The documentary on Tim Richmond -- "Tim Richmond, To the Limit" -- is a fascinating look not just at a race car driver, but at a complex life. It was directed by Rory Karpf and produced by NASCAR Media Group. It airs on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m. on ESPN as part of ESPN Films’ series 30 for 30.
There are two quotes that stuck with me while watching the film. The first one was from Richmond himself, when he said: "I am trying to prove that I was put on this earth to have fun ... to succeed in the fun department."
He certainly had fun, inside and out of the race car.
The shorthand of Richmond's story goes like this: He takes up driving because he doesn't really want to run the successful family business. Starts in INDYCAR, does well. Switches over to NASCAR, does better. He doesn't know much about cars, other than what to do when behind the wheel of one. But he's not your typical cowboy hat-wearing, tobacco-chewing, good old boy. He describes himself as a "cosmopolitan man." He wears nice clothes and keeps an apartment in Manhattan. And therefore, initially, he's not accepted by the traditional NASCAR drivers.
He's accused several times of drug use. And - it's no secret, so I am not giving anything away -- he ultimately contracts AIDS and dies. It's never revealed how, which doesn't really matter. Was it drugs? Was it unprotected sex with a female? Or unprotected sex with a male? The movie hints at all of the above.
Whether intentionally done or not, the film points out how far we've actually come accepting people who have AIDS. Richmond denied to his family and friends and fans that he had the virus until the very end. The other drivers, the fans, the world at large for that matter, was not ready for such an admission from a sports star. Magic Johnson's announcement came in 1991, two years after Richmond died.
In the film, Kyle Petty lamented that the drivers were, "ignorant to what he was going through." And Richmond's sister said the funeral home charged the family an additional $100 because he died of AIDS.
There is one scene, early in the movie, that is quite interesting for someone who has never attended a NASCAR race. Richmond is in a press box or luxury suite at a race. He has taken some time off and he's talking to someone holding a camera. He is saying that he used to be a driver and that he hopes to do it again. He's watching the cars zoom around the track through a window. And the excitment is building. Then he opens the window, and suddenly, you not only see the cars zoom around, you hear them. For those who have never been to a race, that is NASCAR.
Here is the other quote I will end with:
"His lifestyle is what made him a rock star in a race car. But it's also what took his life away. It took him away far too early," Dr. Jerry Punch, ESPN NASCAR analyst.
It's on Tuesday night. Don't miss it.