News & Media

Aumann: Farmer still active doing what he loves

May 03, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Red Farmer's racing debut wasn't particularly successful. Given a chance to drive a car owned by the father of a friend, he flipped twice in his first race at Opa-Locka Speedway near Miami in 1948.

But before he even climbed from the cockpit, Charles Lawrence Farmer knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. However, there was the little matter of figuring out how to make enough money at it.

"I ran a few of the Cup races but I didn't have the sponsorship. My theory is, I'd rather win a race at Birmingham than run 25th or 30th in a Sprint Cup race, just to say I was a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver."


At a time when most men his age are on the golf course or at the doctor's office, 80-year-old Red Farmer can still be found in his shop in Hueytown, Ala., preparing his car for the next race. After 64 years -- and an estimated 700 to 900 victories -- Farmer has no interest in "retirement."

Farmer made his Cup debut in 1953, finishing 45th in a Hudson Hornet on the famed Daytona beach and road course. And this weekend, he'll climb into his late-model car at Talladega Short Track and race against drivers whose fathers may not have been born when he made his final Cup start in 1975.

It's no public relations stunt. Farmer has recorded 16 top-10 finishes during a 22-race stretch.

"I'm out here right now, getting ready for Friday and Saturday night," Farmer said Wednesday. "I run every weekend and my grandson races up there. I still enjoy it. I have a good time running in the top 10 every week.

"It gives me something to do. I'm not going to go be a couch potato and sit there, watching soap operas all day. I'm going to get out here in the shop and work on my car. And it gives me something to do between hunting and fishing."

When he's not in the car Friday, he'll probably be hanging out with his fishing buddy: Tony Stewart. Farmer will be presenting Stewart with the 2011 Driver of the Year Award at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame ceremony Thursday just outside Talladega Superspeedway.

Farmer claims he's the one who suggested Stewart find another outlet for his racing aggression by taking him hunting and fishing. Now Farmer travels to Stewart's Indiana residence to hang out all day in a bass boat or play Texas Hold 'Em poker.

But there's one rule.

"When we're out there, we never talk racing," Farmer said. "I told Tony when I first got up with him years ago that he was going to burn himself out, thinking 24 hours a day about racing. I told him he needed to go off and smell the roses once in a while, do something that gets him away from that.

"I guess I'm to blame for starting him on that, but it's made a difference in his personality and his outlook on everything. He can get away from everything there in Columbus, ride around on his 400 acres and look at the deer and the turkeys and the big fish pond. He gets to forget about racing for a while, and that's what he needs."

Farmer needed a change of scenery himself back when he was an unemployed electrician in Florida. Running places like Opa-Locka and nearby Hialeah Speedway were enjoyable, but they didn't pay the rent.

Bobby Allison, Farmer's friend and one of the top Hialeah drivers, was racing for the national sportsman championship. He happened onto the Alabama racing scene almost by accident, but couldn't wait to get back home to tell Farmer about the purses.

"So I loaded up my old '36 Chevrolet with my motor in it and towed it behind my station wagon with the idea of making some money," Farmer said. "I won the race at Dixie Speedway in Midfield, then went to Montgomery the next night and won there, too. I think I made about $300-$400 each night. And I had been living off of $36 a week in unemployment checks."

Farmer, Bobby Allison and his kid brother, Donnie, all shared a one-bedroom apartment at first. As they continued winning -- and making a living at racing -- he and Bobby wound up buying houses on adjacent lots. Farmer still lives there, 50 years later.

"We were next-door neighbors on different streets," Farmer said. "He was at 143 Church [Ave.], and I was at 140 Foust Avenue, which was the next street over, so our properties touched on the back.

"I had about 3.5 acres and had a fence that ran across the back. And on the other side of the fence was Bobby, but he lived on the other street."

Farmer only made 36 Cup starts, but that was more by economic necessity than because of talent. When the three-time NASCAR Late Model Sportsman national champion did venture out on the big tracks, he was successful. He won two ARCA races at Talladega, and finished fourth in the 1972 Talladega 500 -- one position behind his Hueytown neighbor.

"I ran a few of the Cup races but I didn't have the sponsorship," Farmer said. "My theory is, I'd rather win a race at Birmingham than run 25th or 30th in a Sprint Cup race, just to say I was a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.

"That just wasn't my cup of tea. I wasn't going to ride back there in the rear because I didn't have the money to run up front. I'd rather go win short-track races and enjoy it."

Farmer was named as one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers and is a member of at least five racing Halls of Fame -- including the one at Talladega, where it eventually waived the requirement that a driver must be retired for at least five years to earn consideration.

They realized Red Farmer is having way too much fun to even think about retirement.+

Red Farmer was mostly synonymous with the No. 97 Ford during his Cup Series days. A replica of his 1972 car landed in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum in Talladega. (Getty Images)

"If I didn't, I would quit," he said. "But I'm still enjoying it."