By admin | October 26, 2010
By Richard Allen
Have you ever seen a shooting star? Most people reading this piece have seen one and noticed its bright flash as it streaks across the sky. But unfortunately, as quickly as the phenomenon makes its brilliant appearance the star burns away and disappears into the night.
Former NASCAR competitor Tim Richmond’s career was just like that of a shooting star. The flamboyant driver burst onto the scene in a blaze of brilliance and glory. And just as suddenly as he appeared, he was gone. He disappeared into the night seemingly as quickly as he came.
This past week ESPN aired one of their critically acclaimed ‘30 For 30’ documentaries on the life and career of Tim Richmond. The production was an outstanding piece on one of the great characters of all time in the sport of NASCAR racing.
Richmond had been a star athlete in high school. He drove race cars for a living. He had appeared in movies. He hung out in Hollywood with all the “right” people. He dated some of the most beautiful women on the planet. In other words, he lived a life that many men can only dream of. However, as with many dreams, his life eventually turned to a nightmare.
To put it racing terms the ‘30 For 30’ piece portrayed Richmond as a guy who lived his life at full speed and then suddenly spun and crashed as a result of trying to go too fast. He lived as if everyday were a wide open qualifying session rather than a 500 mile endurance test.
Ultimately, that high speed lifestyle filled with ‘wine, women and song’ caught up to him. In an era in which a newly discovered disease had surfaced that seemed to target people such as those who lived at dangerous speeds, Richmond found himself as far separated from his earlier life as one could possibly imagine.
Richmond contracted the AIDS virus at some point in the mid-1980s and his star began its rapid descent to a horrific ending that most people can not comprehend.
Sandy Welsh, Richmond’s sister, was featured as a key witness to history during the ESPN piece. Her depiction of her brother was one of a young man who was very talented, charismatic and lovable, but at the same time, too reckless for his own good.
As far as Richmond’s racing career is concerned, he was one of the most talented drivers the sport has ever known. He was named ‘Rookie of the Year’ for the Indianapolis 500 in 1980. From there he moved to NASCAR where he scored thirteen Winston Cup victories.
However, just after his most successful season in 1986, he suddenly went missing from the weekly racing scene. That year he had won seven of the 29 races on the schedule. But in 1987 he only competed seven times, winning two of those starts.
From there, his sickness progressively got worse. A variety of reports suggested that he had everything from pneumonia to the Asiatic Flu.
It would not be said until after his death that he had suffered from AIDS. That was reported by his family, who maintained that he contracted the illness from heterosexual contact.
Richmond died on August 13, 1989 and thus burned out a once bright but short lived shooting star.
Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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