In a sport full of ‘good ol’ boys’ from the south, Tim Richmond was from another planet.
Born into a wealthy Ohio family, he attended a Miami military academy and didn’t sit in a race car until he was 21. By 24 he was Indy 500 rookie of the year (in just his sixth IndyCar race) before switching to NASCAR—an unusual move at the time.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
After winning his first Winston Cup race in 1982, Richmond’s breakthrough season came with Hendrick Motorsport in 1986, where he won seven races and finished third in the championship.
“As a driver, Tim had the most talent I’ve ever seen,” team owner Rick Hendrick would later recall. “He had that spark and charisma that could inspire awe in his driving”.
Richmond was fast, but he could also be erratic—on and off the track. “Tim Richmond enjoyed life”, Hendrick remembered in 2019. “He wanted to have fun in everything he did.”⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
With his shoulder-length hair and flamboyant clothes, Richmond stood out in the country music obsessed NASCAR world. He partied hard, mixing with rock stars, celebrities and models.
Former teammate Benny Parsons described Richmond as a playboy. “He belonged in Hollywood, in the movies” (Richmond earned the nickname “Hollywood”, and even took acting lessons).
Eventually the hard-living caught up. Sometime in ‘86 he became ill, checked into a clinic under a false name and was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, apparently contracted from one of his many liaisons.
Richmond missed the start of the 1987 season, citing pneumonia (it didn’t stop the rumours in the paddock), but returned for an emotional win at Pocono. Winning on track but fighting a losing battle off it, he took the chequered flag after crying “all through the final lap”.
By 1988, speculation about Richmond’s health intensified as NASCAR introduced a substance-abuse policy, under which he was banned for a positive drug test. When it emerged he had only tested positive to over the counter medication, Richmond sued NASCAR for defamation, settling out of court.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
He never raced again as the illness took hold, but during the 1988 Daytona 500 he had a plane fly over the track hoisting a banner that read “Fans, I Miss You – Tim Richmond”.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Sadly, In August 1989 Richmond succumbed to AIDS. Amongst the deeply conservative NASCAR family, it was if he had never existed.