This is the 6th in a series of articles leading up to the June 20th "Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA RE/MAX 200" at Mansfield (Ohio) Motorsports Park
RICK HENDRICK: TIM RICHMOND ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREATS
MANSFIELD, Ohio (May 19th, 2009) -- Tim Richmond arrived in NASCAR racing in 1982, two years before Rick Hendrick launched his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team in the 1984 Daytona 500. Hendrick is now an eight-time series champion team owner with 179 series wins.
Hendrick launched his sponsor-less team, All Star Racing, with driver Geoffrey Bodine and crew chief Harry Hyde in 1984. The combination was surprisingly potent for a start-up team. They scored three wins, seven top-fives, 13 top-10s and won three pole awards, finishing ninth in the series point standings. Hendrick had assembled a winning team, relying on his keen eye and veteran talent. Hendrick proved himself to be a fast learner.
Single car teams were the "norm" during the 1980s in NASCAR racing. But veteran team owner Junior Johnson was on a tear from 1984 through 1986 with a highly successful two car effort, proclaimed as "Double Thunder." His twin Budweiser Chevrolets were driven by Darrell Waltrip and Neil Bonnett. With Johnson, "Ol' D.W." won his third series championship in 1985, and finished second in points in 1986, with Bonnett finishing in the top-five in points in two out of the three years. New to the series in 1984, Hendrick was taking the two-car concept in and was a fast learner.
Richmond was in his second season of driving the No. 27 Old Milwaukee Pontiacs for team owner Raymond Beadle in 1984. It didn't take long for Hendrick to notice the young Richmond.
"I watched Tim drive for Beadle, and man he could man-handle that car." Hendrick said. "I was impressed."
During Hendrick's first two seasons in the sport, Richmond won only once for Beadle, in the spring race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway.
"I didn't want to hire Tim away from Beadle, but when things looked like they were going to change for Tim, we talked," Hendrick said. Hendrick was able to hire Tim for a pair of NASCAR Nationwide Series races in 1985, which helped solidify the duo's future. In their first start, at Lowe's Motor Speedway during the annual May extravaganza there, Richmond won the pole and then won the race. In their second Nationwide Series start that fall at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Richmond again won the pole. He finished 23rd due to an accident.
In 1986 Hendrick hired Richmond full-time, and the newbie gained a Hendrick Motorsports teammate in Bodine, starting in 1986. Richmond produced an unforgettable season.
"Tim had everything we thought he had and more," Hendrick said of Richmond's talent. "With the talent he had, there's no question he would have had lots of championships."
Richmond's presence on the team also solidified the foundation Hendrick Motorsports had built with Bodine.
"Tim brought legitimacy to our program. He had 11 wins (nine in Cup, two in Nationwide) and 14 poles (nine in Cup and five in Nationwide), and he was a threat to win the championship with us, and it legitimatized our whole program," Hendrick said. And, as a race car driver "he showed me raw talent and car control while being aggressive. He was a natural behind the wheel."
Richmond enjoyed being competitive, and he liked to have fun on the race track, too, Hendrick recalled.
"We were at Pocono and he was leading the race. He had passed Dale Earnhardt and was driving away," Hendrick said. "Tim asked on the radio if I was listening and I told him I was. He said 'Hey, Rick. Watch this!'
"He slowed way down and let Earnhardt pass him in turn three. Then coming down the front straightaway, he stuck the nose of his car under Earnhardt's back bumper and lifted it. Then he got back on the gas, and passed Earnhardt again."
Earnhardt and Richmond forged that kind of friendship. Their mutual competitiveness made them fast friends.
Richmond posted his seventh win of the 1986 season in the final race of the year at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway, a 2.62 mile road course in November. Earnhardt finish second by a slim one-second margin, but had enough points to win his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship over Darrell Waltrip. Richmond and Earnhardt went to victory lane together. There, Richmond raised Earnhardt's arm high in the air to salute his friend and new champion. It was typical of Richmond's nature of winning, having fun and celebrating with friends.
In the weeks between the November finale at Riverside and the series awards banquet in early December, Richmond began feeling increasingly ill. A nagging cold wouldn't go away. He made his required banquet appearance to receive the annual pole award and point fund awards on behalf of his team. But he was soon admitted to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where he was diagnosed with double pneumonia, and privately soon thereafter, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS.
The serious of his illness was known by only a few, and the team released a statement saying that Richmond would miss the 1987 season-opening Daytona 500, and probably many of the early season races. Sufficiently recovered from his initial bout with the meandering affects of the relatively new disease, Richmond was able to return to competition by the June 14, 1987 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. He returned with the familiar Tim Richmond flourish, qualifying third-fastest, leading 82 of the race's 200 laps, and winning by one-second over Bill Elliott. Tim Richmond was back.
The following week's race was cross country at Riverside, Calif., where Richmond excelled. And he did again, winning the pole award, leading 48 of the race's 95 laps, and wining by 1.5 seconds over Ricky Rudd. It was Richmond's 13th career win, his ninth for Hendrick, and the driver's last.
Richmond remained competitive over the next six races, placing fourth in the next race at Michigan, then 22nd at the mid-season 400 at Daytona. He bounced back again, winning another pole award at the season's second race at Pocono, but engine problems brought a 29th-place finish. He followed that with an 11th at Talladega and then 10th at Watkins Glen. But the disease was catching up with him again. His final start came in August at Michigan, where, while feeling increasingly ill, he qualified 25th and finished 29th due to engine failure. It was the last race of Richmond's career. He retired from Hendrick Motorsports a short time later. He passed away from complications of the disease two Augusts later in 1989.
It took some time for Richmond to receive the acclaim he deserved for his meteoric career. As the thinking, understanding, and awareness of the widespread disease became clearer, the talk of Richmond's accomplishments returned. The controversy that absurdly tainted his career due to his illness began to fade.
Richmond was enshrined in the Ashland County (Ohio) Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, selected as one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers during the sanctioning body's 50th Anniversary celebration in 1998, and inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., in 2002. He is certain to one day be enshrined in the still-under-construction NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.
Richmond would have turned 54 on June 7th. To celebrate Richmond's life, he will be honored near his hometown of Ashland in Mansfield, Ohio on June 20. The inaugural Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA RE/MAX 200 will be presented at Mansfield Motorsports Park. Richmond was a winner in ARCA competition in the ARCA 200 at Daytona in his first series start in February 1981.
Hendrick, who remained friends with Richmond through the hard times following his retirement to the end of his life, believes the honors are due and overdue.
"Tim's never gotten the full credit he should have received. He would have been one of the all-time greats in our sport. I'm glad people are doing things like the Tim Richmond memorial race at Mansfield to remember him."
While Hendrick's schedule will not allow him to attend the memorial race, he is supporting the event. He is personally sending to the Mansfield event an authentic, Tim Richmond-raced Folgers Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and one of the team's new-generation NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars for fans to enjoy for close-up views and pictures.
More information and advance tickets for the event are available at www.mansfieldmotorsportsonline.com.