Tim Richmond: Smarter Than The Tricky Triangle

Richmond

 

Jimmie Johnson’s 10th victory at Dover is the latest example of how a driver can master a track. In the same way that Dale Earnhardt owned Talladega, and Darrell Waltrip owned Bristol, Tim Richmond owned Pocono Raceway.

In a career cut short by his infection with HIV and death at the hands of the AIDS virus, Tim Richmond reeled off four victories in a four year span at the track known popularly as the “tricky triangle.” He swept the twin 1986 stops at Long Pond, Pennsylvania, and the first race there in a dramatic return to racing in 1987, as his illness necessitated an absence from the sport.

It was a different day and time. Most of the American public knew little about AIDS, other than it first surfaced in the gay community, and that it could also infect be passed to someone by an infected needle. At the outset of 1987, the 1980 Indianapolis 500 Rookie Of The Year was reported to be suffering from double pneumonia.

The June 8, 1986 running of the Miller High Life 500 at Pocono found Richmond back in action. He qualified third, and by the fifth lap, the latest arrival in the Hendrick Motorsports stable was in the lead. With Harry Hyde as crew chief, Richmond was back in the game. He overcame a gear box problem that allowed him to only use fourth gear to lead the final 46 laps to take the checkered flag. So moved was he with the win, Richmond admitted he was crying, and every time the popular upstart had someone congratulate him, he would just start crying all over again. It was fitting Richmond enjoyed so much success at Pocono, for it was track president Josph Mattioli III that had encouraged the Ohioan to make the move from open wheel racing to NASCAR.

As the media later reported he had tested positive for HIV, speculation ran wild. Much of centered on how he got it. Coming from a wealthy family, Tim Richmond lived like a rock star- complete with boats, fancy clothes, and women…..lots of women. Some wondered not so quietly what other escapades his affluence may have afforded him. With its explosion into the public consciousness in the 80s, it was a scary time and questioned abounded on just how vulnerable a person may be. Suddenly, individuals who gave little thought to how and to whom they spent intimate moments with were frightened. Not to dwell on it, but NASCAR’s handling of this development was in retrospect a travesty. He was later suspended after testing positive for an illegal substance, and what followed was a legal battle between Tim Richmond and NASCAR, and by the time matters were settled, Richmond was unable to find a ride, his health rapidly declined, and he died in 1989.

One can only imagine what may have been concerning Tim Richmond’s racing career. He enjoyed a spirited, yet friendly rivalry with Dale Earnhardt, the competition seemed to bring out the best in each other. Making Richmond’s wins all the more impressive is they came in the era of such greats as Earnhardt, Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliott. It seems just like yesterday, and yet- were Richmond living today, he would be turning 60 this Sunday.