Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tim Richmond

If you were to look up Dale Earnhardt in an encyclopedia you would see Tim Richmond’s picture as an antonym. Tim would walk around the track in his own style Armani suit, silk shirt, and Rolex watch, while Dale would be in Wrangler jeans, old tennis-shoes, and a cowboy hat. Richmond grew up in a wealthy family, earning him the nickname "Hollywood”; his mother admits she spoiled him in his teen years, which did not help him at all in his career. Dale Earnhardt was Tim’s best friend according to some sources even though they were the opposites.

Tim Richmond was born on June 7th, of 1955 to Al and Evelyn Richmond. He was a native of Ashland, Ohio. Richmond was the first of many IndyCar drivers to make a move to NASCAR, and probably to date the most successful.

Tim was driving early in his life, when he was a toddler he was given a go-cart. He drove that go-cart in buildings, his yard, and anywhere he could; and he later raced at cart tracks at Moreland and New Pittsburg.

Due to his wealthy family, he was not accepted at his local school, so he was enrolled in the Miami Military Academy in Miami, Florida. He and his mother moved to Florida while his father stayed in Ohio.

In 1970 he was named the Athlete of the Year at the Miami Military Academy for his amazing football and track skills; he was so good at football when he graduated his jersey was retired. He attended Ashland University for about a year before dropping out.

When he turned 16 in 1971, he earned his private pilot license, and his parents bought him a small engine plane.

One of Al Richmond’s friends’ co-owned a sprint car, which led to Tim joining as a crew member for Dave Shoemaker’s car. In 1976 he took Dave’s 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." After that practice session he was hooked.

Richmond and his father found a red, white, and blue #98 car in Pennsylvania, which was the same number and paint scheme that Richmond had used on model cars when he was a child and went racing. In his first competition at the Lakeville Speedway, officials placed Richmond in the slowest heat. He passed several cars and was moving up in the field, but spun out and broke an axle. 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.

Al Richmond bought Tim a SuperModified and in 1977 Tim Richmond went on to become the Sandusky Speedway's Rookie of the Year.

Richmond returned to racing sprint cars in the United States Automobile Club's (USAC) national sprint car tour in 1978; he competed in 12 races, and won the Rookie of the Year finishing 30th in points. He also attended Jim Russell's road racing school at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park that year, setting a student course record. Richmond raced in a Mini Indy car event that year at Phoenix International Raceway, winning the Formula 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 IndyCar race at Michigan International Speedway; he qualified 21st. The race ended for him when his motor blew up on the fourth lap, and he finished 23rd out of a 23 car field. 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.

Richmond won the 1980 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award as he qualified 19th and finished 9th. Pocono Raceway owner and founder Dr. Joseph Mattioli convinced Richmond to move to NASCAR, and just two months after his Indianapolis 500 Rookie award he made his first ever NASCAR start at Pocono in which he finished 12th in D.K Ulrich’s Chevy. That season, he competed in five events, with two DNFs (did not finish) and three 12th place finishes.

Tim started his 1981 season by competing in the first 15 events of the year for D.K Ulrich. He had his first career top 10 finish with a sixth at Talladega Superspeedway, and then a seventh at Texas World Speedway. Tim left Ulrich’s team to go to Kennie Childers team after those 15 races. Richmond had top 10 finishes at Pocono and Bristol driving for Kennie and for the final seven races of the season, he drove for Bob Rogers and had a top 10 finish at Dover International Speedway. Overall for the season, Richmond had six top 10 finishes to place 16th in season points.

In the beginning on 1982 he went rideless until the Rockingham race when he got a one-race deal with Billie Harvey; he finished 31st after engine failure. The week after his one race deal he went to Darlington with J.D Stacy in the #2 car. He got his first top-5 finish of his career that week at Darlington finishing 5th and then the next week finished 2nd which was a career high for him up until that point. The next week he went to Riverside, California at the road course and won his very first race. Later on that season he won his first pole at Bristol. When NASCAR came back to Riverside, Tim was ready to win his second race, and he did. For the season, Richmond had twelve top 10s, two wins, one pole, and finished 26th in points.

