Natural. Rock star. Outsider. In the 1980s race car driver Tim Richmond lived his life the way he raced cars—wide open. Born into a wealthy family, he was the antithesis of the Southern blue-collar, dirt-track racers who dominated NASCAR. He also was a flamboyant showman who basked in the attention of the media and fans—especially the attention of female admirers. Nevertheless, it was Richmond's on-track performances that ended up drawing comparisons to racing legends. And in 1986, when he won seven NASCAR races and finished third in the Winston Cup series points race, some believed he was on the verge of stardom. But soon his freewheeling lifestyle caught up to him. He unexpectedly withdrew from the NASCAR racing circuit, reportedly suffering from double pneumonia. In reality, the diagnosis was much more dire: He had AIDS. Richmond returned to the track in 1987 but he was gone from the sport by the next year as his health deteriorated. He spent his final days as a recluse, dying on August 13, 1989 at the age of 34. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Al Szymanski will examine the life and tragic death of one of NASCAR's shooting stars.
Al Szymanski is an award-winning producer, director and writer. He is also a founding partner in the respected production company Red Line Films. He has worked in the industry for almost 25 years. During that time he has traveled the world covering sporting events and creating documentaries for all of the major television networks.
Szymanski's peers have consistently honored his work. He has received numerous Emmy nominations during his career, while winning the award 11 times. Those Emmy wins include Outstanding Documentary, twice for Outstanding Edited Sports Special and the prestigious Dick Schaap Writing Award.
Szymanski lives in Hunterdon County, New Jersey with his wife and two sons.
Nothing is more compelling than a flawed hero; the individual who has the potential to reach the highest reaches of his chosen field while privately careening wildly on a path of self-destruction. Heartbreak always hovers nearby when achievement is trumped by the carnage of a life misspent -- "Oh, what might have been." -- But it seems, at best, incomplete when the excess and scars that mark a hero's fall become the first and final words in his tragic epitaph.
Tim Richmond may have been as flawed as they come. His lifestyle -- his recklessness -- helped speed an end that was both painful and lonely. Yet that same celebrated abandon made him a standout driver. A son of privilege with a military school pedigree, disarming good looks and magnetic personality and a record and reputation that inspired a major motion picture; Richmond was the "playboy" outsider who happily didn't fit NASCAR's dirty-knuckled mold. Still, after he bulled his way into that insular world he became one of stock car racing's brightest stars—and, in the end, one of its greatest shames.
In two years time Tim Richmond went from the adulation of victory lane to a shadowed hospital ward, where he died from AIDS. It was 1989, and when he succumbed to a disease that was still shrouded in mystery, misinformation and fear, no one was at his bedside other than the hospital staff. That abandonment by the racing world, in some respects, lingers to this day. On a personal note, I'm one of many that lost a beautiful friend to AIDS during that era. The cause of death became a deeply buried family secret. That reaction was all too common. The intervening years have taught me this: Disgrace born of ignorance is rarely deserved.