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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

"If the tests were done by a certified laboratory, they would have been done by a screening test followed by the gas chromatography-mass spectrometry in which case the mistake would not have been made," he said.

Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) is the most expensive but considered the most accurate testing system. Community Health Projects did not use the GC/MS method when Richmond was tested, according to Bobby Tovar, one of two laboratory technicians at the time.

The EMIT process basically uses light to read through certain chemicals. Tovar said he calibrated his instrument to test Richmond's specimen for marijuana and cocaine.

Tovar said he tested Richmond's second sample, which he picked up at the airport. He said the specimen was marked with Richmond's name.

"Tim was a driver on his way up," Tovar said. "They had suspected he was under the influence. A urine sample was sent, I picked it up, ran the test and it came back negative."

In an unusual procedure according to drug-testing standards, that sample was retested by another technician two days later, Tovar said. It again was found to be negative.

But further testing resulted in the presence of Sudafed, which Tennant reported as being five to 20 times the normal dose. Traces of ibuprofen (Advil) also were found.

Whether the drugs were found in the first or second sample could not be determined. Tennant said he does not remember the details of the test. Tovar said he did not deal with the test after reporting his initial results to Tennant.

NASCAR officials subsequently reinstated Richmond but said he could not race without releasing his medical records.

Richmond declined because of his disease, and countered with a suit claiming that NASCAR had released unsubstantiated information prematurely.

Richter, who refused to discuss the case, admitted he was one of two auto racing officials trained at Community Health Projects by one of Tennant's assistants, Gordon Griffith.

Griffith has been characterized by Tennant as a disgruntled former employee.

Griffith currently is a defendant in a 1 1/2-year-old criminal suit in West Covina Municipal Court. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office has charged Griffith with making threatening and annoying telephone calls to Tennant's home. The case, which has been postponed several times, is scheduled to go to trial March 1.

Griffith said in an interview last summer that he had trained Richter and Chip Williams, NASCAR's public relations director. He said Richter told him that Bill France Jr., NASCAR president, wanted to construct a drug program to disqualify Richmond.

"Bill's concerned we got one person (Richmond) in particular who is really outspoken and he is somewhat bizarre so he must be a drug user," Griffith said Richter told him. "We don't know so we're setting up a drug program so we can catch him."

Richter would not elaborate on his training sessions with Griffith and what was discussed.

Evelyn Richmond said that NASCAR officials mistook the symptoms of Richmond's AIDS for symptoms of being on drugs. She said her son and the officials had long been at odds.

"He was not homosexual and he never used a needle. (But) Tim lived in the fast lane, there's no doubt about it," she said. "He knew they would pull something like this. Tim and NASCAR did not get along because Tim was a person who told it like it was."

Evelyn Richmond claims her son was not a drug user.

"He was so devastated by having the disease that I can't even find the words to explain how he felt," she said. "With his illness, he was very, very angry. He was angry at God, he was angry at everything.

"He didn't come across too pleasant many times. Nonetheless he had the talent and he was a very good driver . . . along with being a caring, kind person."

Richmond first drove a super-modified stock car in 1977. The next year he was the United States Auto Club's sprint car rookie of the year. Also in 1978, he attended Jim Russell's driving school at Willow Springs International Raceway and became the fastest student in school history.

He entered the 1980 Indy 500 after having run in only five Indy-style races, and posted the fastest time in the month during practice. He finished ninth and was voted rookie of the year.

He started racing stock cars in 1980, and joined the NASCAR circuit full time the next year. In parts of eight NASCAR seasons he won 13 races and $2,228,558.

Richmond's personality, however, never endeared him to NASCAR veterans. He was called "Hollywood" by his peers because of his shoulder-length hair, bushy mustache, dark glasses and dress that was different from that worn by most of the Southeastern stock car community.

He often was accompanied by glamorous women at racing events and parties.

Evelyn Richmond said Tim's conflict with NASCAR began after he blew a tire at Daytona early in his career. She said Richmond had difficulties being admitted to a local hospital although he was injured. Evelyn, who accompanied her son to the hospital, said Tim caused a ruckus when a security guard tried to stop him from entering.

"Had he not had the virus, NASCAR would have killed his occupation (anyway)," Evelyn Richmond said. "And to say nothing of what this did to his illness and to the remaining days of his life."

The Richmonds said that in the end, their son was too weak to fight NASCAR. And as a result, that he died with his secret.

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