Jeff Gordon and Charles “Red” Farmer will be inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame Class of 2019.
Gordon’s career defined an era. His first Cup race came at the age of 20 in the 1992 season finale. That race was the last for Richard Petty. His last appearance was the 2016 fall race at Martinsville driving in relief for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon scored his 477th top 10 with a sixth-place finish in that race.
Gordon’s first 93 wins came in the 1994 Coke 600 at Charlotte. Later that year, he won the inaugural Brickyard 400. In fact, Gordon had a penchant for winning big races with three Coke 600s and five Brickyard 400s to his credit along with five Southern 500s and three Daytona 500s.
At the age of 24 in his third full-time season, Gordon became the second youngest driver to win a championship. Bill Rexford won the crown in 1950 at the age of 23. Gordon added three more championships in 1997, 1998 and 2001.
Farmer’s first NASCAR Cup race also came at the age of 20. He finished 45th in 1953 on the Daytona Beach and road course in a field of 57 cars. His last top level NASCAR race ended with a 44th-place finish in the 1975 August Talladega race, but his greatest achievements came on short tracks in the Southeast. One of Farmer’s two NASCAR top fives came on the half-mile Middle Georgia Raceway in Macon, Georgia in 1967. His other top five was earned at Talladega in 1972.
It is believed that Farmer won more than 800 races on dirt and paved short tracks during a career that continues at the age of 86.
Gordon and Farmer will be officially inducted during ceremonies scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 27 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Bump & Run: Where to race next with All-Star rules package?
When and where would you suggest running the All-Star package next?
Steve Letarte: I think there was definitely some entertainment. I enjoyed the package. I think the when is somewhere in the regular season. I don’t really think it belongs in the playoffs unless we run it a few more times in the regular season. It seems to me that Michigan, Indy and Pocono are the three tracks that I think easily the package could be adapted to.
Kyle Petty: Let me say first when they announced this package for the All-Star Race I was not impressed. I’ve always lived by “I hate Plates!” But … as everyone who knows or listens to me run my mouth knows, I can eat crow! I thought the race was entertaining and enjoyed it! I would like to see it at Michigan. I think the draft there and speeds would translate well to the package. And as we know from the Xfinity race last year at Indy, it made for some interesting moments there.
Nate Ryan: Pocono with an eye toward Indianapolis. Potentially Michigan (though a form of it is being used in the Xfinity race). Kentucky Speedway also seems a natural because the track and its owners already are on board and supportive of the concept.
Dustin Long: Run it at Michigan in June — when the Xfinity Series also is running it — then do it at Indianapolis in September. See how teams make their cars better and how that impacts the racing. That will give NASCAR ideas of changes it can make for 2019.
Dan Beaver: Michigan. The wide corners would allow drivers to get four-wide without the consequence seen near the end of the All-Star Race. Based on the success of the first race, they could choose to use it again when they return for race number two. Pocono is another track that needs a boost in terms of competition, but with the speed carried into turn one and the narrowness of the groove in two, that could be a recipe for disaster. By the time the playoffs roll around, shelf the science project until 2019 and Auto Club.
Daniel McFadin: It shouldn’t be tested in the playoffs, so if I had to pick a track before then I’d go with the August race at Michigan. That would mean both Cup and Xfinity teams tried out the package there this season.
What is a concern you have about the All-Star package?
Steve Letarte: The biggest concern, I think, is that one of the reasons it was successful was because teams didn’t have time to develop it. As teams develop it, it will change. I think the ratio of downforce to power is pretty successful. They need to try to keep that as teams make gains, whether horsepower with the plates or downforce with the car.
Kyle Petty: My main concerns are drivers/teams and fans. Drivers/teams went into Charlotte with some ideas of what this package would do and feel like but not 100% sure of everything. We saw a race where ALL drivers/teams were as close as they’ll EVER be with this package. The next time it’s run, someone will have figured out a way to be better than the rest and the never-ending cycle of rule changes vs. drivers/teams will continue. That’s what NASCAR has ALWAYS been and Thank God there’s still a little of that left! … The fans are a concern because they like it now but will they like it tomorrow? We’ve seen this same movie before. Everyone says they love tandem racing! Two or three races later they hate it! NASCAR listens to the fans and changes the rules as to not allow tandem racing. Once again fans Love the new racing … for two or three races and then some will want tandem racing again! NASCAR can’t chase the fan opinion, the fans matter, but the product on the track matters MORE. It’s why NASCAR is in business, the racing business, it’s why drivers/teams race and in the end it’s why fans come. We need long-term solutions not knee-jerk reactions.
Nate Ryan: It still seems to remain as difficult to pass the leader, if not more difficult.
Dustin Long: Just how much will some teams get better with this package and how will it impact the racing. Will there be more separation among cars? How will that impact passing at the front? That seems to be an issue already. Will it be worse?
Dan Beaver: From the outside, the cars appeared to be too stable because of the reduction of speed. Portions of the race were too similar to restrictor-plate superspeedway races where the mental aspect of passing was more important than the handling.
Daniel McFadin: The amount of difficulty for the car behind the leader to get close enough to challenge for the lead. It’s possible the straightaways just aren’t long enough at Charlotte build enough momentum.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame will select its next class Wednesday. Name one person — other than Jeff Gordon — who should be in the next class and why.
