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.
Farmer is still climbing into race cars, well into his seventies. photo by Larry Kellogg
SCR: Would you rather run agood local dirt race or an asphalt race?
FARMER: Nothing but dirt.That's one thing I really enjoy anymore. It's just a lot more fun. I'vegot two dirt cars, Super Late Model dirt cars, right now. I've got a GRTand a C.J. Rayburn chassis. I'm building a new engine for next year.I'll be starting my 58th year in 2006. My grandson has a car. We'rebuilding him a crate motor class to start running with. I don't evencare anything about short track asphalt racing anymore. To me itis dullcompared to a good dirt track race. You go see a World of Outlaws SuperLate Model race with Scott Bloomquist, Billy Moyer, Rick Eckerd, DarrellLanigan, and Dale McDowell and those guys run on a half-mile dirt trackand you'll never go back and watch another asphalt race. You watch thoseguys put on a show and thatis what I really enjoy it. I just love thedirt tracks sideways, broadside, running up the cushionoand it's a lotmore fun racing to me than asphalt is. On asphalt you can set up a carand go back the next year and never have to change it. It's the sameevery week. But you go to a dirt track and you've got to work on it allthe time. One time it's moist, sometime itis dry slick, sometimes itblacks over, and you have to continually work all night long to keep upwith the track. It's just a lot more interesting to me.
SCR: When was your last race?
FARMER: The last race I ranwas the match race we ran Talladega weekend. Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards,Joe Nemechek and Ken Schrader and me ran a 12-lap match race over at theTalladega short track.
SCR: How did you do?
FARMER: I won it. Got a bigtrophy, with all four of them standing there beside me in theiruniforms. The U.S. Army and Tony in his uniform and Carl in his andSchrader in his. We had a good 12-lap match race over there across fromTalladega Superspeedway during Talladega weekend. I really enjoyed it. Igot a big trophy about four foot tall for winning that one. And I got agood picture taken down there with all of them. We run a match race downthere nearly every Talladega weekend. Either Schrader wins it or Tonywins it. I finally got my car dialed in and whupped eem that weekend.Then I went up there to Eldora when Tony brought 14 Cup drivers up toEldora Speedway to raise money for Victory Junction. He asked me if Iwanted to come up and run that too. I had been up for the World 100 andThe Dream a bunch of times but I had never had a chance to run Eldora onthat high-banked half mile. So I said, Yeah, I would like to try that.So I went up there and ran with those 14 drivers to raise money onWednesday night prior to The Dream. I won the first qualifying race thatnight and Danny Lasoski ran second and Tony ran third.
SCR: How have cars changed over the years?
FARMER: It is justunbelievable nowadays. A dirt car is so much more sophisticated than anasphalt car that it's pathetic, with the suspension systems and stuffthat we've got under these things. Some have seven springs and shocks on'em, and lift bars and track bars and sway bars and swing arms. They'vejust got so many things on a dirt car. There's six holes that you canmove any one of the four bars on. Thereis just so much more to 'em thanthere used to be. We used to run just old cars with leaf springs underthem and that was it. Now they've got so much suspension, especiallyunder the dirt cars, that it's mind boggling the way they do it.
Farmer, talking to Kenny Wallace, is popular among Cup drivers. Photo by Larry Kellog
SCR: You mentioned going toAlabama with the Allisons. Of course, that brought the formation of theAlabama Gang. Talk about what that all means to you now, 40 years later.
FARMER: Well, I don't thinkthere will ever be anything like that again, as far as the relationshipthat we had together and how we did it together. We came up heretogether and we stayed in an apartment at one time over near thespeedway. All three of us and part of our crew all lived over there inthat one bedroom apartment, sleeping on the floor and the couches andstuff. We didn't even have a garage. A guy named Joe Moore had a Shellservice station right by the fairground speedway in Birmingham and helet us park our cars. We'd pull in there after the races and back ourtrailers up next to the fence over in the corner, all three of them sideby side, and we would put covers on'em. Then we would leave and comeback Monday to start working on our cars. Sometimes we would back offthe trailers and jack them up right there in the parking lot. If it wasraining or bad weather and one of his wash racks wasn't being used, hewould let us put one of the cars in there. That's the way we survived.
We all helped each other and we got a little shop over there that wasbig enough to keep all three cars. We kept all three cars in theretogether and helped each other. We would work on all three cars. When wegot ready to leave, we loaded up all three cars on the trailers behindthe pickup trucks. I used a station wagon because I had my family. Ididn't have two vehicles. I just had the one station wagon. We wouldload up and take off to go to the race track. We would usually followeach other like a little convoy. That's the way we traveled. If one ofus had trouble with a breakdown of the truck or a flat tire, then one ofus could help. So we traveled together, lived together, helped together,and it was more of a relationship than of competitors. I knew if Iwanted to win the race that Bobby and Donnie were the two I would haveto outrun to do it. They were my toughest competitors, and we didn'tshow each other any slack on the race track. Yet, when it was over, wehelped each other load up and we'd go back home again. But when we goton the race track we didn't give no quarter to anybody.
