Monday, October 18, 2010

ESPN Richmond Documentary Tells the Cold Hard Truth

Tim Richmond was NASCAR rock.

Bold, wealthy and wide open, he blazed onto the racing scene in the  mid-1980s and turned the good ol' boy contingent on its ear.

He was smooth with the ladies.  At home in the Hollywood Hills. A veritable force behind the wheel.

But even Richmond's larger-than-life personality couldn't change a culture which had yet to come to terms with AIDs.  In fact, he couldn't even deal with the diagnosis himself.

And that's the cold hard truth which ESPN Films powerfully details in Tim Richmond: To the Limit, the newest documentary in the 30 for 30 film series which premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Produced for ESPN by the NASCAR Media Group, the film is an effective combination of racing history gold and raw emotive moments that hit you in the gut like a punch you weren't expecting.

The footage of Richmond and Dale Earnhardt battling head-to-head are archival ore.  And at times, the documentary images make you long for the NASCAR of old.  When Harry Hyde manned the pits. When "The Winston" said it all. When Chase was just something Rosco P. Coltrane did to the Duke boys.

Then there are the present-day NASCAR interviews which bring you back to reality with a thud.  And more of-the-era clips which remind us that though the past had its shining moments - it also had its flaws.

There are the memories of Greg Louganis. News footage of Ryan White. An almost youthful Dan Rather expounding the ramifications of AIDs. 

Director Rory Karpf does an excellent job of weaving these capsular moments in time into the warp and woof of Richmond's story, constructing a larger cultural picture which is all-too easy to forget.

However, it's Richmond's sister, Sandra Welsh, who more than anyone in the film, captures the raw pain and fear which haunted Richmond and her family as the disease took hold.

Before he was finally denied entrance into the 1989 Busch Clash at Daytona, Welsh said Richmond seemed to realize - if not accept - that his racing days were at an end.

"He thought about taking the car into the wall really, really hard and killing himself," Wolf said.

Richmond, who had once won seven races in one year, died in a Florida hospital on August 13, 1989.

He was 34.

And although Richmond never went public with his disease during his lifetime, his story still serves as a poignant reminder of the brevity of life, the importance of tolerance, and the power of personal choice.

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