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A sobering what-if

Spent an hour last night watching ESPN's latest “30-for-30,” and it prompted one of those alternative history moments those of us who are history nerds spend far too much time contemplating.

You know what I'm talking about: What if Lee Harvey Oswald had missed? What if the Confederacy had won the war? What if George Lucas had hired Pee Wee Herman instead of James Earl Jones to be the voice of Darth Vader?

Or, having watched the “30-for-30:” What if Tim Richmond had lived?

If you don't know Richmond's story, it was on display last night, and what an immense tragedy. A racing prodigy whose car control was both legendary and instinctive, he burst into prominence in 1986, winning seven races and eight poles and finishing third in the NASCAR points. But at the same time, his reckless off the track lifestyle was taking his toll. Already beginning to suffer the first effects of AIDS, by 1989 he was dead at 34 – having never publicly acknowledged his affliction, or maybe even fully come to grips with it himself.

Watching clips of him in action last night brought back how stunningly talented he was. Even Dale Earnhardt knew it. Richmond (and perhaps Darrell Waltrip) was the one driver he could never seem to intimidate.

I have to think if he'd lived; he'd have owned at least a couple of those seven titles Earnhardt won. Maybe more.

Ben Smith's blog.