Racer Red Farmer began his career in the 1940s and is still going strong at age 75.
Red Farmer deserved to be in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, but normally a driver must be retired – or passed on – at least five years before becoming eligible. Since Farmer – now 75 and who used to list his age as “past halfway” – has no intentions of slowing down, the IMHoF committee decided to let him in sooner instead of later.
“I’m glad they decided I could go ahead and qualify while I could still enjoy it,” says Farmer, who joins four other motorsports greats set for induction in April. “I’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of halls of fame, but this has to be the biggest because there’s nothing left after this.”
The announcement was made in October during a press conference in Birmingham, with Farmer on hand for the festivities. He’ll join Bill France Jr., Shirley Muldowney, Bill Muncey and Bobby Rahal in this year’s class, which will be honored during an induction ceremony at the Speed Channel Dome at Talladega’s spring race.
Based on Farmer’s resume – one that began in the late 1940s – granting him eligibility without meeting the standard criteria seems like a small concession.
While racing in seven different decades, Farmer has taken more than 740 feature victories on asphalt, dirt and superspeedways. He won the NASCAR Modified Championship in 1956, then claimed three Late Model Sportsman crowns in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That series was the forerunner of what is now known as the NASCAR Busch Series.
Aside from Thursday’s honor, Farmer is also a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Dirt Track Hall of Fame and Talladega/Texaco Walk of Fame.
In 2000, he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
“All of those were special,” Farmer says. “Especially being named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest. But this is the ultimate for me.”
Needless to say, a career that has spanned more than 50 years has featured plenty of highlights, but Farmer says one stands out in particular.
“In 1971 I ran in the Daytona 300 Permatex race,” says Farmer, referring to an event sanctioned by the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) circuit.
“The last eight races they had held there had been won by the NASCAR (Winston Cup) guys, but I won it, and it was my first superspeedway win.
“But what made it even better is that my mother was there, and it was the first time she’d ever seen me race. Plus, it was her birthday (Feb. 13), so things couldn’t have worked out better.”
France Jr., the son of NASCAR founder “Big” Bill France, got the nod due to helping the sport outgrow its regional bounds and become an international phenomenon. France Jr. served as a rule maker, promoter, ambassador and salesman for NASCAR, and he engineered the series’ record-setting $2.4 billion television contract.
Muldowney, who inspired the movie “Heart Like A Wheel,” was a drag racing champion who got her National Hot Rod Association license in 1965, match-raced for five years, then went on to take titles in NHRA Winston World, Top Fuel and International Hot Rod Association competition.
Muldowney is just the second woman to be inducted, joining early NASCAR driver Louise Smith in the hall.
Muncey is considered the greatest hydroplane race driver in history, claiming 62 checkers – more than any other competitor in the sport.
And Rahal, who retired from driving in 1998, won three Championship Auto Racing Teams titles, and also won the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Today he runs his own CART Series team along with David Letterman.
But at the announcement press conference, Farmer was the star of the show. And while retirement is out of the question, he admits he can now pick his battles.
“I really don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do these days,” says Farmer, who lives in Hueytown, Ala., with his wife of 53 years, Joan. “I work with ML Motorsports and help out Jason Jarrett and his (ARCA) team, and I try to make the most of his superspeedway races.
“But other than that, I either go fishing or race my dirt car.”
Farmer’s winter recreation includes meeting 2002 Winston Cup Champion Tony Stewart to spend a few days together hunting. He also scheduled back surgery for his off-season. But he’ll be back early this year racing his dirt car.
“Racing is what I do, and I don’t have any plans to stop.”
Not Your Typical Driver’s Ed Teacher
Jeff Gordon takes his safety tips to tomorrow’s young drivers
From graphic eight-millimeter films such as “Blood on the Highway” to sobering speeches courtesy of law enforcement officials, high school drivers get plenty of exposure to the dangers of operating a motor vehicle.
Now they’re getting help from one of the greats of today’s NASCAR circuit.
Jeff Gordon, four-time champion of the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, takes his Get Real Behind the Wheel program to the teens for hands-on seminars. Sponsored by DuPont, this nationwide auto safety tour allows teenagers to test their skills in hazardous driving conditions using a simulator. They also have a chance to navigate an actual car through an obstacle course.
“This is a fun atmosphere for teenagers to come out, take a test drive and pick up some safety tips,” Gordon says. “A lot of the things you learn in drivers education are more important than you realize, and it’s the little details that can make a big difference. Some of the things you take for granted when you’re behind the wheel you shouldn’t.”
Gordon says when he got his license, he never had an accident moving forward.
“I did back into some stuff,” he says. “I’ve always had a little trouble going in reverse, which isn’t a big problem when you’re racing. But each year there are 4 million kids who get their licenses, and within the first 12 months half of them are going to get into accidents.
“It could be minor or major, but what this program is designed to do is prevent as many as possible.”
Gordon suggests that driving has become more dangerous today due to added distractions.
“When I got my license, we didn’t have cell phones,” Gordon says. “Cell phones are great and they’re fun, but you don’t need to be planning your weekend or cutting up and having a good time when you’re driving.
“If you’re behind the wheel, pass the phone off to a passenger. Or if you just have to talk, take a few minutes to pull over. The main thing about driving is staying alert, and if you’re on the phone or sleepy or sick and taking medication, you aren’t as alert as you need to be when you drive.”
There is one major improvement in modern driving safety, says the NASCAR star, and that’s mandatory seat belt use.
“When I was driving, wearing seat belts wasn’t cool,” he says. “That was stupid, but that’s the way it was. Now it’s not only a lot cooler than it used to be, it’s the law. The first thing you should do when you get in a car is buckle up – there’s just no excuse not to.
“If you can get through to these guys and let them know how important it is to be safe, you can make a difference,” Gordon says. “When I was in high school I took drivers ed, and to this day my teacher still shows up at a lot of my races.
“He certainly didn’t teach me to speed, but he helped me be safe. Hopefully, programs like Get Real Behind The Wheel can help a lot more kids be safe.”
Meet the Drivers
Hometown: Corpus Christi, Texas.
Married, two children.
Drives the Kellogg’s-sponsored Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Labonte, winner of 22 NASCAR Winston Cup races and two series titles, experienced a career resurgence of sorts in 2003 when he managed to win a race and run up front in most of the circuit’s 36 events.
A member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the older brother of NASCAR regular Bobby Labonte started racing quarter-midgets at the age of 7 and moved up to stock cars by the time he was 16.