Getty Images

After 70 years, ageless wonder Red Farmer still racing – and winning

2 Comments

The only thing more amazing than legendary short-track racer Red Farmer continuing to race regularly at the age of 84 is that he continues to win.

Recently named one of 20 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018, Charles “Red” Farmer is doing anything but slowing down in his golden years.

Instead of sitting in a rocking chair, he’s behind the wheel of his Late Model and still putting racers 60 or more years younger than him to shame.

Farmer’s favorite track – and one he competes on most weekends from April to October – is the Talladega Short Track, a 1/3-mile dirt track across the street from Talladega Superspeedway.

“I look forward to Saturday every week because I know I’m going to go and race in my car and run,” Farmer told NBC Sports.

But don’t think that because of his age, Farmer is a start-and-park driver.

Farmer finished third in the standings last season at Talladega Short Track. He led the points the first 10 weeks before he had to skip a couple of races. Had he not missed those two races, he likely would have won the track championship.

Two weeks ago, Farmer won a qualifying heat race at Talladega Short Track, just three days after undergoing a heart procedure.

When he was discharged from the hospital on a Wednesday, his doctor told Farmer not to drive anything for 48 hours. Obviously, his doctor forgot Red was a racer, Farmer said, laughing as he related the tale.

“But they didn’t say nothing about me racing on Saturday night,” Farmer chuckled.

So what happened?

“I won the heat race, had a front row starting spot in the feature, but I didn’t think running the whole race would be too smart,” Farmer said. “I had a little bit of pain in there when they had the tube in me.

“They said if I started bleeding again, that I’d have to go to the emergency room. I hated to give up the front row start because the car was so good, but I let a buddy of mine – Chris Mullenix – drive for me. They put him to the rear. It was hard to give up. That’s the way racing goes. Sometimes, it doesn’t wind up like you want it to.”

Farmer then described the heart procedure he underwent in another humor-filled manner.

“I had two oil lines that were (blocked) 50 percent – that’s what I call ‘em – and I got a burnt valve in my heart,” he said of his arteries and heart. “They said the two oil lines that were plugged up about 50 percent was not enough to put a stent or anything like that; they have to be worse.

“So I figure that at 84, almost 85 years old and I only have 50 percent blockage, I’m in pretty good shape.”

ONE OF THE MOST REVERED RACERS

Farmer is an iconic racer. He’s enshrined in several Halls of Fame, including the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, the Dirt Track Hall of Fame, Living Legends of Auto Racing in Daytona Beach and the Jacksonville Hall of Fame.

“They’ve all been great honors,” Farmer said.

But the biggest honor Farmer feels he’s ever received was “when I was voted one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR history in its 50th year (1998). That was quite an honor to be in that top 50.

One of Red Farmer’s hero cards. (Courtesy Talladega Superspeedway)

“I look back at that list now, and I think there was only one guy I never raced against, and that was Red Byron, who won the first NASCAR championship in 1948. But he quit in 1951 or 1952, and I started in 1953.

“But all the other great drivers in there – Lee and Richard Petty, Buck and Buddy Baker, Junior Johnson, Ralph Moody and all those guys that made that 50 Greatest Drivers list, I raced against all of them at one time or another. It was quite an honor, it really was.”

But soon, Farmer potentially could earn what would be the biggest honor of his 70-year racing career: possible induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“It was a great honor to be able to get in that top 20, that short list,” Farmer said. “I’ve been a NASCAR member since 1953 when I ran out on the beach course in Daytona. There’s an awful lot of good people on that list, that’s for sure.”

“This would probably be the ultimate. It’s like the star on top of the Christmas tree. It’s a great honor to be in the other Halls of Fame, but this one here (NASCAR Hall of Fame) is the ultimate. It’d be a big honor if I get elected.”

While he’d welcome induction into NASCAR’s Hall, it would be sweeter if something else also happened.

“The only thing that would make it better is if Davey (Allison) and myself both got in it together at the same time,” Farmer said. “That would be unbelievable, really.”

Farmer and Davey Allison, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, were very close. Farmer was injured in the same helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway that claimed Davey Allison’s life in July 1993.

