INDY Hump Day Report, On the bubble: HIV/AIDS

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.

Related posts

5 Thoughts to “INDY Hump Day Report, On the bubble: HIV/AIDS

  1. Excellent retrospective on Richmond’s career, and you’re absolutely right that AIDS awareness has plummeted during the last decade. Its now often seen as “That 80s disease.”

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Doug Patterson, IRLback@Pocono and Spike Rogan, said: New Content: INDY Hump Day Report, On the bubble: HIV/AIDS – […]

  3. Alan Turner

    Gotta tell you Spike, You don’t know your arse from a hole in the ground. I graduated ’86 and we damn sure knew about AIDS and it wasn’t just a “gay cancer” to every one I knew. Considering where I grew up if me and my friends knew straight people could get it I find it hard to believe that much of the rest of the country didn’t. I think it’s a shame what happened to Tim and I am not one who thinks he “deserves” it but, his life style sure didn’t help. By all accounts I ever heard he was a probably one of the hardest partiers and biggest carousers to ever strap himself into a race car. And that’s saying something!!! I also have it on good account that he didn’t stop until he was too sick to keep trying. That, frankly is criminal. Tim was pretty darn good in a race car but I can’t help but think that a major reason he didn’t have better equipment was because of his off track behavior. If you’re looking for a poster boy for the perils of HIV/AIDS lets find some one who is actually innocent instead of a rich kid with a great talent but who didn’t seem to want to stop acting like a spoiled adolescent and develop some self respect and concern for others.

  4. Well Alan thanks for your snooty reply. Seeing the word “ARSE” leads me to think you did not go to school in the United States.(Which is where all the subjects mentioned above were in the 1980’s) And I did not post on Trackforum, yet the reply has the Trackforum feel all over it. Sleep well bashing a dead man.

  5. Alan Turner

    Sorry Spike but you are wrong again. Smack dab in the middle of the US of A. Born in Ohio and raised in Illinois. If I had a second home during that time it would either be in Rossburg Ohio or Speedway Indiana. Also, I don’t even know what Trackforum is. I”m guessing another racing website. Are they kind of snooty over there? I was raised on Sprint cars, midgets and Indy cars and in a racing kart. My grandfather was a USAC official for 9yrs mostly with their sprint car division. Back when the names were Pat O’Conner and Bob Swiekert and guys like Foyt and Andretti were young punks. I love open wheels and ovals but I also think that the best racers turn right ALSO. You cut me and I bleed red white and blue. I love the south. I live in a some what rural area of Fla. now but I find stock car racing about as exciting as watching corn grow. But, I watch it because in the racing world today it’s relevant to allot of things. Yea I like sports cars and F1 too. So what? Does that make me some sort of meterosexual Euro wanna be?

    As for sleeping well bashing dead men I have no problem sleeping. There are plenty of dead men who deserve derision. My issue with Tim Richmond isn’t that he wasn’t talented and generally a fun guy to be around. My issue is that he literally screwed himself to death and using the argument that “so little was known about AIDS at the time” doesn’t fly. Eulogizing him as if he was some sort of hero and was innocent is foolish. The town I grew up in was a fairly affluent suburb of Chicago. The only “non white” people in the town of about 40K were a handful of Indian (India Indian) doctors and a smattering of Latin Americans of mostly Mexican origin. It was very conservative and if there was any place that was likely to live in the bubble and think that HIV/AIDS was a “gay cancer” this town would have been the movie set. Yet, through our schools in health class my freshman year (1982!!!!) we were taught that straight people get it too. We were taught that if you participated in high risk behaviors you certainly were upping your chances. Not knowing is no excuse. In fact, I think that if you use the excuse that you thought that AIDS was something only gays get I think it’s a good indicator that you are more interested in the splinter in the other persons eye than the plank in your own. Richmond is to be pitied because he thought because he wasn’t a IV drug user or sleeping with men he wouldn’t get HIV/AIDS? All the while plowing ahead with long lines of loose women and prostitutes? Sorry but that dog don’t hunt.

    And in all honesty I think that had he not died entirely too young from something as scary as AIDS we wouldn’t be talking much about him today at all. I’m guessing his talent level was probably going to cap out some where in the vicinity of some one like Danny Sullivan. Damn fine race car drivers but not the stuff of legends. I read a readers comment on a youtube clip of Tim stating that he was the greatest raw talent to ever drive a race car!!! What a load of crap. Like AJ Foyt’s talent was a result of some sort of finishing school for race car drivers. Did Jimmy Clark get his Phd in racing sciences before he embarked upon his storied career? And I’m certain that Bill Vukovich spent hours at Skip Barber with a personal driving coach before making Indy his personal playground.. You want to talk raw talent? How about that first of the Vukovich clan? Dominated 4 straight Indy 500’s missing his first victory by nine laps and a broken tie rod? Only to go on and take two in a row and then die while leading 3/4 of the way through a fourth one. Vukovich and Clark were tragedies. Tim Richmond’s story is really simply just sad.

    I think it’s sad that TIm died. I think it’s sad that he didn’t live to drive more which he so clearly loved to do. I think it’s sad that we fans didn’t get to enjoy watching Tim drive so very hard. But I think it’s even sadder he made such poor choices in his life. I think it’s sad that he seems to have pursued his penchant for loose women the same way he pursued his fellow drivers on the track. I’m not trying to be pious. I’ve been with my share of women. Heck, statistically speaking I’ve been with my share, your share and probably a few other guys’ share also but, I think I have been fortunate enough to use some discretion and stay out of the gutter and off of street corners when choosing potential partners. Tim didn’t and for centuries now every one has known that if you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas.

    Of course none of this excuses what NASCAR did but frankly I would find it shocking if NASCAR was ever found to NOT be manipulating things to their benefit at the expense of others.

    Let’s just try and use a little perspective and if we need to choose an example to illustrate how HIV/AIDS can destroy lives why don’t we choose some one who was really and truly innocent. My apologies that I came off so strong and I hope that this post better illustrates my position.

Comments are closed.