By: Holly Blake
This past weekend, while at Daytona International Speedway I was invited to meet and interview Red Farmer. Red Farmer is a NASCAR legend. He has been involved in racing for over 60 years. He has raced with all the past legends and with some of the future ones. He was voted NASCAR’s Favorite Driver four times. He is a 4-Time NASCAR National Champion and a 3-Time Busch Series Champion.
He continues to stay involved in racing both as a long-time consultant with M.L. Motorsports, NASCAR Nationwide Series team of Shelby Howard, based in Warsaw, IN. He also is still racing. Yes, at nearly 80 years young, Red Farmer still races late models at the Talladega Speedway short track and he told me he can’t wait until March 12th when the season opens again for racing.
This legend has won more than 750 races and he’s done it on asphalt, dirt, and super speedways.
I found myself asking few questions and just listening. He has so many stories and memories, there were no questions I could ask that were more important than just letting him speak.
He’s been coming to Daytona for 57 years. He raced at Daytona on the beach in 1953. He ran a Hudson in that race. He then was in the Korean War. When he returned home in 1955, he came back to Daytona International Speedway and he said he hasn’t missed a race since. He went on to say when he went into the Army in 1953, he was leading the NASCAR points standings in the Modified Division, he was drafted and it killed his chances at winning the championship.
Farmer won his first National Modified Championship in 1956.
“What was ironic about that was the year I was up there running the last race of the year in Concord, NC for the Modified Championship, Ralph Earnhardt was there, Dale’s daddy was there running for the Sportsman Championship. We both won that year, and that was the year I came to Daytona for my championship trophy and I sat next to Ralph Earnhardt up at the awards banquet.”
We talked about his current status in racing the late models and he pulled out a piece of paper from his wallet. It was from the previous week at Talladega Speedway. He ran seventh out of 51 cars. He also pointed out that the car on the list in 16th was his grandson (who is 37 years old). He beamed when he said, “I get to race with my grandson.” He said that race started his 63rd year of racing.
We discussed that he will be 80 years old next year and both agreed that maybe, just maybe Mark Martin does have a few more years in him to race. Farmer told me of the last 10 races he raced last year, he had 8 top-ten finishes, and 4 of those were top-5 finishes. He also won a feature race last year.
Farmer said as long as he can be competitive and still enjoy it, he’ll continue. He loves working on his cars.
“I’ve got a shop behind my house with three cars there. Two of them are mine and one is my grandson’s. So I spend all day long out there piddling on them. I”m not a soap opera kind of person to go sit there, I’ve got to do something.”
Red Farmer goes hunting and fishing all through the winter. He goes to Ohio, Georgia to bow hunt (deer), and he loves to fish for bass.
Farmer wanted to let me know that he celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary. “That’s awesome”, I said. He said, “That is awesome. 60 years is a long time.”
I asked him what his favorite moment was.
“They all really, (hesitates), it’s hard to figure. I’ve got so many things. I went into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 and that meant an awful lot to me.
And then when I went into the Daytona Stock Car Hall of Fame and the Dirt Track Hall of Fame, and then when I was put into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, in Talladega, which is International all over the World, not but 5 drivers in all of motorsports, that was a great honor. I guess that was the star on top of the Christmas tree.
And then I thought when I was voted one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers, that meant an awful lot to me. Figure the first 50 years and thousands of drivers to be in that top 50 meant a lot to me.
But I think probably, I say here in ’71, two reasons, I’d been trying since they built the race track to win the Permatex 300 and when I finally won that race in ’71, my mother was here for the first race she’d ever been to. She wasn’t a racing person, she just never went to the races. She came here with my wife, in ’71, the first race she’d ever been to and I won the race on February 13th, her birthday. My Momma’s birthday! The first time she’d ever been here and I win the race and she gets to go to victory circle. I’ve got pictures on the wall of my mother in victory circle and the first time she’s been to a race and I won.”
I asked Farmer what he liked about the sport today and what he didn’t like and he chuckled. He hesitated for a long time. He said he had mixed emotions about that.
“I don’t like the fact that everything is so commercialized now and got so much money in it now. You have to have $20 million or you can’t even be a top team out there. The first race I raced here in 1953, in the Hudson, me and my mechanic drove it up from Miami. We didn’t even have a trailer, luggage in the back seat and listened to the radio and drove the race car up here because it was a stock car and you could identify it because it was a Hudson.
Then, the mechanical know how made the car go fast, it was in the hands of the driver. If you had something like Smokey Yunick, he was a great inventor of all kinds of stuff to make cars go fast. Bud Moore, Junior Johnson, all those guys, their mind was thinking of some way to do something all the time and it made the racing different.
Now the way they’re all cookie cutters all the same identical deal, to me they are like an IROC series. I mean it just takes something away from the mechanical engineering part of it. Being able to work in your back yard or back shop and build something that you can go and be proud of, and compete against someone else and out run them, or out drive them, or out handle them, and then you figure you’ve really accomplished something.
So I don’t know, it’s kind of a mixed thing today just like we’re gonna have love bug racing all day Sunday (Daytona 500). I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but it could be better because it looks like there is a lot more lead changes back and forth. Talladega is my hometown track, I love Talladega. I won 2 ARCA 500’s on Talladega Super Speedway, but I don’t like to see 30 cars single file running around there lap after lap after lap not doing nothing and wait until the last 50 miles of the race and then they start racing. I don’t know, maybe this love bug racing will be better than that.
I know NASCAR is trying to figure it out, they’ve got to do something to make it more exciting to keep the people back interested in it again so they are trying stuff like the Chase to build up the crowds and keep people interested in it. I don’t know what the answer is but I think with all the changes they do, the cars are all identical I think it takes something away from it for me.
I’ve been in it since 1953 and I’ve seen a lot of changes, some of them good and some of them bad.”
What kind of advice does he give to Shelby Howard and what he might offer to any of the other young drivers?
“Well Shelby, he’s got a lot of experience. He raced the ARCA circuits and he’s a pretty good little driver. Tony Stewart had him race in his car for a few circuits. He’s got a pretty good experience. I haven’t had to tell him too much, maybe just to change his line when he qualified the other day, and maybe how to pick up a tenth here and there. Nowadays as smooth as this track is now you just put it on the mat and leave it there. When we ran this track it was bumpy and rough and the car had to really handle. Now all this sophisticated shock set up and spring set up it’s like driving a Cadillac down the interstate.”
We ended our time with Red Farmer reminding me he will be 80 years old next year and he is still racing. His racing is a family affair and they are all involved including his daughter who helps sell t-shirts and makes the chili. He still enjoys it and looks forward to it. He wants to stay active and keep doing it.
Red’s motto is “I’m gonna wear out not rust out”¯
Red Farmer is a member of:
Alabama Sports Hall of Fame (1990)
Texaco Talladega Walk of Fame (1994)
Dirt Track Hall of Fame (2002)
International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2004)
Daytona Beach Stock Car hall of Fame (2005)
Jacksonville Hall of Fame (2007)
Governor of Alabama Award by the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1999)
Team Consultant for M.L. Motorsports of Warsaw, Indiana (since 1999)
Governor’s Award for the Alabama Gang and the Racing Angels (2006)
I would like to thank Red Farmer for his time. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with him and hope to again soon. Also thank you to Jennifer Weaver for the opportunity.