Like Farmer, Davey Allison is in his first year as a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee.

“Davey was like a second son to me, and I worked as his crew chief and car chief for about eight or nine years in the (Busch) Series,” Farmer said. “That would probably be the ultimate right there, if me and Davey both went in together. But if we don’t, I hope he gets in anyway, and maybe I’ll get in later. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

Farmer still lives in Hueytown, Alabama, about an hour west of Talladega, in the same house he’s lived in over 54 years.

The love of Red’s life, wife Joan, died in June 2015, a week after the couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

But family is still at the center of Red’s life, as he races regularly with grandsons Lee and Matt Burdett at Talladega Short Track.

“This year starts my 70th year of racing,” Farmer said. “I started driving in 1948, so I’ve been racing for 70 years. I just love it.”

Red Farmer was one of the many NASCAR legends honored during the 50th Daytona 500 in 2008. (Getty Images)

Why does he keep racing?

“It’s hard to explain unless you are a driver, but it’s like people that get up with playing golf or bowling or hunting, anything that they really love to do,” Farmer said. “I’m still competitive, that’s the main thing. As long as I can be competitive and race with those youngsters.

“It’s just something I love to do. I go out to the garage every day at 8:30 in the morning and work on my cars until about 5:30 in the afternoon. I have three cars in my race shop that I work on. I still love working on the cars, going out there and racing and trying to keep up with all these youngsters. It’s just something in my blood that I love to do.”

How long will Farmer keep racing?

“As long as I’m competitive and still have good health, I’m going to run,” he said.“I don’t have a timetable, but I figure if the time’s right, then I’ll quit.”

A DIFFERENT CAREER COURSE

Farmer was part of NASCAR’s original Alabama Gang that came out of Hueytown in the mid-1960s, along with brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison.

“When we were running as the Alabama Gang with Bobby and Donnie, back in the 60’s, we ran 106 races in one year,” Farmer said. “We were pulling the cars all over in an open trailer behind a pickup truck and we ran all over the country.”

Red Farmer, Bobby Allison and Donnie Allison pose with Evander Holyfield and NASCAR Legend Richard Petty at Daytona International Speedway in 2009. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Although Bobby and Donnie took to the Grand National Series, Farmer decided to do what he did best – race on short tracks.

How many races Farmer has won in 70 years varies widely. Because records weren’t as well-kept as they are today, estimates of Farmer’s trips to victory lane range between 600 to more than 900 wins. And then there are countless match races he won.

And though he competed in just 36 NASCAR Grand National races (0 wins, 2 top-fives and one other top-10) in his career, his legendary NASCAR short-track prowess landed him on the 50 Greatest Drivers of NASCAR list in 1998 and also contributed to his NASCAR Hall of Fame nomination.

Farmer, whose age has often been in dispute, said he was born in 1932. He drove in his first race in 1948 – and has been going virtually nonstop ever since.

“My first race was Opa-locka, Florida in 1948, on an abandoned Air Force base,” Farmer recalled. “There were two parallel landing strips. We’d run down to the end of one, turn left and go through the dirt and grass, get on the other strip and run down to the other end and turn left again on the grass and dirt. They eventually made it a real racetrack two years later.

“That’s where we started. We just kind of made our own racetrack.

“I remember that first race still. I flipped the car twice, rolled it over, landed on four wheels and kept on running and finished the race. That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. It got in my blood, and I’ve been doing it for another 70 years.”

Farmer isn’t the only octogenarian still racing. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Chris Karamesines both still are drag racing part time at the ages of 85. Garlits is involved in electric-powered dragsters that approach 200 mph, while Karamesines still can hit 300 mph in his NHRA Top Fuel dragster.

One of Red Farmer’s hero cards. (Courtesy Talladega Superspeedway)

Racing keeps them all feeling young, Farmer said.

“I’ve got a saying that I came up with: ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?’ ” Farmer said. “Seriously, if you didn’t have a birth certificate and didn’t know old you was, how old would you be? In other words, it’s a state of mind and how you feel about yourself.