In 1983 Richmond left Bob Rogers and started driving for Raymond Beatle, which was an acquaintance before he started racing. Tim won his first oval track victory at Pocono. He had four poles and fifteen top 10’s on his way to a tenth in points. He also entered three Busch (Nationwide) races but failed to finish any of them. Tim was featured in the 1983 movie Stroker Ace. Director Hal Needham said "He fell right in with the group working on the film.”

In 1984 he had one win which was at North Wilkesboro Speedway and six top 5 finishes and 11 top 10 finishes. He finished up that year 12th in points

In 1985 Tim’s best finish was a second place at Bristol. He ended the season 11th in points with 13 Top 10s in 28 races. In the Busch (Nationwide) Series, he qualified at the pole position in the two races he entered, and won the Charlotte race.

Some people say 1986 was his best season because he left Beadle and joined Hendrick Motorsports with legendary crew chief Harry Hyde in the #25 Folgers Coffee Chevy. He broke a 64 race losing streak at Pocono that year in June and when the tour came back to Pocono a month later, Tim was in a three car battle for the win with Geoff Bodine and Ricky Rudd in the final laps; he ended up winning the race by 0.05 seconds over Ricky. He also won 5 more races that year while on his way to finishing 3rd in the points. Overall that year he had 13 top-5 finishes, 16 top-10s, and 8 poles in what would be his final full season in NASCAR.

Tim raced in only 8 races in 1987. In those 8 races he won 2 of them at Pocono and Riverside, and won one pole. The media reported the reason he missed all those races was due to double pneumonia, and it was later reported that he had Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). He resigned from Hendrick Motorsports in September.

He attempted a comeback in 1988 before NASCAR banned him for testing positive for a banned substance. The substance was an over-the-counter allergy and respiratory medication so in April he sued NASCAR over banning him. He later denied he was abusive to drugs and his suit with NASCAR was settled out-of-court, the terms sealed. His very last race in NASCAR was in the 1988 Busch Clash at Daytona while driving for Ken Regan, current driver David Regan’s father.

According to Dr. Jerry Punch, Richmond was hospitalized for a motorcycle accident shortly before his death. He died on August 13, 1989 at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, 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. On August 23, his death was revealed to be caused by AIDS, which he had acquired from an unknown woman. In the press conference, his 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."

Cole Trickle, the main character in the 1990 movie Days of Thunder, played by Tom Cruise, was loosely based on Richmond and his interaction with Harry Hyde and Rick Hendrick.

In 1990, The New York Times reported that Dr. Forest Tennant, who was at that time the NFL’s drug adviser, "Falsified drug tests" that ultimately helped shorten Tim Richmond's NASCAR career. Washington television station WJLA-TV, in early 1990, reported that sealed court documents and interviews showed Tennant and NASCAR used "Allegedly false drug-test results in 1988 to bar Richmond from racing". Reporter Roberta Baskin stated that NASCAR had targeted Richmond, requesting that Tennant establish a substance-abuse policy with Richmond in mind. "A series of drug tests and falsely reported positive results shortly before the 1988 Daytona 500 kept Richmond from driving in what was to have been his last big race", the report said. While neither Tennant nor NASCAR supplied an official response at the time, NASCAR did confirm that they were seeking to replace Tennant.

The Ashland County Sports Hall of Fame inducted Richmond in their second class in 1996.

In 1998, NASCAR named Richmond as one of its 50 greatest drivers of all time while they were celebrating their 50th anniversary.

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 race at Mansfield was co-promoted by Mattioli's son Joseph Mattioli III.

Tim had a total of 185 starts in 8 years with 13 wins, 42 top 5’s, 78 top 10’s, and $1,817,043 in career winnings. Even with those great stats he is probably the least recognized legendary driver there is. A lot of people have never even heard his name, and some people that have don’t really talk about him, people have basically disown his name all because of the way he died, which is not at all the way his legacy should live.