The Frontstretch: Tim Richmond: Truimph, Tragedy and Betrayal by Tommy Thompson -- Thursday February 28, 2008

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Tim Richmond: Truimph, Tragedy and Betrayal

Tommy Thompson · Thursday February 28, 2008


Date of Birth: June 7, 1955
Hometown: Ashland, Ohio
Died: August 13, 1989
Starts: 185
Wins: 13
Top5's: 42
Top 10's: 78
Poles: 14
Winnings: $2,310,693

The story of Tim Richmond as a racecar driver and personality is best suited for the big screen. It is so full of triumph, betrayal and tragedy as to capture the interest of not only avid followers of stock car racing, but those that have never followed the sport. In fact, it led to a Tim Richmond-inspired movie titled "Days of Thunder"—though there were some parallels between Richmond and the movie’s lead character, Cole Trickle, played by actor Tom Cruise, the writers elected to follow a largely fictitious story line. The real Tim Richmond Story is one that has yet to be made, and if it is, will be so much more captivating than the 1990 Hollywood blockbuster.

To racing fans, Tim Richmond's emergence onto the NASCAR scene in 1981 required many to readjust their images of the typical stock car driver. Richmond did not fall into the familiar stereotypical gritty, rags-to-riches, rural southern driver that dominated the Winston Cup Scene of that era. Far from it, Richmond grew up a child of privilege in a wealthy Ohio family. He did not grow up fixing up jalopies or racing along the dirt roads of the southeast honing his driving skills and dreaming of one day following in the footsteps of boyhood heroes such as Tim Flock, Junior Johnson or Fireball Roberts. In fact, Richmond did not even become interested in auto racing until he was 21-years old when he took a "joy ride" in a friends Sprint car and became hooked on the adrenaline rush. Driving a racecar provided the dare-seeking Richmond with the thrill that he had sought in other risk-taking sports such as motorcycles, speedboats and airplanes.

By 1978, the dapper dressing driver had won the USAC Sprint Car Rookie of the Year and had become committed to being a professional racecar driver. Two years later, his open-wheel racing career culminated in a ninth place finish in the 1980 Indianapolis 500. Though he ran out of gas in the event, he still earned Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors. During the 500, Richmond caught the eye of Dr. Joseph Mattioli, founder and former President of Pocono Raceway, who invited the fast-living open-wheeler to race at his Pennsylvania track against American's best stock car drivers. Tim accepted the invitation and finished 12th that July to mark his NASCAR debut in a D.K. Ulrich Chevrolet. Richmond would go on to win four Winston Cup races at Pocono, including three in a row between 1986 and 1987.

The following year saw the now stockcar-struck Richmond finishing 16th in Winston Cup points as he split time between three different teams. After beginning the 1982 season without a ride, he eventually signed with J.D. Stacey and scored his first win at Riverside and then again won at the now defunct California facility to end the season with 2 wins, 7 Top 5s and 12 Top 10s in 26 races. The NASCAR community was taking notice of the free-spirited newcomer.

Richmond relished in the attention that his driving prowess had provided. Soon stories appeared depicting him as a very different person than the NASCAR fan base of the 80's had seen before. Richmond hobnobbed with actors and actresses, was seen out-and-about late at nights with a striking woman— or two—arm and arm. He was a new breed of NASCAR driver, and fans quickly drew sides as to whether they liked this new guy or not.

Former Atlanta Speedway executive vice-president Ed Clark perhaps described the feelings of fans at the time towards Richmond best, " The WRFX rock-n-roll crowd loved him. Girls loved him. Cool guys loved him. I don't know if the blue-collar guy that worked at Cannon Mills, if that guy ever fell in love with him, but that guy's girlfriend did."

1983 through 1985, Richmond, by now known for his hard-driving and hard living, drove a Pontiac for Raymond Beadles's Blue Max team and captured two more wins, along with 19 Top 5, and 39 Top 10 finishes. 1983 also saw Tim Richmond finish tenth in driver's points for the first time. Richmond's talents behind the wheel caught the eye of team owner Rick Hendrick, who signed him for the 1986 season.

Tim Richmond played a part in building Rick Hendrick’s racing empire to its prominance of today.

And what a season it turned out to be for the now 29-year old Richmond! Driving the No. 25 Folgers Coffee Chevrolet, he won seven times that year and collected 13 Top 5 and 17 Top 10's, as well. Except for a string of mechanical failures in the latter part of the season, Tim Richmond could have won the Winston Cup Championship. Dale Earnhardt won that year’s championship, with Richmond finishing third, a mere 6-points behind Darrell Waltrip. Already, the on-track battles for position between Earnhardt and Richmond were becoming legendary, and it was assumed that there would be plenty more side-by-side battles between the two as the years went on.