“I’ve seen people that are young at 75 and old at 65. I still think that if you don’t have a goal to accomplish or something that you really look forward to, like I do every Saturday night to get out on that racetrack and run, if you’ve got no goals you get older a lot quicker.

“My other saying is, ‘I’m going to wear out, not rust out.’”

SOME OF FARMER’S BEST CAREER STORIES

Farmer has an uncanny memory. Here are some of his favorite stories of his career:

Three NASCAR Champions pose with their trophies at the NASCAR awards banquet. Ralph Earnhardt (L) was the National Sportsman champion, Fred Meeker (C) was the Midget Division titlist and Charles “Red” Farmer (R) was the National Modified champion. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

— “I won my first NASCAR championship, the Modified Championship, in 1956. And you know who stood up at the banquet with me at Daytona and won the Sportsman Championship that same year was Ralph Earnhardt (father of Dale and grandfather of Dale Jr.). And then, back in 1990, I had a match race with Dale Earnhardt. That was the year he won the Winston 500, the IROC race and the sportsman race (all on the same weekend at Talladega Superspeedway). And the only race he lost was Friday night in a match race against me at the dirt track.”

— “I won the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman championship in 1969, 1970 and 1971. I said that was enough for me, four national championships was quite an accomplishment, which I never had an idea I’d ever do. I told Jack Ingram, ‘You take over from here,’ and he won the next three (championships in 1972-74).”

— “I was basically a short-track driver. I didn’t follow NASCAR’s Grand National much like Bobby and Donnie did. But I also won two ARCA 500s at Talladega in 1984 and 1988 and I won Daytona in 1971. So, I won on two of the biggest racetracks in the country, even though I was a short-track driver. I also ran fourth in the Talladega 500 (1972) in a (Grand National) car I built here in the backyard.”

— “One race I wanted to win bad was the Daytona (Late Model) race and I finally won the Permatex 300 in 1971. It was a very special race because my mother (Florence O’Neil) was there for the first race she’d ever been at Daytona. She didn’t travel that much or follow my racing, but she was there when I won and it was on her birthday, February 13, and she got to go to victory circle. I think that’s the biggest race I’ve ever won, to win it on my mother’s birthday.”

— “Everybody always asks me why I didn’t follow what Bobby and Donnie (Allison) did, but back in those days, if you didn’t have a factory sponsor or something like that, you were an also-ran. You’d be lucky to run in the top 15 if you were an independent. I didn’t have the big factory sponsorship, but I was not going to be a backburner, one of them start-and-park cars. I didn’t want to run 30th in a 35-car field and say I was a NASCAR Cup driver. I would rather go out on a short track and win a 30-lap feature and win the race rather than being a backburner. That’s why I didn’t do it. I went back to short track races and won all over the country. I’d rather go out and win at places like Huntsville, Montgomery, Birmingham and run on Friday and Saturday nights – and win races, too. That’s what I was there for, to win races. Second place was like kissing your sister, it don’t do nothing for you.”

— “I had a match race here a few years ago against Kasey Kahne. We were going to run three dashes, like five-lap races. Whoever won two of them was named the champion. I won the first one after I started on the pole, and he was on the outside pole. Then the next race, he won the pole, and I started on the outside pole, and I won that one, too. When I won the first two, we didn’t even run the third one.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Team Penske’s appeal hearing to be rescheduled

Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Team Penske’s hearing before the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer, which was to have been held Wednesday night, is being rescheduled by the appeals administrator, NBC Sports has learned.

No new date has been set for the hearing, the final appeal avenue for Team Penske in this matter.

NASCAR suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe for three races and fined him $65,000 and docked Brad Keselowski and Team Penske 35 points each because Keselowski’s car failed the Laser Inspection Station after a fifth-place finish March 19 at Phoenix Raceway.

The team sat Wolfe out at Auto Club Speedway, counting toward one of the three races the penalty called for him to miss, but he was back on the pit box for Martinsville — where Keselowski won — Texas and Bristol as the matter went through the appeals process.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel upheld NASCAR’s penalty after an April 12 hearing.

A hearing before Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss was scheduled for 6 p.m. ET today before a need to reschedule arose.

