The saddest words relating to anyone’s life are “what might have been” and it is unfortunate that these words can be used when it comes to describing Tim Richmond (June 7, 1955 – August 13, 1989) of Ashland, Ohio.
An extremely talented and popular driver who made the successful transition from open-wheel cars to NASCAR’s Cup Series machines. Yet it was his flamboyant lifestyle with beautiful young women that ultimately led to his untimely death.
The son of well-to-do parents as well as a track and football star at the old Miami (Florida) Military Academy, Richmond raced Go-Karts, had a Pontiac Trans-Am, a speedboat and his own airplane & pilot’s license all by the time that he was 16. And after a year at Ashland (Ohio) University he started Sprint Car racing at age 21 in a second-hand red, white and blue No. 98 entry that was owned by his father, Al.
After no success in 1976, Al fired his son from that ride then bought a Super Modified and in 1977 Tim won the Sandusky (Ohio) Speedway title and was named “Rookie of the Year.”
In 1978, Tim was the United States Auto Club’s Sprint Car “Rookie of the Year” in the No. 38 McCord Auto entry. Then, after attending a road-racing school, he won the Formula Super Vee USAC Mini Indy race at Phoenix (Arizona) International Raceway on March 18, 1978, and attracted additional attention in USAC’s Silver Crown Championship Dirt Car Series.
In 1979, Tim’s father bought an Eagle chassis and Offy engine so he could race in some Championship Auto Racing Team events and the rookie driver finished out the season in Pat Santello’s No. 35 turbocharged Offy. Then, in 1980, the flowing-haired and mustachioed Championship Car driver started 19th and finished ninth in Robert Schultz’s No 21 Penske PC7/Cosworth at the Indianapolis 500 and was named “Rookie of the Year.”
Soon after Indianapolis, though, Tim switched over to NASCAR full-time at the urging of fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway owner Dr. Joe Mattioli, and on July 24, 1983, he claimed his first Cup Series victory in Raymond Beadle’s red No. 27 Old Milwaukee Pontiac when he won the Like Cola 500 at Pocono from the pole.
In eight (1980-1987) Cup seasons – with car owners D.K. Ulrich (1980-1981), Kennie Childers (1981), Bob Rogers (1981), Billy Harvey (1982), Jim Stacy (1982), Beadle (1983-1985) and Rick Hendrick (1986-1987) – Tim had 13 victories, 42 Top-5s and 78 Top-10s in 185 starts.
His association with Hendrick and his storied tutelage under crew chief Harry Hyde in the red No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports Folgers Chevrolets was of such an exciting and dramatic nature that it became the basis for the popular 1990 big-screen movie, “Days of Thunder.”
Tim won nine Cup races and one second-tier Grand National event in Hendrick Motor-sports cars: the 1986 Winn-Dixie 300 from the pole at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in one of his few GN starts; both 1986 Pocono 500s; the 1986 Firecracker 400 at Daytona Int’l Speed-way; the 1986 Budweiser at The Glen at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Int’l and the 1986 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, each from the pole; the 1986 Wrangler Jeans 400 at Richmond (Va.) Int’l Raceway; the 1986 Winston Western 500 from the pole at the old Riverside (Calif.) Int’l Raceway road course; the 1987 Miller 500 at Pocono; and, the 1987 Budweiser 400 at Riverside.
Named as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers, Tim’s personality was such that he once offered to buy a man who was down on his luck a steak dinner. But when the man said he had no teeth, the charismatic benefactor bought his dinner guest eight grilled-cheese sandwiches.
It would take more space than is available here to chronicle the part of Tim Richmond’s life that led to his death due to complications from AIDS. With his passing though, motorsports lost an exciting young man who could do virtually anything with a racing car and that is how those who knew him or saw him race have chosen to remember this unforgettable character.