A few months ago I realized that the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Tim Richmond was approaching and I thought I should say something, but what? I came up with three drafts… in my head, but they all seemed incomplete. For a while there I felt this undertaking should left to the experts like Ed Hinton or Marty Smith; you know–people that actually know what they are doing. Yet, I felt I had to say something.
Tim Richmond was an enigma, yet he was also a “what you see is what you get” kind of fellow. He came from an open wheel background, but found fame and fortune in NASCAR when the sport was still firmly rooted in the Southeast.
Richmond wore Armani suits, rode a Harley, and owned a Cigarette speedboat, yet he was friends with Dale Earnhardt, whose image was that of the good ol’ boy in Wrangler jeans. He was a guy who would drive all day, and party all night. Richmond predated the era of “Image is everything,” and “I am not a role model,” but both of those marketing campaigns apply to his outlook on life.
Some say, “If there wasn’t a Tim Richmond, someone would have to invent him.” It’s an accurate statement, but it sure as hell wouldn’t have been NASCAR doing the inventing; but that’s another story. Richmond seems more like a Hollywood invention; and by Hollywood, I mean Andy Sidaris, who was the autuer behind late night cinematic masterpieces like Malibu Express.
And no, I am not being sarcastic when I refer to Malibu Express as a masterpiece. Two words: June Khnockers. And yes, it’s Khnockers, with an “H.”
Eventually, Hollywood did make a film about Tim Richmond; it was called Days of Thunder. The thing is, Days of Thunder was a movie about Tim Richmond, that wasn’t about Tim Richmond. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) In the film, Tom Cruise plays Cole Trickle, who shares a similar backstory to Richmond, but that’s about it for the comparisons. Yes, a lot of the stuff in the film actually happened to Richmond, but some of it was in a different context. Then there are the things that happened to to other drivers, but were put into the film just because they were so outragous. The sad fact is that, unlike Formula 1 driver James Hunt, who in some ways is Tim Richmond’s kindred spirit, the true, unvarnished story will never be told. Why? Simply put: When it comes to Tim Richmond, no one is subjective.
Many consider it bad form to speak ill of the dead. Some want to gloss over the facts. There are those who refuse to believe the truth. And then there are the ones who are very angry, and have every right to be. At the end of the day most of us are neither as good as our loved ones think, nor as bad as our enemies believe. A lot of people wear grey hats; and some of those hats are very, very dark grey.
When you become a fan of auto racing, at some point you must accept that death is part of the sport, and sometimes it happens in unexpected ways. This past Saturday night, with the death of Kevin Ward Jr, we lost yet another driver who wasn’t behind the wheel when he died. Ward got out of his car to confront Tony Stewart, with whom he was involved in a crash, and then the right rear tire of Stewart’s car struck Ward. I am not going to play the blame game because I have no idea what exactly happened.
There have been drivers who have died in road accidents. Some have died in aircraft crashes. I can even think of at least one that was murdered. There are many ways that a race car driver can die, but the last one you would expect to see listed on a death certificate is AIDS.
But then again…