Normally the Indy Hump Day Report is very humorous. Filled with insight and sarcasm. Today however is World AIDS day 2010. Having grown up in the shadows of Pocono Raceway, I became a massive racing fan watching the late Tim Richmond.
Richmond while better known for his amazing talent behind the primitive wheel of a NASCAR stock car in the 1980’s got his big break in Open Wheel racing. Richmond was born into wealth, and in the mid 1970’s was given a chance to hop in a friends Sprint car. Richmond would end up quickly setting faster lap times than his friend.
By the late 1970’s Tim Richmond would run USAC midgets, sprints, and Silver Crown cars. All different power plants from Chevy, and Ford, to even a VW powered car. He had no loyalty to any brand, as long as they let him win.
By 1980 Tim’s family purchased a IndyCar chassis and Ford power plant. He would at one point have a major crash during the month of may. But his team would put the car back together, and Richmond would go on to being one of the most memorable Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the year winners.
After his death IndyCar legend Johnny Rutherford was very upset to see the young man pass away. Rutherford like many thought Richmond had shown amazing talent and courage. Driving a car that had no business in the top 20 to a top 10 finish.
Rutherford giving the young Ohio native a ride after his 500 win lives on as one of the most memorable moments in Indy 500 history. I would argue only the 1992 and 1985 500’s had more memorable moments.
Richmond would go on to run for seven seasons and part of 1987 in NASCAR. He would make 185 NASCAR Winston Cup Starts have 13 wins, 14 poles, and 78 Top Tens. (Still one of the best percentages in NASCAR history, but now they cook up stats for Jimmy Johnson and Kyle Busch to avoid this fact.)
Richmond also made 10 starts in the now Nationwide Series over four seasons to get 2 wins, 6 poles, and 4 top tens. (He was not a bully like the Cup stars of today. It was more for practice of stock cars and tracks.) Tim Richmond also was the winner of the 1981 ARCA Daytona 200. (One better than Danica!)
As for his Open Wheel career, Tim Richmond would race in 11 races over three seasons between USAC Gold Crown and CART. He would only have 2 laps led, with 3 top ten finishes. But his Indy 500 Top ten would propel him into super stardom and capture the attention of the Mattioli family of Pocono Raceway.
Joe Mattioli III would be so blown away by the performance he worked to put Richmond into a NASCAR Cup car for their race, where sponsored by “Caesars Pocono Resorts” Richmond made his first ever stock car start. He would just seven years later, become the 1st ever driver to win a major Motorsports event with full blown AIDS at Pocono Raceway.
His health got worst and by August of 1987 Richmond had to be woken up to qualify for Michigan. He would never race again after a DNF in that event. In 1988 he would return to Daytona to attempt to run in the “Busch Clash”. NASCAR gave it’s first ever drug test. They claimed he failed it for a banned substance. Yet a follow up test showed nothing illicit.
NASCAR would claim the over the counter drugs he was using in large amounts caused his failed test.(Think Jeremy Mayfield) But in 1990 when the NFL drug test were under fire an investigation uncovered that NASCAR ordered the man administering the test to find a way to fail Tim Richmond. NASCAR had singled him out and wanted to keep him out of NASCAR.
NASCAR still has never officially admitted guilt and publicly apologized. They did produce the ESPN 30 on 30 film about him. That will be about as close to admitting guilt as they will ever get with him. The only NASCAR figures who admit they treated him wrong are Kyle Petty (Son of Richard Petty) and Richmond’s former Crew Chief, Barry Dodson.
His death was a shock that would cause the straight community in racing to wake up. It was the first case of a famous straight victim of HIV/AIDS until Magic Johnson.
Heck in the chatroom for the Speed program “Wind Tunnel” some members of the production staff and one more famous on-air talent told me. They don’t feel sorry for him, it was his own fault he should have worn protection. Really nit wits? Everyone in 1984, 1985, 1986 knew about AIDS? What universe did these NASCAR apologists live in?
I recall at my grade school in 1987 they put out pamphlets for our parents explaining you can not get AIDS from a public toilet. The TV media called it “The Gay Cancer”. It was portrayed as a illness only homosexuals could get. Did any straight man in 1986 think he could get it? I doubt it! Baldy himself I’m sure!
I really wish the IZOD IndyCar Series could do a tribute to the 1980 Rookie of the Year. If not use him as an educational tool about HIV/AIDS awareness. It seems while at 31 my generation had a decent amount of AIDS education during the 1990’s. But the generation behind us not so much.
The last female I was intimate with is, well to be respectful under the age of 25. Her main concern for protection was “I don’t want to get pregnant. If I was on the pill we wouldn’t need a condom.” AIDS was not even a thought in her head!
I think maybe instead of NASCAR and IMS trying to forget the name Tim Richmond. They should embrace it. Maybe use his story to teach others that having a baby is the least of your worries with unprotected sex.
Late in October I took advantage of a program in Pennsylvania that if you lack insurance you can still be tested for free. I went to my local Planned Parenthood clinic and gave a blood sample for HIV/AIDS. Luckily it came back negative. I hope those of you reading that have never been tested consider. It is better to take the test and be safe than just assume. That is my message this World AIDS day.