But there were to be no more years of racing. During the winter of 1986, Richmond was diagnosed with HIV and became so sick that he was not able to run a full race again until June of 1987, at Pocono, the very track where his NASCAR career started. He won that race in emotional fashion, crossing the finish line in tears and unable to speak in victory lane. And then he won again the following week, in what was to be his last Cup win, ironically at the same track where he had recorded his first win, Riverside. And by August of that year NASCAR, not knowing the nature of Richmond's illness, a sickness that was sapping his health, concluded that he "was in no shape to drive a car." He then resigned from Hendrick Motorsports.

Tim Richmond chose to keep his medical information private. His absence during the first part of 1987 was explained away as being due to a battle with double pneumonia. Following his return that year, it was clear to most that something was wrong with the flamboyant driver. His energy level was low; he had lost weight and at times needed assistance exiting his racecar. Rumor spread throughout the garage area and grandstands that Tim Richmond had a drug problem. In February of 1988 at Daytona, Richmond was hoping to race in the then-Busch Clash. NASCAR required Tim to submit to a drug test under its newly designed drug policy, a policy that many to this day believe was instituted to remove Richmond from the sport.

The somewhat stronger driver had anticipated that he might be asked to prove that he was not taking drugs and quit taking his HIV treatments in advance to assure that they would not be detected. However, NASCAR announced that he had failed the drug test and he was suspended. Five days later, the sanctioning body announced that Tim's first test showed nothing but over-the-counter cold medicines, and a second test, insisted on by Richmond, was clean. However, NASCAR would not allow him to race again unless they were given his complete medical file. A lawsuit for $20 million was brought against NASCAR, but later dropped.

Disappointed in not being allowed to race at the Busch Clash, Richmond hired a plane to fly a banner over Daytona International Speedway that read, "Fans-I miss you -Tim Richmond." Those close to him said that Richmond contemplated much nastier messages, but in the end decided on the more sensitive message to his race fans—a message that will always be remembered by those in attendance that winter day in Florida.

Sadly, Tim Richmond, who wished to protect his privacy in not divulging the nature of his illness during a time when little was known about AIDS and wrong conclusions were routinely reached by the largely uninformed public, never did race again. But even before he hoped to return at Daytona, many in the garage had pulled away from Richmond and he was by-and-large treated as an outcast by other competitors.

Present day Sprint Cup driver Kyle Petty, reflecting on the lack of support Tim Richmond received said, "It all boils down to AIDS. I don't care what anybody tells you. Nobody knows how to handle AIDS - especially in a sport as backward-thinking on so many things as this sport is."

Tim Richmond passed away in August of 1989 in West Palm Beach, Florida, at 34-years of age. His mother and father stayed near his side until the very end. Few from the NASCAR community contacted or visited with him during his last remaining months.

Voted one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers, Tim Richmond was an original and his tragic and sad death was without a question an immeasurable loss to NASCAR and its fans.

One day his movie should be made. Maybe they are just waiting until they find a movie star with the charm and charisma to play his part.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


©2000 - 2008 Tommy Thompson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Bob Whitehead
02/29/2008 12:13 AM


You’ve outdone yourself. That was a great article. Accurate, intriguing, and well-written. Good job! I look forward to the movie. :)


Mike C
02/29/2008 07:59 AM

Thank you for remembering a great driver . The back story of Tim Richmond shows NASCAR and a couple of it’s drivers as pretty despicable people . Tim was railroaded out of racing by inuendo , outright lies , and by hysteria on the part of Richard Petty claiming Tim was on drugs . And then NASCAR joined in on the drug idea, forcing Tim to take drug tests , and when the tests came up negative , NASCARs’ “doctor “ falsified documents and lied . Any driver deserves better than the way NASCAR handled the Richmond incident . But one thing to keep in mind is , you certainly can’t put too much stock in anything the NASCAR PR department tells you .

02/29/2008 08:51 AM

Excellent article.

Quite frankly, Tim Richmond was the catalyst for the rise in popularity of NASCAR, not Dale Earnhardt.

Tim Richmond left a mark on NASCAR that will never be forgotten.

Can you imagine the state of the sport if Tim Richmond, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki were still a part of it?

Thanks again for a great article.