Car owner Roger Penske said after Keselowski’s win at Martinsville that the team was challenging the consistency of NASCAR’s procedures. The team claims that it was permitted only one attempt to pass post-race inspection on the LIS platform while others have gotten multiple attempts previously.

“I think that consistency is really important to me from an officiating perspective,’’ Penske said April 2 at Martinsville. “We’ll have a chance to go and talk about our side of the story. We might get nothing, but I think at least maybe we can make the sport better.”

 and on Facebook

Hendrick Motorsports: No timeline for filling Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 ride

Will Schneekloth/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A Hendrick Motorsports executive said Wednesday there is no timetable – or concern – for finding Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement in the No. 88 Chevrolet.

“Obviously it’s an important decision for us, and one we’re going to take our time, and we’re going to find the right person, the right fit for all the factors that go into that,” Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt said during “The Morning Drive” on the SiriusXM NASCAR channel. “We really don’t have a timeline on that. I feel real fortunate in the talent we have around us, and so I feel like we’re going to be in a good spot no matter where we land. We’re going to take our time and make the right decision for that car, the sponsors and the fans.”

In the release announcing Earnhardt’s retirement after the 2017 season, Hendrick said it would “announce plans for 2018 team alignment at a later date.” Asked to elaborate on those plans Tuesday, Hendrick said, “we’ve got a lot of people to consider, meaning (sponsors), and we’ve just been talking to them. Priority one is to get everything prepared, get the day over with, and then we’ll take time to decide what we do there.”

There would seem to be a short list of internal and external candidates depending on the direction that the team chooses with the ride. There also are the options of weighing a long-term deal vs. a one-year stopgap.

It appears that a new driver might have to be accompanied by a new sponsorship deal. Nationwide said it’s re-evaluating its contract with the No. 88 beyond the 2017 season at Hendrick (though it plans to continue the business relationship with Earnhardt), but Duchart said the plan is to run four cars next season regardless.

“I haven’t heard any conversation like that at all,” he said of cutting back to three cars next year. “On the sponsor search side, we’re really happy with the partners we have, and we think they’re happy with us. We’re going to sit down with them and work thought the transition so we’re optimistic about that. I haven’t heard any sort of dialogue like that.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. succeeded in desire to ‘leave some kind of mark’ from Hendrick tenure

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the moments before explaining his retirement from the NASCAR Cup Series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took a quick stroll through his 18-year career.

Wearing a suit and a striped tie, Earnhardt had to walk by four large portraits depicting high points of Cup career.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

The first two represented his eight full seasons with Dale Earnhardt Inc., the second pair his 10 seasons with Hendrick Motorsports.

First, there was Earnhardt and his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., smiling after his victory in the 2000 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Then came a shot of  Earnhardt hoisting the trophy following his emotional Pepsi 400 win at Daytona International Speedway, five months after his father’s death on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

The third portrait, the largest of the four, showed one of his recent wins in a Daytona 500 qualifying race. Next to it, a picture displayed Earnhardt’s joyous celebration of his lone Martinsville win in 2014.

Not pictured was the win Earnhardt believes allowed him to “leave some kind of mark” on the team he joined in 2008: the 2014 Daytona 500.

The moment marked the end of a very long winter for Earnhardt. It was only his third win with Hendrick in seven years and his first outside the state of Michigan since 2006.

“Winning the Daytona 500, I always kind of wanted to leave some kind of mark here,” Earnhardt said. “Jimmie Johnson‘s got them all over the place. He’s marking up this joint left and right.”

“This joint” is the Team Center on the Hendrick Motorsports’ campus, where Earnhardt’s announcement was held.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

As Earnhardt made his remarks, facing him on the opposite side of the room were 16 red, tie-shaped banners. One for each national NASCAR series title Hendrick Motorsports has earned since 1995.

Four belong to Jeff Gordon and the last seven belong to Johnson.

None has Earnhardt’s name.

On the wall to his left was the “Milestone Wins” display.

Under graphics of the outlines of Daytona, Darlington Raceway, Charlotte and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, each win by a Hendrick driver in the Daytona 500, Southern 500, Brickyard 400, Coke 600 and Bank of America 500 is listed.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

Among 47 victories observed, Earnhardt’s only contribution is that Daytona 500 win under the lights, which launched a career resurgence with seven wins in two seasons.

