Tim Richmond: NASCAR's Forgotten Son

Michael OleszekAnalyst INovember 25, 2008

Yesterday seems as though it never existed.

Those lyrics, taken from the Metallica song Fade to Black, perfectly describe what is left of the career of former NASCAR driver Tim Richmond.

Largely forgotten by most casual NASCAR fans, and not known at all by the new generation, Tim Richmond holds a special place in the hearts of the most die-hard racing fans. The man people called "Hollywood" and compared to James Dean, is now nothing more than a memory.

Tim Richmond wasn't cut from the same cloth as his NASCAR peers: He was from Ohio and not the South, he attended a military academy instead of dropping out of high school, his father was a wealthy manufacturer of drilling equipment instead of a race car driver, and he cut his racing teeth in open-wheel racing instead of dirt tracks.

It was after a nasty wreck in open-wheel racing, that Tim Richmond began to race stock cars. His tremendous talent and tremendous ego made fans either love him or hate him. He was flamboyant and a showboat off the track and a terror on the track. Tim could race any line, at any speed, on any track.

The one thing Tim could do the most, was win. He could win anywhere, from road courses to 2-mile ovals at a time when NASCAR was purely racing and not the watered down version it is today. He drove for Raymond Beadle, leaving the car Rusty Wallace drove to a championship; and Rick Hendrick, providing the foundation of the Hendrick dynasty.

Tim's career would begin its rapid decline after the 1986 Winston Cup season. Amid swirlling rumors about drug use, Tim was diagnosed with AIDS. At the time, AIDS was still a taboo subject and little was known about the disease. It has been surmised that Tim Richmond contracted AIDS sexually from one of the many females he encountered during his racing career.

Tim managed to keep his diagnosis private, explaining his absence by telling people he had double pneumonia. He would regain enough strength to drive midway through the 1987 season, and Tim won his first two races since coming back. This would be the last success Tim Richmond had in a race car.

He was told not to race by NASCAR after only six more races in 1987, and he resigned from Hendrick Motorsports in deteriorating health.

Despite securing a ride with Ken Ragan for the 1988 Busch Clash, Tim would never see the track again. Persistent rumors of drug use allowed NASCAR to test Tim for drugs under their policy that they called "reasonable suspicion."

It was a modern day witch hunt designed solely for NASCAR to wash its hands of him. The NASCAR rulebook was and always will be a joke. The first test showed that he had tested for "banned substances," which virtually destroyed Tim. A second test, insisted on by Richmond, came back clean. Those "banned substances" were nothing more than common cold medicine.

Desperately wanting to repair the damage and restore what was left, Tim decided to sue NASCAR for reinstatement and damages. It sounded like a rock-solid case, but the NASCAR-friendly judge ruled that Tim Richmond and his doctors would have to fully disclose his medical records, tax statement, and drug screens in a full invasion of privacy.

The AIDS diagnosis Tim carried around with him, was the proverbial scarlet letter that still haunts his legacy-even today.

Faced with relasing this information into the iron fist of the France family, Tim was the bigger man and withdrew his lawsuit. He retired to virtual seclusion and died in August of 1989.

Although Tim Richmond was voted as one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, you never hear anyone associated with NASCAR speak of him. There is barely a blurb about him on their website. There was no No. 25 painted on tracks or doves released after his passing. There have been no moments of silence on Lap 25.

It's almost like he didn't even exist.