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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Caution flags: "30 for 30" focuses on Tim Richmond's wild ride

Though I have great admiration for ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series, which highlights a wide range of extraordinary, sports-related stories, I don't write about it much, for a few reasons. For one thing, though I have some rudimentary sports knowledge, I can't speak with great authority on most of the topics covered in the films. Thus, I'm worried I'll look like a moron if I write about them.
Also, I simply don't always have time to write about them before they air. But I have made an exception in the case of this week's offering "Tim Richmond: To the Limit," which airs 8 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.
I've been fascinated with the story of Richmond, a 1980s-era NASCAR driver, ever since my husband made me watch the fine racing documentary "The Ride of Their Lives" (both "Ride of Their Lives" and "To The Limit" were directed by Rory Karpf). Until then, I had never heard of Richmond. I'm not sure why, because he has a fairly unique and enthralling story.
Richmond, a contemporary of such racing icons as Dale Earnhardt, was an atypical figure in the world of auto racing, which has long been associated with blue-colar guys from the South. Richmond was far more cosmopolitan than other racers -- more playboy than good ol' boy. He had a natural aptitude for racing, despite the fact that, as observed in "To the Limit," he had little mechanical knowledge of the cars themselves. However, he was equally enamored of the rock 'n roll lifestyle that racing afforded and spent late nights partying and womanizing.
The story of a star athlete whose partying gets him in trouble seems pretty conventional, but Richmond's story has a twist that, at the time, was somewhat unheard of. In 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. In those days, there was more fear than knowledge about the illness, and Richmond feared being ostracized if the nature of his illness was revealed. He also worried he'd be booted out of NASCAR. So, though rumors swirled around him, Richmond continued to deny he had AIDS, right up until his death in 1989.
It's a sad tale, to be sure. But, what "To the Limit" focuses on is what a charismatic guy Richmond was in his prime. He was brash, forthright, and could drive a car like nobody's business. It's both a wonder and a shame that, aside from hardcore race fans, not a lot of people are aware of Richmond. "To the Limit" tries to correct that wrong and emerges as a solid, searing portrait of a truly fascinating athlete.
Click below to view excerpts from "Tim Richmond: To the Limit."

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