|SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums|
In just eight seasons from his transition out of open-wheel racing in 1980 through his 185th and final start in 1987, Richmond made a name for himself as one of NASCAR’s purest racing talents. He excelled at some of the sport’s most difficult tracks. He made his Cup debut at Pocono, where he finished an impressive 12th. His first Top Ten came at Bristol the following year. In 1982, he scored his first victory on the sprawling road course in Riverside, California. Richmond was also one of the most aggressive drivers the sport had seen since Dale Earnhardt, and it wasn’t long before the two waged war as friendly rivals.
Through it all, Richmond finished last only twice, and both occurred during the 1985 season. By then, Richmond was entering his third season with car owner Raymond Beadle, whose Blue Max Racing team would win the Winston Cup with Rusty Wallace in 1989. Richmond had scored two more victories with the team - one from the pole at Pocono in 1983, the other at North Wilkesboro in 1984 - but was not a championship contender. Over those two seasons, Richmond failed to finish 25 times in 60 starts - nearly one of every two. Leadership came from veteran crew chief Tim Brewer, who had come over from Junior Johnson’s team, but the team had yet to come together. For 1985, Barry Dodson - Rusty’s future championship crew chief - took Brewer’s place.
Richmond’s first last-place run came in the 1985 spring race at Bristol, the Valleydale 500, where his Pontiac was gobbled-up in a five-car tangle with Joe Ruttman, Geoffrey Bodine, Neil Bonnett, and Harry Gant. The other came four months later at Michigan, scene of Richmond’s 138th series start.
Richmond qualified 3rd for the race - the third time he’d made the Top Five that season. 40th went to owner-driver Rick Baldwin, whose own life ended tragically as a result of a qualifying crash at the same track the following year. Baldwin’s #04 Schlitz-sponsored ride - the only Chrysler Imperial in the field - held the spot briefly before Richmond pulled behind the wall. Baldwin’s own engine let go afer 142 laps, but the race’s high attrition rate lifted him to 28th.
Richmond wasn’t the only big-name driver to find trouble that Sunday. 39th went to “The Silver Fox” himself David Pearson, who burned a piston on his #21 Chattanooga Chew Ford. Pearson endured one of his most frustrating seasons in 1985, qualifying inside the Top Ten in nine of his 12 starts, but failing to finish ten of them. 38th-place Ron Bouchard, who prevailed on a three-wide last-lap pass on Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte, lost the engine on his #47 Valvoline Buick. 37th belonged to Richard Petty, whose second season with Mike Curb as owner yielded his own wildly inconsistent season of 13 Top Tens and 10 DNFs in 28 starts. Rounding out the group was Bobby Allison, who left DiGard Racing three races earlier to become an owner-driver once more. Allison’s inconsistency was with his manufacturer: after running Buicks with DiGard, Allison’s #22 Miller American ride switched between Buick, Chevrolet, and Ford for the rest of the year.
In all, the Bottom Five of the 1985 Champion Spark Plug 400 would go on to score 404 Cup wins between them.
Richmond finished the 1985 season a disappointing 11th in points without a win. He’d leave the team over the off-season, opening the door for Rusty Wallace and new sponsor Alugard. Richmond, meanwhile, made his fateful move to Hendrick Motorsports as driver of Hendrick’s new #25 Folger’s Chevrolet as teammate to that year’s Daytona 500 winner Geoffrey Bodine. Reunited with no-nonsense crew chief Harry Hyde, who had previously worked with Richmond on a failed bid to make a 1982 race at Rockingham, the two sparked a mid-season rally that vaulted them to seven wins and third in points.
What followed is remembered as much for its tragedy as it was for Richmond’s bravery. Failed drug tests and complications for what was initially rumored to be “double pneumonia” sidelined Richmond for the first part of the 1987 season. Visibly weakened, he returned by the summer to win his first two races back - again at the sport’s most difficult venues - at Pocono and Riverside. By August, he was sidelined again. Two years later, he lost his life to AIDS. He was only 34.
Richmond’s larger-than-life personality lives on in the same Hollywood for which he was nicknamed. During production for the 1990 film “Days of Thunder,” Richmond was the first person star Tom Cruise asked Rick Hendrick about during his research for the lead role. His life story was also the feature of ESPN’s “30 For 30” documentary “Tim Richmond: To The Limit.”
*This was the first last-place finish for the #27 in a Cup race at Michigan since August 20, 1978, when Buddy Baker’s M.C. Anderson Racing Oldsmobile lost the engine after 9 laps of the Champion Spark Plug 400. As of this writing, the number has not finished last at the track since Richmond’s run in 1985.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #27-Tim Richmond / 3 laps / engine
39) #21-David Pearson / 14 laps / piston
38) #47-Ron Bouchard / 79 laps / engine
37) #43-Richard Petty / 79 laps / engine
36) #22-Bobby Allison / 85 laps / crash