As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back to Pocono Raceway for the second time this season, it’s time once again for another edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater” as we take a look back at a race from Pocono’s past. In this week’s edition, we will take a look back at the 1987 Miller High Life 500, an emotional race for one team and driver in particular.
After winning the 1986 season finale at Riverside International Raceway, Tim Richmond was at the top of the list for championship hopefuls heading into the 1987 season. However, Richmond would be sidelined to start the season with what was called a “bad case of double pneumonia” at the time, but as many would later learn, was actually the onset of AIDS.
With the sickness, Richmond was forced to miss the first 11 races of the season, but made his comeback at Pocono in June of 1987 and made the most of his first start of the season.
Taking the lead from polesitter Terry Labonte on lap five, Richmond put his No. 25 Chevrolet at the front of the field for the first of many times in the race, leading 18 laps before the first caution of the day flew on lap 24. From then on, it would be a battle between Richmond, Dale Earnhardt, and Bill Elliott. Labonte also proved to be a worthy competitor through the first quarter of the race, but retired at lap 85 with a broken oil pump.
With Earnhardt in the lead, Richmond was able to take advantage of another caution on lap 149 and reassumed the lead of the race with 47 laps remaining, but would have to hold off some worthy competitors in Earnhardt and Elliott to take home the win.
Richmond maintained his lead through the next two caution flags with Earnhardt in close pursuit, but the final caution flag that flew at lap 193 for debris would set up a five lap dash for the finish and it looked like Richmond’s win may be in serious trouble. However, Earnhardt had run over the debris that caused the caution, causing his tire to start going down.
On the final restart, Earnhardt was quickly passed by Elliott, Kyle Petty, and Cale Yarborough, dropping him to fifth and leaving the three to try and chase down Richmond for the win. Their pursuit came up just short though, as Richmond was able to hold on for the win, which would be his third straight at Pocono.
As you can imagine, the win was incredibly emotional for Richmond and his team after all they had gone through in the offseason and the first part of the 1987 season.
“I didn’t see the checkered flag, which I’d dreamed about during the layoff because I had tears in my eyes so bad. I’d get composed, and then Dale and Bill and Kyle and the other guys would drive alongside me to offer congratulations and I’d start bawling again. I went around a second lap after the finish so I wouldn’t be crying when I came to Victory Lane, but it didn’t do any good,” said Richmond.
Even crew chief Harry Hyde, who was not known to be one to be very emotional, could see how much this win meant to everyone, saying: “This is my 41st year in racing and I have never seen such a sentimental day. A million people must have asked me when and if Tim Richmond would come back. I have the answer for them: Tim Richmond is back.”
Richmond would go on to win the following week at Riverside and that would be the final win of his career as he would race just six more times in 1987 and would never step foot in a race car again. Richmond would eventually succumb to his illness in August of 1989, leaving many to wonder “What if?” when it came to Richmond’s incredible driving abilities and how the NASCAR record books might have changed if he had lived.
Photo: NASCAR Media