TBT: Tim Richmond used to rule at Pocono Raceway

If you look in the Pocono Raceway record book, Jeff Gordon's name is prominently featured. But the best driver ever at the Tricky Triangle might be a man who preceded the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion at Hendrick Motorsports.

A man named Tim Richmond, a enormous and flamboyant supernova who exploded onto the NASCAR scene in the mid-1980s and died of AIDS on Aug. 13, 1989.

Gordon is the all-time leader in Sprint Cup victories at Pocono with six. He also holds the records for top fives with 20 and laps led with 1,040. Those numbers were amassed in 46 starts, when he compiled an average finish of 9.80.

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By comparison, Richmond made just 14 Pocono starts before he died, winning four times, posting seven top fives, leading 310 laps and posting an average finish of 9.86.

Had he lived longer, there's no doubt Richmond would have piled up some serious numbers.

But as it is, he still left an impressive legacy, including a tremendous Throwback Thursday story his former boss, Rick Hendrick, told me a couple of years ago.

It was the summer of 1986 when Richmond's career was hitting its stride in a big way. The Cup Series was racing at Pocono that weekend

Richmond was heading into Pocono's infamous Tunnel Turn, one of the most precise and technically challenging corners in all of NASCAR, when he keyed his radio mic.

"Rick, you listening?" Richmond called out to Hendrick, the owner of Richmond's red No. 25 Folgers-sponsored Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

"Yep," said Hendrick.

"Watch this," Richmond replied.

As he headed out of the Tunnel Turn and into Turn 3, Richmond slowed and drifted up perilously close to the outside wall, allowing second-place driver Dale Earnhardt to pass him and take the lead.

As the duo headed down the massive 3,740-foot Pocono frontstretch, the longest in NASCAR, Richmond tucked in behind Earnhardt in the draft and actually lifted his rear wheels off the ground before releasing him and then passing him to win the race, one of a series-high seven races that Richmond would win that year, all in a 17-race stretch.

After he re-passed Earnhardt, Richmond keyed the mic again.

"Did you like that?" he asked Hendrick.

"Yeah, that was cool," admitted Hendrick.

Had virtually anyone else done that to Earnhardt, they would have found themselves in the wall or maybe in one of "The Intimidator's" famed headlocks in the garage after the race.

But not Richmond -- Earnhardt and Richmond loved racing each other because they were the two guys in the entire sport who cared the least about appearances or what people thought.

Or as Richmond liked to say, "I don't give a s--t, I don't take any s--t, I'm not in the s--t business." And that was something Earnhardt could both respect and relate to.

Hendrick, who runs a conservative and tightly buttoned-up operation, was willing to put up with Richmond's wild side because of his prodigious talent.

"I just thought he had unbelievable car control," Hendrick said. "And I knew he was kind of a free spirit. It was kind of like looking at a stallion that you want to take to a race. You can hopefully break the stallion and get him to where you can ride him, but you're not going to make a donkey run the race. I felt like Tim had so much God-given talent that I'd be willing to try to keep him between the ditches."

Among the things Hendrick put up with: After telling Richmond he needed to clean up his appearance, the driver showed up at the Daytona Speedweeks in 1986 wearing a silk suit, and carrying a cane and a purse. You can imagine how well that went over with the good-old boys back in the day.

Another time, Richmond went to a sponsor meeting with Folgers clad in a a long coat, boots, shorts slit up the sides and a T-shirt that said, "Eat Mo' Possum."

But that was Tim Richmond.

"He had a unique charisma along the lines of Darrell Waltrip or Rusty Wallace," said FOX NASCAR play-by-play man Mike Joy. "When he walked into a room, there was suddenly a party going on, and it was just that infectious enthusiasm for life and for racing that really defined him. Yeah, he was fun. He was fun to be around. He knew he was the center of attention, and he really kind of cherished it."

"Some people want to be a part of the show, some people want to be the show, and that's kind of how Tim Richmond was," added FOX's Larry McReynolds.

Even in death, Richmond's star power lived on. He became the basis for the Tom Cruise character in the movie "Days of Thunder," although in somewhat sanitized form.

Had he not fallen ill, there's no telling what Richmond might have accomplished in NASCAR.

"I think if Tim Richmond would have lived, the sport would be different today," said Richard Childress, the car owner for six of Earnhardt's seven championships. "Tim Richmond would have been a champion, he would have won a lot of races in his career."

"Where you'd have the guys out on pit road with their wives and kids, he'd be out there with four or five girls, suit unzipped to his navel," said Hendrick. "He would be good for the sport today, because he'd bring so much color to the sport."