Randy Meyers
02/29/2008 09:10 AM

Great article, but something is missing…..As much as a fan I was of Tim’s, I can’t help wondering How he contracted the disease..No one has ever brought this forward..Was it from an infected drug needle as many are claiming? Was it a bad batch of blood used during surgery, although I can’t remember if he ever had a serious accident where he would have needed it? Or was it from his carefree non-racing off track lifestyle? Could someone shed some light on this dark subject…please

02/29/2008 09:31 AM

It has been confirmed by a number of sources that Tim was infected with HIV by a woman he was dating . He had absolutely no history of intraveinous drug use that anyone has been able to find .

02/29/2008 09:41 AM

Here is a real story of betrayal and Tim Richmond.

From LaGena Lookabill Greene,

In 1986, LaGena became reacquainted with a friend of six years, Tim Richmond, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. Richmond wooed LaGena with promises of marriage and children.

On the day LaGena accepted his marriage proposal, she engaged in sexual relations with him for the first time. The next day, he simply disappeared.

‘He completely disappeared out of my life with no explanation at all,’ she said. ‘I got a phone call from a stranger saying that he was dying of AIDS.’

Yeah, what a stand up guy. Statistically in that time frame he more than likely got it from Homosexual sex. If not a needle. The percentage of female to male transmission is still very small.

From the incident Mrs. Greene describes I think he was at least a Bisexual who knew he was sick when he slept with her as a sick way of showing he was a “ladies man”.

02/29/2008 10:05 AM

I lived in West Palm Beach in ’89. I tried several times to get in to visit Tim, but, I wasn’t on “the list”.
He was a hard partying, fast living guy. Because of his image he brought many new fans to NA$CAR & all but a few in NA$CAR turned their collective backs on him in the end. That was truly a shame.

Margo L
02/29/2008 10:12 AM

Interesting theory Dennis . Not based in fact or reality , but interesting . Sadly , HIV does not need , nor has it ever needed homosexual contact to spread . Nor has it only required a needle . HIV has been spread many ways . And i doubt you could site any legitimate sources for Tim being bi-sexual .

Marty C
02/29/2008 12:16 PM

I knew Tim and he was a stand up guy. I was on another crew but like him I wasn’t from the south which pretty much made you worthless back then in NASCAR.

02/29/2008 01:51 PM

Ms. Lookabill has changed her story so many times its hard to take her at her word. First she said she met Tim at Charlotte but that year Tim was a little busy at Indy that year. Then she said she was deflowered during the 86 New York banquet. Of course nobody who was there recalls seeing her. His mom Evelyn and sister Sandy traveled with Tim constantly and neither of them ever met Ms. Lookabill. Finally the meds the docs gave Tim for HIV leave men impotent.

As for heterosexual transmission of AIDS, how do I put this delicately. It’s not common in vaginal intercourse but can easily be passed if a guy plays the third hole so to speak.

Most sources now say that Mary Frann the actress who played Bob Newhart’s wife in the second Newhart show (the one with the Inne) She and Tim dated for years and she did in fact use needle drugs for awhile.

02/29/2008 05:32 PM

Excellent article. I was a big fan of Tim back in the day. The man sure knew how to live.

I recall a feature story in The Charlotte Observer about 14 years ago regarding several women that Richmond had knowingly infected with HIV. It would be a shame if that were true. I hope not.

02/29/2008 11:37 PM

I have an old magazine article that states Tim had a thing for prostitutes.He preferred to “date” rather than date. The article says this was his downfall.

03/01/2008 09:01 AM

I don’t see the infatuation with Tim Richmond. I don’t think he is a poster boy for NASCAR at all.

Barry Kentrup
03/01/2008 12:10 PM

I saw Tim pass Benny inside on turn six at Riverside. There was only room for one car to get through that turn, Tim put two through there and came out in front of Benny. I was amazed!!

He was a “wheel man.”

don mei
03/02/2008 01:47 PM

Great article on Tim Richmond. I also read David Pooles book, “Tim Richmond; The Fast Life and Remarkable Times of Nascar’s Top Gun”. Its a good read; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Insofar as Richmond himself is concerned, how he came down with AIDS is so much blather, no one will ever know and as its pretty obvious reading the replies here, what you believe about that will be directly related to what you thought or think about Richmond. One simple fact stands out though, he could drive the wheels off a race car…ANY race car, open wheeler, stock car, sports car. Its our loss that we didnt see him competing for at least another 5 years. The list of cup champions would read a bit differently if he had lived.

03/04/2008 07:37 PM

Great article, and it’s wonderful to see so many people who recognize that Lagena is less than credible. I don’t know if he got AIDS from Mary Frann, but I do know she died in a very similar way as Tim. I’m still inclined to believe he got it from a prostitute either in Miami, Ft.Lauderdale or New York. He dated some models, and I’m trying to find out if he ever dated Gia, who did die of AIDS

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