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Family Says Drug Test Falsified : Motor racing: Richmond's parents charge that NASCAR officials and their former drug adviser, Forest Tennant, used false tests to ban driver.

February 21, 1990|ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Late in 1986, stock car driver Tim Richmond was hospitalized for pneumonia. But, as he soon discovered, that was secondary to a more serious illness: He was diagnosed with AIDS, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Richmond, 31 at the time, did not want to quit racing. And he did not. He was named NASCAR's driver of the year for 1986, and planned to continue driving for as long as his strength would last.

But it was not AIDS that knocked him out of racing. In February of 1988, Richmond was suspended by NASCAR officials just before the Daytona 500 because a drug test reportedly showed he had used illegal substances.

Eighteen months later, Richmond died from AIDS after having spent much of his last year in seclusion in southern Florida. His doctor said last year that Richmond contracted AIDS from a woman who had the disease.

And now, his parents, Al and Evelyn Richmond of Ashland, Ohio, and others contend that NASCAR officials and their former drug adviser, Dr. Forest S. Tennant, used false test results to ban Richmond and ultimately end his career.

Tennant, executive director of Community Health Projects of West Covina, has come under criticism for his handling of drug tests as the National Football League's drug adviser. Tennant left NASCAR last summer in what officials termed an amicable parting.

Interviews with Tennant's former employees and sealed court documents obtained by Washington television reporter Roberta Baskin corroborated charges Richmond's parents made Tuesday that negative tests were publicly reported as positive.

Richmond, who challenged the findings in a $20-million lawsuit that was settled out of court, never raced again.

"They ruined his character," Evelyn Richmond said Tuesday, breaking three years of silence.

"It was really damaging because it was a big enough kick that he had AIDS without being (charged) with a false drug test.

"Tim demanded to be tested because of the rumor. They took him into a trailer and had him urinate over a 55-gallon drum into a bottle with some of the NASCAR officials standing there watching. That was humiliating."

In an interview last week, Tennant said the drug test was a minor part of his recommendation to disallow Richmond from racing.

"To bring up the Tim Richmond case now, with everything that has happened, is sickening," Tennant said. "There is a doctor-patient confidentiality here. But we're talking about a very sick human being at the time."

Tennant said his role with Richmond was minor. He also said he could not remember the test result except that it was positive.

Richmond, who was NASCAR's first driver to be tested under a program devised by Tennant, was first reported to have produced positive results for two drugs on NASCAR's prohibited substance list that included cocaine, marijuana and opiates.

According to Baskin's report on station WJLA Tuesday night, a court document revealed that Tennant had told NASCAR officials that the two substances were amphetamines and opiates.

Sources who have knowledge of the test say that test actually produced negative results.

Les Richter, vice president of competition for NASCAR said he is bound by a court order not to discuss Richmond's case.

Richmond asked for a second test when the first was reported as positive. He knew something NASCAR officials did not: He was clean.

Richmond had first been tested by his personal physician, David Dodson, an infectious disease specialist from West Palm Beach, Fla., a few days before NASCAR's test.

Before taking the NASCAR test Richmond wanted to make sure he no longer had the drug AZT (azidothymidine) in his system, Evelyn Richmond said. AZT has proven effective in delaying the progression of HTLV-III, the virus that causes AIDS.

AIDS victims usually contract the disease from sexual relations with those who have the disease, blood transfusions or contaminated needles.

Evelyn Richmond said that her son did not want the public to know about his disease, and thus stopped taking AZT six weeks before the Daytona 500 to ensure a clean test result. The drug AZT would have been detected had it remained in his system.

Dodson said Tuesday that Richmond was clean except for some caffeine.

"He was suspicious of NASCAR, so we did a test," Dodson said. "I was absolutely surprised when I saw (NASCAR's announced positive). "He took some Sudafed and Advil. Advil can give an initial false positive for opiates. I told him that when Tim called. I was surprised he had taken anything period."

Once NASCAR officials realized that Richmond had an official negative result, they changed their position, saying that his positive findings were caused by the over-the-counter nonprescription drugs Sudafed and Advil.

Dr. Douglas Rollins, director of the Center of Human Toxicology at the University of Utah, said such drugs cannot be accurately gauged by an EMIT screen test, which was used in Tennant's laboratory.

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