Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Nineteen years ago today Tim Richmond died due to complications from AIDS. He was one of Nascar's stars - but he definitely wasn't cast in the mold Nascar wanted. He was born wealthy, unlike most of the hardscrabble drivers of that era. He was a playboy - wearing Armani, and giving autographs with his drivers suit open to expose his hairy chest. In the group photo for the 1987 Winston, he exposed himself as a prank. This was airbrushed out in later prints, but the originals that slipped by are collectors items.
He particularly enjoyed competing against Dale Earnhardt, and Kyle Petty was probably his best friend among the drivers. As it became clear that Tim had AIDS, Nascar disowned him. They wrongly banned him from driving due to a supposed positive on a drug test. He was singled out for the test as well - no other drivers were required to take one. Nascar later admitted that the only substances they found in Richmond's blood were Sudafed and Advil. He sued, but Nascar countered, wanting him to release all of his medical records. He basically went home to die after that. To this day, Nascar has not apologized nor acknowledged Richmond's racing accomplishments.
In 185 Winston Cup starts, Tim Richmond scored 13 wins and 14 poles. He was one of the first drivers to use a fire suit and gloves. Derided for it at the time, they are required equipment now. He also preferred full face helmets. To this day, no one is sure how he contracted the disease. A Charlotte woman who said she had been engaged to Richmond, publicly announced in 1995 that she was also HIV-positive. Former model and actress LaGena Lookabill said she met Richmond in 1980 when she was Miss World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Doctors told Lookabill she had six months to live when she was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, but thanks to a better understanding of the disease, she is still alive today.
The movie Days of Thunder is (very) loosely based on Tim's life. The character Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) is Tim, Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) is Harry Hyde, and Rowdy is Dale Earnhardt. In the great scheme of things, Days of Thunder is pretty crummy. But, for those who know, it is a tribute of sorts.