photo by Larry Kellogg
Name: Charles Lawrence "Red" Farmer
Year of birth: He's not telling, but 1928 seems to be about right,making him at least 77 years old
Birthplace: Nashville, Tennessee
Residence: Hueytown, Alabama
Family: Married to wife Joan for 55 years; two daughters, Cindy andBonnie; one son, Michael; nine grandchildren; four great grandchildren
Racing involvement: Began running short tracks around Miami in 1948;began racing in Alabama in late '50s and became part of legendaryAlabama Gang with Bobby and Donnie Allison; has 748 wins on dirt andasphalt, from local bullrings to superspeedways; earned NASCAR Sportsman(now Busch Series) titles in 1969, '70 and '71; named one of NASCAR's 50Top Drivers in 1998; member of International Motorsports Hall of Fameand Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame; still active as a driver and works asconsultant with ARCA team.
SCR: Let's start with thebasics. How did you get started in racing?
FARMER: I had a buddy of minethat I ran around with and his dad had an old '34 Ford that he wasrunning at Opa-locka, Florida. He had trouble with his driver and theson, Earl David, asked me if I wanted to drive his dad's car the nextweekend. I didn't know nothing about it until I went out there and drovean old flathead '34 Coupe at Opa-locka Speedway in the latter part of1948. Opa-locka Speedway was just outside of Miami.
SCR: Are you originally from Miami?
FARMER: No, I'm fromNashville, Tennessee. I was born and raised in Nashville. Then I movedto Miami was I was about 14 or 15 years old. Then I lived there until Imoved to Alabama. Those are the only three places I've ever lived.
SCR: When did you move to Alabama?
FARMER: We moved up here inthe latter part of 1958 and ran some during the winter up here. Duringthe summer I would come up here and run a few races, then I would goback to Miami and work as an electrician during the winter. Bobby cameup here originally and found a place and came back and told me about it.So then I came back up here with them the next year and we ran someduring the summer and started that deal in '59. Then in '62 I moved myfamily up here.
Though known as a short-track ace, Farmer says his favorite tracks are Daytona and Tallade
SCR: From reading DonnieAllison: As I Recall, it sounds like you had some easy pickins' inAlabama back then. Was that why you moved to Alabama, because youthought you could win a lot of races?
FARMER: Well, we won an awfullot of races for two reasons. We learned to drive down in Hialeah andHollywood and West Palm Beach, Florida, on flat race tracks. We learnedhow to handle the cars on a flat race track. We came up here and theyhad banked race tracks. Driving a banked race track was like drivingdown the interstate for us compared to what we had been racing on. So weknew more about handling. These guys up here, it seemed the only thingthey thought about was horsepower. Then the more horsepower they got,the more they would spin the wheels and the worse they'd run. We couldgo by them and get back in the gas and outrun 'em. So basically weout-handled them through the corner. We would pull down the straightawaywith less horsepower because we could get back in the gas and drive indeeper. It was just a combination that we knew more about handling thanthese guys up here in Alabama did at the time.
Farmer served as crewchief for the Busch team of the late Davey Allison... photo from the
SCR: So it all goes back toyour experience on those flat tracks?
FARMER: Yeah, because welearned to drive on flat race tracks and we had to learn how to get acar around a flat corner. I know the first time I came to DixieSpeedway, a little quarter-mile track down there, and they all hadcoupes with fuel injection and straight drive. You had to push them offto crank them like a Sprint Car. I came in there with a '36 coupe thathad two 4-barrels on it, with a clutch and transmission. I got in it,cranked it up, and drove it off the trailer, and they all got tolaughing their heads off because I was sitting there with a carburetorand a clutch and flywheel and transmission. They were all straight driveand fuel injected. I had no points and had to start in the rear. So Istarted in the rear at about 25th spot, or 30th spot, dead last, andthey all started racing and fighting and getting around the bottom. Ijust went up to the top, passed the whole field, and won the race thefirst night. I passed the whole 30 of 'em with those two carburetors andthat clutch and flywheel.
I just got up on top and ran next to the fence like Carl Edwards doesnow. I just passed the whole field. They said, You ain't supposed to runup there. I said nobody told me I couldn't run up there. Our car handledand I just got up on top and passed the whole field. That was at DixieSpeedway in Midfield, Alabama. In fact, Bob Harmon was the promoter atthat time. This was 1959 or somewhere in there and Bob Harmon was thepromoter at Dixie Speedway at that time. Then I went to Montgomery thenext night and won the feature down there. At that time I was unemployedas an electrician in Miami because of the Cuban Missle Crisis.Construction work was pretty well slowed down and I had a wife and kidsand my mother-in-law lived with me, and we were trying to live on anemployment check. I went up to Alabama, won those two races, and mademore money than I had been making in a long time.
...Rings from past championships adorn his fingers in these early '90s photos. photo from
SCR: How much did you win?
