For the past two years, Charles “Red” Farmer has contracted COVID-19. Twice.
He had a heart procedure. Twice.
He had pneumonia. Double pneumonia.
But the biggest news about Farmer happened last week.
He won a race.
Yes, Farmer, who turns 90 on October 15, won the 10-lap heat race at the Talladega Short Track, a 1/3-mile dirt track located near the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
Farmer is a regular at the track. That is, he was until health problems limited his career in the past two years. Some think heart and respiratory issues could eventually sideline Farmer, who has won more than 700 short-track races and whose long resume in the sport has earned him induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2021 .
Those who think so don’t know Farmer very well.
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“He’s got a gene that no one else has,” Donnie Allison, Farmer’s longtime friend and fellow Alabama Gang member, told NBC Sports. “What keeps driving him, I’m glad he got it. I believe if he stops what he is doing, he might die.”
Farmer was hard at work in his shop Wednesday but stopped — somewhat reluctantly — to talk about his latest achievement.
“I started on the pole and went into Turn 1 and was ahead in Turn 2,” he told NBC Sports. “Then I left the field. The car is really nice, attached in every way.
The farmer talks about his career as if he were 29, not 89. There is little mention of his age, except when he notes that health problems sometimes accompany him.
“I talked to him the week before he won the race,” Allison said. “We were in his shop, and all he talked about was his new car. He expects to be good at it.”
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Farmer plans to return to competition at the Talladega dirt track for three races next month.
“I’ve been sick for two years, and now I’m really short of breath,” he said. “I’ve run some hot laps but I’ve never raced until recently. I tried a heat race a few months ago, and I almost died before I got out of the car. I was out of breath. But my doctors changed my medicine around a little to strengthen my heart.
“After I won the heat race and crossed the scale, I was breathing a little, but not like before.”
Farmer, who has raced under a NASCAR license since 1953, said he realized after winning the heat race that his breathing problems would prevent him from completing the feature. He started on the outside of the front row and dropped through the field on the pace lap.
“I let the field pass,” he said. “I ran a few laps to get my ‘gas’ money, then I went out and watched my two grandkids race.”
The short track plans to celebrate Farmer’s 90th birthday with the Red Farmer 90th Birthday Bash race on October 15.
“I’m looking forward to running the feature race one of the coming weekends,” Farmer said. “I just have to play it by ear.”
He already has the January Ice Bowl, which kicks off the season at Talladega Short Track, on his schedule.
Allison, 82, said he remains impressed by Farmer’s determination to run the next lap.
“He’s trying to get his strength back,” Allison said. “It’s amazing even though I’ve known him for a long time to see him do what he does. I’m younger and stronger, and I’m going to have a hard time doing it.”