When Farmer campaigned this Ford in the late '60s, he had given up his trade as an electri
SCR: Do you see the Allisons often?
FARMER: We do a bunch ofautograph sessions as the Alabama Gang. Of course, they both live up inNorth Carolina and I'm still here in Hueytown. Bobby lived next door tome for years and years. His house is still there and Bobby's daughterlives in it now. His shop is right behind the house and his propertytouches mine.
SCR: What have you been doing lately?
FARMER: I just got back fromOhio, went up there and went deer hunting and got me a nice 8-point buckwith a bow. I'm going back for gun season and Tony Stewart is comingdown to hunt with me for three days in December. I've still got my twodirt cars, and I work for ML Motorsports and an ARCA team. We won fourraces in a row this year. We won three superspeedway races in a row witha boy named Chad Blount driving for us. Jason Jarrett drove for us thelast four years. We won Nashville, we won Kansas, we won Kentucky, andwe won Salem, Indiana. I'm a consultant for them. I help on the chassisand with just about everything really. I've been with this team forseven years. Like I said, Jason Jarrett drove for us for four years andChad Blount drove for us this year. We're going Busch racing this year.
Between that team and going to about 16 or 17 races a year with them,then I run my car at home, and hunting and fishing I don't have time formuch else.
SCR: How many races did you drive in this year (2005)?
FARMER: Probably 15 races.
SCR: Going to run the same amount this year?
FARMER: I may run a littlemore. I'm going to have some surgery in December. I'm going to have ashoulder replacement. I've done worn my shoulder out racing. 57 yearsand the shoulder is worn out. I've had a couple of rotator cuffsurgeries on it and they said now there's nothing left but to replaceit. I've got to go in December 13th and have my shoulder replaced.They're going to put a new shoulder joint in there.
SCR: Which shoulder?
FARMER: Left side. That'sgoing to be three or four months recovery and I've got to see how thatcomes about. I'm hoping I'm going to be well enough about two monthsafter the surgery to go to Daytona because I've haven't missed Daytonain 52 years so I ain't going to start now. I'm going to try to makeDaytona in February. I'm hoping we've got a good Busch team to go downthere with. If my shoulder goes well, I hope to start running my dirtcars. We're having an engine built now. I'm looking forward to next yearand my shoulder should be better than it was last year. I'll probablyrun 15 races a year and help my grandson run a few and help with the MLMotorsports deal.
SCR: You won the NASCARSportsman (now Busch Series) title in 1969, 1970 and 1971. How does thatrank in your list of accomplishments?
FARMER: Well, that's prettygood. I won my first national championship in 1956 when I won theModified championship in NASCAR. That meant a lot at that time. RalphEarnhardt, Dale's daddy, won the Sportsman championship that year. Thatwas my first NASCAR championship. That meant a lot to me to win thatthing, to be up there at the victory dinner with Ralph Earnhardt. The'69, '70 and '71 titles meant an awful lot to me, to win the Buschchampionship like that, especially three years in a row. We reallyweren't planning on running that. For two years we ran all over thecountry to run the points. They didn't have but 36 races but we ran60-70 races a year. It was a pretty big, worn-out deal to do that. I wasburnt out and wasn't going to do it and said, well, after '70, Iive wontwo championships and thatis my last one.
Then what do I do but go to Daytona in '71 and win the Permatex 300, thefirst race of the year and was leading the points. I said, well, here wego again and so I stayed on it the third year. But after that I said nomore, that I wasn't running anymore for points like that. At that timethere were a lot of big races that I had to miss because I had to runsome other races that paid points. I found out that if you're going tomake a living at it, in short track racing you had to run the big racesthat paid the money. You couldn't go over here and run a 50-lap racethat paid a thousand dollars because it paid 50 NASCAR points when theyhad a race maybe across town that paid twice that much but no points.So, after my third year of winning the national championship, I decidedit was time to back off and pick our races from then on.
SCR: You ran a few GrandNational (now Nextel Cup) races and are credited with a best finish offourth. Why didn't you run more at the top level?
FARMER: Well, for tworeasons. When I got in it, you had Ford teams and Chrysler teams and allthat and they pretty well dominated everything and everybody else wasindependents. At that time I was an independent because I was supposedto be a short track driver and I wanted to run some. I got a car andbuilt it and got it from Long-Lewis Ford and towed it over into my shopand took the seats and upholstery out and built a Cup car. We finishedfourth in the Talladega 500 with that car that I built right here in theback yard. But we never did have the backing or the money to run thatstuff, and plus there was so much politics and string pulling in thatstuff at that time with all the factories, that they told you what timeyou had to get up and what time you had to go to bed, who you talked to,and this, that and the other, that it took something away from racing. Iwasn't going to be a monkey on a string and have somebody pull mystrings and tell me when to jump. It just didn't do nothing for me.Another thing is I would rather go out here to Birmingham and win a30-lap feature than I would finish 25th or 30th in Cup just to say I'm aCup driver. To me, winning is worth that. I said if I couldn't afford togo up there and run in the front with the Cup guys, which I knew Icouldn't, then I would rather go back to Birmingham or Montgomery andHuntsville and win races than I would be an also ran in the Cup deal. Sothat's what I did.
