Pole Position: The Story—and Debate—Behind an Infamous NASCAR Poster – Charlotte magazine
Racing rock star Tim Richmond died in 1989 but left a unique public image and—maybe—a private part of himself
Lori Rice and The Poster, Lancaster’s BBQ, Mooresville. Photo by Herman Nicholson.
Lori Rice greets you at the hostess station. She’s originally from Pennsylvania, something you immediately figure from her Philadelphia Eagles shirt. But she and her family live in Mooresville, one of NASCAR’s sacred cities, and she’s worked here at Lancaster’s BBQ since May. Lori’s a big NASCAR fan, and she could hardly have found a better place to work than Lancaster’s, a former gas station that displays scads of racing memorabilia: car parts and miniatures, driver’s suits, helmets, posters.
You ask about The Poster. Everybody knows about The Poster, right? Where is it? She doesn’t know. One of her fellow hostesses does. It’s not far, just down a corridor that leads to the dining area, on the wall between a pair of driver’s suits. Lori doesn’t get what’s special about The Poster, even though it displays a group of 20 superstar drivers, practically every stock car racing icon you could name from the time: Yarborough, Parsons, Waltrip, Wallace, two generations’ worth of Pettys and Allisons, and the original Earnhardt on one knee—front and center, where he usually planted his flag.
Look, you tell her. She looks. Nothing. Keep looking, you say. Second guy from the left, in the Folgers suit. She looks. Still nothing.
OK, you say. The five guys kneeling? The one at far left? That’s the late Neil Bonnett. Look behind his right ear.
Lori looks closer. Her eyes widen.
“Oh. My. God.”
Find the full and hi-res version of the above image here.
In 1987, NASCAR was navigating a change of seasons. Stock car racing had been a good ol’ boys’ sport, having come down from the Appalachian hills and hollers in the 1930s, and even in the ’80s, it clung to its rough roots. Virtually everyone—from team owners to drivers to crew members—had emerged from the Southeast, and the sport was thought of mainly as a regional passion.
But by the ’80s, NASCAR’s leaders and sponsors sensed that stock car racing could draw the eyeballs and dollars of people throughout the United States. It was the first stirring of the explosion in popularity, and revenue, that would come in the ’90s. But at the time, the old-timers still harbored some resistance to change—and into this arena, in 1981, swaggered a charming, handsome, drawl-less, mischievous, supremely talented driver from Ohio who, heaven and Valvoline forbid, had made his name in open-wheel racing at Indy: Tim Richmond.
The old guard dipped snuff and drank cheap beer. Richmond drank champagne in nightclubs. The old-timers wore jeans and overalls. Richmond wore Armani suits. Old-timers went home to places like Kannapolis; Dawsonville, Georgia; and Owensboro, Kentucky. Richmond kept an apartment in Manhattan and lived on a boat in Fort Lauderdale. In the flash and MTV-fueled fame economy of the ’80s, …….