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Tim Richmond was and always will be my favorite driver. No current or future NASCAR racer can even come close. He only drove stock cars from 1981-1987, but he raced like he lived; all out, all the time. Every day was Christmas morning and every night was Saturday night. I admired his hedonistic persona and driving skill.

Many of the newer NASCAR fans have never heard of Tim Richmond. Simply put, he was a racer; the personification of a competitor. In an interview, he remarked "I'm not happy unless I'm competing. For example, when I was a kid and my dad would send me out to get the paper, I had him time me so I could compete against myself to see if I could better my previous best."

His racing career began in Lakeville, Ohio in 1976 at the age of 21. A friend with a sprint car invited him to Lakeville Speedway to take a few laps around the track. "I was wearing cowboy boots and I had to borrow a uniform, gloves, helmet, everything." He immediately turned laps faster than the regular driver, who had five years of racing background. He went home that night and told his father that he was "born to be a race driver."

His first full year of racing was 1977. He won the track championship at Sandusky Speedway in Ohio that year and moved on to mini-Indy cars in 1978. He won his first race that year and then switched to sprint cars and was named Rookie of the Year by the United States Auto Club (USAC). In 1979, he made his debut on the Indy car circuit. At this point in his career, he had accomplished one of his goals; he raced Indy cars. But he wanted more and he got it.

He started his first Indianapolis 500 in 1980 and led the race at one point. He ran out of gas and finished ninth and was named Rookie of the Race. After running out of gas, Tim hitched a ride to victory lane with winner Johnny Rutherford. That ride to the winner's circle caught the attention of Joe Mattioli Jr., the owner of Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. Mattioli convinced Tim to drive in the July 1980 stock car race at the track. Richmond had intended the NASCAR race to be a break in his Indy car career. It became permanent in 1981 after a series of wrecks in Indy cars.

He fell in love with stock car racing almost immediately. "Since I am such a competitive person, this form of racing fits better. For racing is the correct term for Winston Cup racing. The other (Indy cars) is driving. And that's what I want to do-- race." Driving for J.D. Stacy, Tim won both races on Riverside California's now defunct road course. After switching to the Blue Max race team sponsored by Old Milwaukee in 1983, Tim won his first superspeedway race in July at Pocono Raceway. Pocono Raceway meant a lot to Tim Richmond. He ran his first laps in a stock car there in 1980, won his first superspeedway race there, and won the June 1987 race there, when considering his condition at the time, has to be considered a remarkable racing accomplishment. "Pocono requires more driving skill than any other track on the circuit with the exception of Darlington. It's as difficult as Darlington, but with another mile in which to make a mistake. But, the tougher the better." Tim continued to win in 1984 and 1985 but longed for the break that would propel his career to the upper echelon of NASCAR's elite. It came late in 1985 when he got a call from an auto dealer from North Carolina named Rick Hendrick.

Proctor and Gamble's Folgers coffee signed with Rick Hendrick late in 1985 to sponsor his team in 1986 and beyond. Tim signed the deal in November of 1985 on his yacht in Fort Lauderdale. In 1986, he led NASCAR with 7 victories and 8 poles. He didn't win the championship that year but he captured the attention of an 11 year old boy who saw a driver who did things his way and had the skill to back it up. He'd push the car too hard, bounce it off the wall, and win the race, the whole time never lifting his foot off the accelerator. How could you not admire that? He was driving one of the most well financed cars on the circuit owned by Rick Hendrick. He finished third in the final points standings at the age of 31 and the future seemed bright. However, he was diagnosed with the AIDS virus in 1986 and was severely weakened by the disease later that year. He missed almost the entire first half of the 1987 season with what was described as pneumonia. His first race back in the car was at Pocono Raceway in June of 1987. He won that race and he won the followoing week on the Riverside road course in California. It was his last NASCAR victory. NASCAR wrongly suspended him in February of 1988 saying that he failed a NASCAR mandated drug test; NASCAR later admitted that he had tested positive for nothing more than an over the counter cold medication. To this date, it seems that Tim Richmond has been the only driver ever to take a NASCAR drug test. He died in August of 1989 from AIDS complications at the age of 34.

Today, Tim Richmond is hardly mentioned in NASCAR circles; if he's mentioned at all. When fans speak of great drivers that died before their time, the first names that come to mind are Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, and Neil Bonnett. Why isn't Tim Richmond mentioned in that group? Why has Tim become a forgotten driver? One can only wonder what the sport would be like today if he was still racing. It is doubtful that Dale Earnhardt would have won seven championships. Earnhardt has been dubbed "The Intimidator" for his driving style and persona; never afraid to make a daring move on the track, winning despite not having the best car, and being abhored by as many as he is loved. Tim was the same way. Simply put, Tim Richmond was as big an icon in NASCAR during his career as Earnhardt was. They raced each other hard every week all across the country.

The 1986 season was Tim's last full season in racing. It was his first year with car owner Rick Hendrick and he finished third to Earnhardt in the final points standings. It took almost half of 1986 for Tim and crew chief Harry Hyde to become a cohesive unit. One can only wonder what the future would have held for Tim with a major sponsor like Folgers supporting him plus the backing of Rick Hendrick. Though undeniably great, Earnhardt only won one title while he was on the track for a full season. It's been more than ten years since he drove in a NASCAR race. But even today, I can't help but wonder what NASCAR might be like if Tim Richmond was still racing.

In February 1998, nearly ten years to the day that NASCAR wrongly suspended him after a bogus drug test, an independent group of 50 individuals that included drivers, team owners, crew chiefs, racing media, track operators, and officials selected Tim Richmond as one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR history. It was a recognition long overdue from the stock car world; he definitely belongs on that list with Earnhardt, Allison, Petty, Pearson, Gordon, and all the others. In their 50th Anniversary season, I'm glad that the NASCAR world has finally acknowledged his career in some way instead of trying to whitewash it from record.




Career Wins
Date Track Car Owner/Team
6/13/82 Riverside Int'l Raceway J.D. Stacy
11/21/82 Riverside Int'l Raceway J.D. Stacy
7/24/83 Pocono Raceway Blue Max Racing
4/8/84 North Wilkesboro Speedway Blue Max Racing
6/8/86 Pocono Raceway Hendrick Motorsports
7/4/86 Daytona Int'l Speedway Hendrick Motorsports
7/20/86 Pocono Raceway Hendrick Motorsports
8/10/86 Watkins Glen Int'l Hendrick Motorsports
8/31/86 Darlington Raceway Hendrick Motorsports
9/7/86 Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway Hendrick Motorsports
11/16/86 Riverside Int'l Raceway Hendrick Motorsports
6/14/87 Pocono Raceway Hendrick Motorsports
6/21/87 Riverside Int'l Raceway Hendrick Motorsports





Candle in the wind

'I would've like to known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burnt out long before
Your legend ever did.'

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