SCR: What did it mean to youto be named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers a few years ago?
FARMER: That's probably oneof the greatest honors I could ever have. If you think of all thethousands and thousands of drivers who have been in NASCAR for the last50 years, and to be voted one of the best 50, then that's just mindboggling to me. That was one of the biggest honors Iive ever had, alongwith being voted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, whichis world wide. Those are two of the biggest honors I guess you couldever get. Also, it meant a lot to me to be able to win Most PopularDriver four times, mainly because of the format when I won 'em it wasvoted on by NASCAR members and your peers and the people you racedagainst. It wasn't open to the public or the fans then, where whoeverhad the biggest fan club could send in the most emails or something likethat. It was voted on by NASCAR members. Drivers you raced against everyweek voted for you. That meant an awful lot to me, too, to be able towin that award from people I raced against.
SCR: We have photos of youcrew chiefing for a Havoline Busch team. Was that for Davey Allison?
FARMER: Yeah, I worked forDavey as his crew chief for years. He was just next door to me. I workedfor him as crew chief and when I won at Talladega Superspeedway in ARCAin '88, Davey was my crew chief and I was driving one of his cars. So itkind of reversed.
SCR: You were a mentor toDavey Allison, and you too were pretty close, were you not? (Farmer wasa passenger, with Davey at the controls, during the helicopter crashthat claimed Davey's life in 1993.)
FARMER: Oh yeah. He was justlike another son to me. I went to Bobby's wedding when he got married toJudy the first time in Miami Springs. I've known them since they gotmarried and was there when all of the kids were born. Being as close aswe were, at the time when Davey was coming up form the Sportsmandivision, from the Hobby division and moving up into the ranks runningBirmingham, the same places I was, Bobby was off running the Cup stuff.He was so busy being gone on weekends, that naturally Davey would cometo me when he had a problem with something, like with the chassis,what's wrong with the car, what to do, and this, that and the other. SoI more or less helped Davey at Birmingham and places where he was comingup through the ranks as a Sportsman driver. We became real close thatway and raced together each weekend. He was just a natural driver. ButDavey was super sharp for two reasons: He learned everything the rightway. Bobby made him learn everything the right way. He had to come inthere and sweep the shop. As a kid he would come in there and clean thegarage up and things like that. Then he would help on the cars. Daveycould take two pieces of angle iron and build you a chassis. He couldalso build an engine. He could wire it. He could paint it. He could doeverything, and thatis what made Davey such a great driver. Heunderstood everything about working hard on the car. He learnedeverything from the ground up.
SCR: You don't see that muchanymore at the sport's top levels.
FARMER: No, they just show upwith their hat and jump in their car. A few of these guys you see comingup, like Carl Edwards and some of the other guys. They all learned towork on their cars in their backyard, too. So they understand thechassis a lot better and that makes a world of difference. When you takea driver like Davey was and you go out there and you're in the pits andheis in the car and he comes in and says the car is loose and we'regoing to change this and change that. Well, the driver who donitunderstand that car can't say that. He'll come in and tell the crewchief the car ain't handling, that it's pushing. And the crew chiefsays, Well, what do you think we should change? Oh, I don't know. Youknow what I mean? They don't learn and don't get as much accomplishedas the driver who understands everything about the car. He can suggestwhat he thinks needs to be changed, and that makes it twice as fast.That's where Davey had an advantage over everything.
SCR: Do you go to many Cup races these days?
FARMER: No, I don't go tomany of them. I watch most of 'em if I don't. But with the ARCA circuitweire there for a lot of 'em. Like at Texas, I was there and talked toTony and them. At Michigan and Pocono. I watch most of 'em and if I runa race on Saturday I fly back out Saturday night and wonit try to watchthem race on Sunday.
SCR: What do you think about the Chase format?
FARMER: I think it's a goodthing. I wasn't in favor of it at the start, but it looks like it'sworking out like they wanted it to. It did put more into thechampionship and I think it has more people interested in watching thoselast 10 races. Well, they say the other 33 drivers could stay homebecause there are only 10 who count, but that's not true. You look at(Dale Earnhardt) Junior and Jeff Gordon and they're trying to get theircars dialed in for next year, and they want to go in there and knock offone of those top 10 teams so they can show that they can still do it.It's still competitive and it does what NASCAR designed it to do.
SCR: You've been coy about your age over the years. I've read that youwere born in 1928, 1929, or maybe even 1930 or 1931. What year was it?
FARMER: Hey, I ain't sure.When I was born I was too young to read the birth certificate.
SCR: We'll just go with 1928, how's that?
FARMER: There is so many thatI can't even figure it out. I ain't even sure myself anymore.