Steve Letarte: Roger Penske. I think because Roger Penske has had a Hall of Fame career as a car owner but his reach in NASCAR is much more than that. He was involved in Michigan International Speedway, he built Auto Club Speedway. Penske, that last name is just iconic in the U.S. when it comes to industry. I think his involvement in NASCAR matches that and he should go into the Hall of Fame.
Kyle Petty: ALL are deserving in so many different ways. I know or knew every one of the nominees. I’m sorry I can’t pick just one. So I’ll just say … Congratulations Jeff Gordon!
Nate Ryan: Alan Kulwicki because he accomplished so much with less than his rivals while also being ahead of the curve on the engineering trends.
Dustin Long: Kirk Shelmerdine. Won four championships as Dale Earnhardt’s crew chiefs in the 1980 and won 10 percent of all his starts while working with Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Richard Childress and James Hylton.
Dan Beaver: My vote goes to Red Farmer. He epitomizes NASCAR’s golden years with a path that weaves in and out of the top series while also running paved short tracks and on dirt. Still racing and winning well into his 80s, a driver like Farmer defines the sport for many grassroots fans. The Hall needs to remember its roots, just as NASCAR does.
Daniel McFadin: Kirk Shelmerdine. He won four Cup titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr. That’s one more than Ray Evernham won with Jeff Gordon. Shelmerdine partnered with Earnhardt for 44 of his 46 Cup wins.
Jeff Gordon among nominees for 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon headlines the list of nominees for the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class, which was announced Tuesday on NASCAR America.
Gordon, who ranks third on the Cup all-time wins list with 93 and helped broaden the sport’s appeal, is in his first year of eligibility.
Should he be among the five selected for the 2019 Hall of Fame Class, he would follow team owner Rick Hendrick (2017 class) and crew chief Ray Evernham (2018 class).
There are 20 nominees for the class. Fifteen are holdovers from last year. Gordon is among the five new names to the list. Voting is expected to take place in May with the class inducted in January 2019.
Joining Gordon, 46, as first-time nominees are: Harry Gant, John Holman, Ralph Moody and Kirk Shelmerdine.
Gant, 78, competed in NASCAR from 1973-94, winning 18 races and 17 poles. He won four consecutive races in September 1991. He remains the oldest Cup winner. He was 52 years, 7 months, 6 days when he won at Michigan in August 1992. He’s also the oldest pole winner in series history. He was 54 years, 7 months and 17 days when he won the pole at Bristol in August 1994.
Shelmerdine, who turns 60 on Thursday, won four championships as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt in 1986-87 and 1990-91.
Holman and Moody formed one of the sport’s most famous teams. Between 1957-73, Moody and Holman built cars that earned 83 poles and won 96 times. They won the 1968 and ’69 titles with David Pearson. Holman died in 1975. Moody died in 2004.
The other 15 nominees from last year are:
Davey Allison … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1992 Daytona 500. He was the 1987 Rookie of the Year. He died in a helicopter crash in 1993 at Talladega.
Buddy Baker … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1980 Daytona 500. He was the first driver to eclipse the 200 mph barrier, doing so in 1970.
Red Farmer … Records are incomplete but the 1956 modified and 1969-71 Late Model Sportsman champ is believed to have won well more than 700 races. Continued racing beyond 80 years old.
Ray Fox … Renowned engine builder, car owner and race official. He built the Chevrolet that Junior Johnson won the 1960 Daytona 500 driving. Fox won the 1964 Southern 500 as a car owner with Johnson as his driver.
Harry Hyde … Crew chief for Bobby Isaac when Isaac won the 1970 series title. Guided Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Neil Bonnett and Dave Marcis each to their first career series win.
Alan Kulwicki … 1992 series champion who overcame a 278-point deficit in the final six races to win title by 10 points, at the time the closet margin in series history. He was the 1986 Rookie of the Year. He was killed in a plane crash in 1993.
Bobby Labonte … 2000 series champion who won 21 Cup races. He was the first driver to win an Xfinity title and a Cup championship in a career.
Hershel McGriff … Made his NASCAR debut at age 22 in the 1950 Southern 500 and ran his final NASCAR race at age 84 in 2012. Was selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
Roger Penske … Team owner whose organization has won 107 Cup races and one series title. Has been a car owner in auto racing for more than 50 years.
Larry Phillips … Weekly short track series driver believed to have more than 1,000 career wins. During an 11-year span, he won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned starts on short tracks.
Jack Roush … Team owner whose organization has won 137 Cup races and two series titles (Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004). Team has won more than 300 races across NASCAR’s three national series.
Ricky Rudd … Won 23 Cup races, including 1997 Brickyard 400. He is known most as NASCAR’s Ironman, once holding the record for consecutive starts at 788. He ranks second in all-time Cup starts with 906.
Mike Stefanik … Nine-time NASCAR champion with his titles coming in the Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East.
Waddell Wilson … Famed engine builder and crew chief. He supplied the power for David Pearson’s championships in 1968 and ’69 and Benny Parsons’ 1973 title. Wilson’s engines won 109 races. He won 22 races as a crew chief, including three Daytona 500 victories.
Nominees for the Landmark Award are Alvin Hawkins Sr., Barney Hall, Janet Guthrie, Jim Hunter and Ralph Seagraves.
Hawkins established Bowman Gray Stadium with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.
Hall was a broadcaster for 54 years from 1960-2014.
Guthrie was the first woman to race in a Cup superspeedway event.
Hunter was a journalist, track promoter and longtime NASCAR executive.
Seagraves started RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company’s sponsorship of NASCAR.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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:
— “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.”