to speak to us and pose for a picture. For me - that is just as impressive as what he accomplished in his short career. I will never forget him and quite often wonder just what could have been had he lived. He will always be #1 in my opinion - on and off the track. Ginger

    1. Thank you for sharing these memories! I appreciate your kind words, too.