CONCORD, N.C. — Not a lot can surprise Red Farmer, who has seen and done more than most during a racing career that has spanned the better part of 70 years.
Yet on Tuesday when Farmer learned he had been selected as one-third of the 2021 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the member of the famed Alabama Gang had to catch his breath.
“I kind of had to catch my breath there for a minute, you know,” Farmer said a little more than an hour after hearing his name called. “I didn’t know that I’d ever make it in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This is the biggest honor you’ll ever get.”
The stat book more than justifies Farmer’s place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In 1956, he claimed the NASCAR Modified championship. He followed that up with three straight championships in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman division, a precursor to what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series, in 1969-’71.
He’s won hundreds of races during his career, including the 1971 running of the Permatex 300 at Daytona Int’l Speedway that was run as part of the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman schedule. While his exact number of wins across multiple forms of racing is unknown, it is believed to be well above 700.
Farmer started racing in 1948, though his NASCAR journey didn’t begin until 1953 with a trip to the legendary Daytona beach course. Daytona Int’l Speedway didn’t open until 1959.
“I started in NASCAR in 1953 on the beach course when I ran the Hudson down there on the beach,” Farmer recalled. “(I) ran two more races on the beach course before they built the superspeedway. I ran the last one in ’58. So I’ve been in NASCAR for a long time. I got to run against a lot of the great drivers.”
Farmer has raced against some of the sport’s most legendary names. He raced against Ralph Earnhardt, the grandfather of fellow 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt Jr. He also competed against the likes of Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Buck Baker, Lee and Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, Fred Lorenzen, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and many more.
“During each decade you had some great drivers to run against,” Farmer said. “Fireball Roberts used to come down to West Palm Beach and run on a half-mile dirt track with me. He was a great driver back in ’48, ’50, ’51, through there. Then all those races I ran on the beach course. That one race in ’56 started 136 cars. There were a bunch of great drivers in those days.”
Farmer is perhaps most famous for being part of the Alabama Gang, a group of drivers who raced out of Hueytown, Ala., that included Bobby and Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett, Jimmy Means and Davey Allison.
“When we had the Alabama Gang through the ’60s and ’70s with Bobby and Donnie and myself, who started the Alabama Gang, they were two of the guys I’d have to outrun,” Farmer said. “I knew that if I went to a race track — Huntsville, Montgomery, Birmingham, Pensacola or wherever we had to race, or Mobile, if I was going to win that race, Bobby and Donnie were the two I was going to have to outrun.
“We were good friends, but when we got on the race track, it was every man for himself.”
The 87-year-old Farmer is one of the last of a dying breed of racers. Even as he approaches his 90th birthday, Farmer continues to race dirt late models at his home track — the Talladega Short Track.
When NASCAR returns to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for this weekend’s GEICO 500, Farmer will be down the street racing his 604 late model at the quarter-mile dirt track.
“This is my 73rd year racing when I ran the Ice Bowl (in January),” Farmer said. “It’s kind of hard to explain. I still enjoy it so much. I enjoy working on my race cars, I enjoy going out there and being with all the guys in the pits and I’m still being halfway competitive.
“I’ve won so many races that I don’t have to win anymore. I just go out and want to have a good time,” Farmer noted. “If I go out and run seventh or eighth and battle somebody and make a little bump here or there and just really have a good race, then I’ve had a good time.”