FARMER: It seems like it wasthree or four hundred dollars to win each race, so I won about $600 andI had only been getting about a hundred dollar a month unemploymentcheck. So winning was a big paycheck for me. I would come up herepulling my two-wheeled trailer with a station wagon all the way fromMiami, Florida, about a 27-hour trip at that time because there were nointerstates. I had to come up old 27 all the way up through theEverglades, up through Tallahassee and up through there. 27 hours tomake the trip. I used to stop in truck stops and sleep in the front seatuntil I woke up. Then I would drive some more. It was kind of a roughingit deal for a while. But it came to be a pretty good thing at the time.I would come up here and race during the summer and go back to Miami andwork as an electrician during the winter. So finally I moved my familyup here in '62, and Bobby and all of us, Eddie and Donnie and all of us,moved up here.
SCR: So eventually you gave upbeing an electrician and raced full-time?
FARMER: I worked as anelectrician up here sometimes in the winter too. I raced during thesummer and then I would work as an electrician here in Birmingham. I wasin the local IBEW and I changed my card from the 349 out of Miami up tothe 136 local here in Birmingham. I worked for quite a few years here inthe winter and raced during the summer. Finally I just got so busy thatwe were racing 10 or 11 months out of the year and didn't have time towork any more so I just quit the electrical business and started racingfull-time.
SCR: When was that?
FARMER: I guess it wassomewhere around '65, '66 or '67. I don't remember exactly when it was.
SCR: You mentioned the flattrack. It sounds like you would advise a young racer to get experienceon a flat track.
FARMER: It's true. In myopinion, if he drove a dirt track for a couple of years he would be alot better asphalt driver. I think learning to drive a dirt track by theseat of your pants and the feel of the gas pedal, being able to featherit when you needed it and back off when you don't need it. You can takea good dirt track driver and put him on an asphalt track and in a fewraces he could be racing asphalt. But you can't take an asphalt driverand put him in a dirt car. It would take him a year to learn how todrive it. It's an altogether different situation. You look at the guyscoming into the Cup ranks now, like Carl Edwards, for instance. Twoyears ago he was driving open wheel cars on a dirt track. He didn't haveany asphalt experience. Look at where he runs. He runs up there in thecushion, what I call the cushion on a dirt track, and on asphalteverybody else runs the bottom two lanes. He goes up in the third laneand goes around all of 'em. You learn to drive when a car is out ofshape. On an asphalt track when a guy blows an engine, or there's sandor stay-dry or something in front of him, half of these guys lock uptheir brakes and spin out and crash into the wall. You see these guyslike Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, guys who were dirt track drivers,when something happens in front of them they just drive on through it orcross it up and stand on it and drive on through half the wrecks wherethe asphalt guys are crashing.
SCR: Let's go back to 1948when you got started. How long before you were winning races regularly?
FARMER: I think I won acouple of races the first year I ran out at Opa-locka. In i49 I staredwinning races and moved up to other cars. I started driving for HarryRowell. He had a three-car team and had a big junkyard down there. Hisson Eddie drove one and I drove one. Then I switched over and drove forCharlie Rowell, his son, and he owned another big junkyard. He had aone-car team and I started running for him. It was a stepping stone.Every time you thought you had an offer for a better ride, you took it.That's the way you moved up.
SCR: When you were inductedinto the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, you were listed withmore than 740 wins on dirt, asphalt and superspeedways. That's a lot ofwins. How did you keep count?
FARMER: Well, we kept countover the years. I won my 500th feature in Mobile, Alabama, in a twin50-lapper. Jody Ridley won one and I ran second in it. Then I came backand won the second 50-lapper and he ran second. That was my 500th one.Then I remember in Pulaski, Tennessee, I won my 700th on a dirt track. Ikept up with them every year. It's 748 now.
SCR: Have you ever counted thenumber of tracks you've run?
FARMER: There have been somany that I don't know how many it would be. I ran in Seattle,Washington. I ran over at Victoria Bridge, Columbia, in that corner. Iran down at Riverside and Ontario in California. I ran up at Oxford,Maine, that far north, and I ran down at Key West, Florida, down in theother corner. I ran all four corners of the United States and I don'tknow how many hundreds of tracks between there. Sometimes we ran five,six, seven times a week.
SCR: Does any track stand out as your favorite?
FARMER: Any track I win on ismy favorite. But I guess Daytona and Talladega were two of my favoritetracks. That's unusual for a short track driver. Of course, I lovedBirmingham and Huntsville and Montgomery, tracks we ran Thursday, Fridayand Saturday for 20 years. We ran Huntsville on Thursday night,Birmingham Friday night, and Montgomery on Saturday night. Then we wouldgo find a big race somewhere. Sometimes we would go all the way up toMannassass, Virginia, and run on Sunday, or up in Tennessee somewhere.We ran four nights a week a lot of times. Basically, I was always ashort track driver, but I like Daytona and Talladega. I like thesuperspeedways.