Last night on ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, ESPN played To the Limit: The Tim Richmond Story, Rory Karpf’s documentary about the 80s NASCAR playboy of the title, who partied hard and died of AIDS in 1989. While it didn’t have nearly the amount of slam poetry we’ve come to expect from past 30 for 30 docs, it was interesting, and the whole time I was watching it, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Richmond’s life and Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder character, Cole Trickle. The playboy driver who shows up on a motorcycle knowing nothing about cars, the gruff mentor who teaches him not to shred the tires, etc., etc. Only the film, written by Chinatown‘s Robert Towne and directed by Tony Scott, was never mentioned in the documentary. Nor does Tim Richmond’s name show up on Days of Thunder‘s IMDB or Wiki pages. Maybe life rights issues are to blame, but the point is, I did some digging, and I was right, na na na na boo boo:
[From a January AP article on the 20th anniversary of Days of Thunder]: The film was primarily a vehicle for Cruise, who played Trickle as a tamer version of Richmond, NASCAR’s talented party boy who had died in 1989 from complications of AIDS. Hendrick said Richmond had dated a doctor, which opened the door for Kidman to be cast as Dr. Claire Lewicki, the brain surgeon/love interest for Cruise.
[From a 1990 Entertainment Weekly article] Like Cruise’s Cole Trickle, Richmond switched from racing Indy-style cars to stock cars and teamed up with one of racing’s most respected car builders, Harry Hyde ["Harry Hogge" in the movie version, played by Robert Duvall]. And like Trickle, Richmond fell in love with a beautiful female doctor. It is also true that Richmond’s friends once arranged an X-rated stunt much like the movie’s gag involving a woman impersonating a highway patrol officer. [do you think the writer meant R-Rated? Because X-Rated means he banged her, or at least had his wiener out. -Ed].
Since Richmond’s death, his former girlfriend, an opthamologist, has closed down her practice and dropped out of sight. His parents, who feel burned by the press exposing the cause of their son’s death, avoid public comment. But Richmond’s racing colleagues still talk about him. In words eerily similar to lines spoken by Robert Duvall in Thunder, Hyde explains: ”If you have a piece of steel hanging on the wall and you take it down and work it into a race car, you sweat over it and mold it into something fine. Then you get a guy who will buckle himself into that car and make that car do all you built it to do and more. How can you not love him? Miss him? God, yes, I miss him.”
Anyway, thanks for indulging my I-thought-this-was-interesting urge this morning. And just as an aside, almost all the articles mentioned how Richmond was a “natural” who hadn’t driven until he was 21, and how while they were filming, Tom Cruise had displayed an “incredible natural talent” for driving as well. Speaking as a Yankee boy who thinks NASCAR is mostly a waste of gas (though I do respect getting drunk on top of an RV or in a lawn chair), you guys might want to cool it on the wow-he’d-never-raced-before-and-he-was-still-pretty-good talk. We already assume this stuff requires no talent.