ESPN 30 for 30: Tim Richmond: To the Limit (2010)

Directed by Rory Karpf

Full disclosure: I am not the biggest NASCAR fan, but that being said I am confident in saying I probably hold more interest in the sport than the majority of America. It is definitely one of those things which has its audience and I am not that, but I do seem to appreciate just about every sport to some degree and I have to say that yes, every Sunday I am a little curious to see who won the race, etc. I am curious now in this day and age to see how Danica Patrick does each week because I think she is an interesting story. And finally, yes, I do have a favorite driver, Matt Kenseth. I think more than anything he became my driver because the year he won the Winston Cup (yes, it was the last year before they changed the name) was the year when I first started to take interest in the sport.

I also think that one of the main reasons why it is such a niche sport, finding the vast majority of its support in the south traditionally is because of the “Good Ol’ Boys” described briefly in this film. And I also think that the sport has grown as large as it has for the simple fact that it has broken away from that mentality at least a little bit and after having seen this film I would wager a guess that the life and career of Tim Richmond had something to do with that. For those of you, much like myself, who have never heard of Tim Richmond, he was a bit of an anomaly in the race car business back in the 80s. He was a handsome man who liked to womanized and was described as a “cosmopolitan”. He cared about his image and was different because he was a self promoter who was more New York City than he was Alabama country boy.

What made him significant was two things: his tremendous talent, and how he never became a fully realized driver who lived up to his potential because he contracted and died from AIDS. There is always a big deal made out of Magic Johnson in terms of making AIDS visible and personal to Americans, which is why it came as such a surprise to hear about the story of Tim Richmond, who died 2 years before Johnson made his announcement to the media about having HIV. And while I certainly concede the fact that Johnson is a much higher profile celebrity than Richmond probably could have ever been as a NASCAR driver in the late 80s, I still say that his death had to signify something to society in terms of the awareness of the disease, how it is contracted, and how deadly it can be.

Richmond was an interesting character for certain, and it was no surprise that when I looked it up it was as I expected: Cole Trickle, played by Tom Cruise in the film Days of Thunder, was based on Tim Richmond. That was the image which immediately sprang to mind. The film itself, compacted down to the popular 51 minute format of the series, really is nothing more than a simple presentation of the story with little in the way of groundbreaking approaches or questions which dig deeper than just the surface. For that reason I felt the film failed to ever really show me who Tim Richmond was more than just a man who failed to come to grips with the fact that he was dying of AIDS.

He claimed he had contracted double pneumonia instead, and when he finally died in the hospital, his friend Dr. Jerry Punch reported from a NASCAR race that his thoughts went out to him as he was in the hospital following a motorcycle accident. Little was even made of this statement in the film, and the denial, while acknowledged, was quickly spoken over. This is the story of the film. This is what it should have been all about. The stigma of AIDS in the 80s was amazing and its one of those things where “you had to be there” to fully understand, which is sad to say because I was not there, having been born late in the decade. Lucky for the filmmakers I knew about it already, but I feel not everyone my age or younger will fully comprehend Richmond’s struggle, and ultimately how brave Magic Johnson had to have been to do what he ultimately did.

** – Fair

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