And Earnhardt is OK with that.

“I wanted to leave some kind of mark that somebody would know I was here,” Earnhardt said. “When we won that Daytona 500, that made me feel good about my impression on the company. It’s always fun to win with Rick, because like I said, that’s what he loves the most.”

There’s still 28 races left in Earnhardt’s Cup career. Twenty-eight chances to have fun. Among them are the Coke 600, Brickyard 400, Southern 500 and Bank of America 500.

And a few entries on the “Milestone” wall could lead to a banner on the ceiling.

Eventually, stage hands took down those four pictures.

But Earnhardt’s mark on the wall – and the sport – remain.

 and on Facebook

Kevin Harvick addresses how he will know when it is time to retire

Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement that he’ll retire from the Cup series at the end of this season has the focus turning to other drivers age 40 and over and when they might leave the sport.

Former champion Kevin Harvick, who is 41, addressed how much longer he’ll race on his show “Happy Hours” Tuesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“I can tell you that I have four more years left on my contact at Stewart-Haas Racing,’’ said Harvick, who signed a contract extension last year with the organization. “To me that would be the time when you sit back and re-evaluate things as to what you do going forward, just for the fact of where is (son) Keelan at in school? It’s very important for us to be involved as parents That’s my main priority to be the father figure in his life and make sure he’s progressing and doing the things he needs to do moving forward. There’s definitely a family aspect of that decision and where we are as a family and how the sport is affecting our life.

“I think from a competition side of things, that’s what drives me. I love the fact of the challenge that comes with, ‘Alright, we’re not running good, what have we go to do to fix things?’ When you’re running good, how do you maintain those things.

“That competition of pulling into that garage every week and looking over at the guy next to you and saying, ‘Man I want to kick that guy’s butt, and I want to run good this week,’ and the motivation of showing up at the shop and being a part of the team — when that goes away that’s probably when I’ll just say adios.’’

Harvick was on the show with wife DeLana and she talked about how their plans have changed over the years.

“The funny thing is when Kevin first started and we got married (in 2001), we both agreed it was going to be 40,’’ she said of when he would retire from racing. “That was our drop-dead date, he was going to retire at 40 no matter what had happened. We passed that.

“When you’re younger, you sort of try to put things into perspective. We never thought we’d be 40 when we were in our 20s. Now we’re here in our 40s. Part of the reason that we waited to have Keelan so much later is that Kevin wanted to be a part of those things. I don’t know if he actually knows that because I ask him all the time with everybody with Jeff, Tony and Carl and now obviously with Dale Jr. I kind of try to poke and prod a little bit and I don’t get very far with him because I’m not sure that it’s something these guys ever really like to think about. That was a question I have for you Kevin when you see your peers starting to do this is it something that becomes more present in your mind, do bad days make it worse or how do you sort of compartmentalize as it comes to your career?’’

Said Harvick: “I think when you look what you think about, I think you’re always thinking about, when do you retire, when is the right time to retire especially when you get into a certain part of your life. I think performance definitely has a lot to do with it.

“As you look at running good or running bad, you look at a situation like (Greg) Biffle had, it all just timed out wrong and he wound up not doing anything this year and out of the car. Dale announcing his retirement. I think when you look at Tony’s situation, there were a number of things that happened that led up to Tony saying I’m done with it, maybe had something to do with in the car, out of the car, but there were some things that led up to that. I think when you looked at Jeff, I think he just said ‘OK I’m going to retire here because of whatever reasons. I think it’s different for everybody.

“When you look at my situation, I’m kind of a late bloomer on the racing side of things because we’ve had so much success over ether last three years at Stewart-Haas Racing, winning a championship That’s the performance that I’ve wanted my whole career. It’s not like we didn’t perform well at RCR, but we didn’t win a championship. We won races, but we’ve done it consistently over the last three years. For me that’s the most fulfilling part of what I do and what I put into my career.’’

Harvick, the 2014 champion, enters this weekend’s Cup race at Richmond International Raceway ninth in the points after his third-place finish on Monday at Bristol.

 and on Facebook