In the mid-1950s, future NASCAR Hall of Famer Red Farmer supported his growing family by working as an electrician.
When he could find work, that is. Contributing to the Recession of 1953, the post-World War II housing boom collapsed. Farmer struggled to provide the basics to his growing family.
But he had a car.
A Florida native who started racing around the state in 1948, Farmer relocated to Hueytown, Alabama, after returning from military service in Korea, and embarked on his second job, stock car racing.
With two acquaintances, Donnie and Bobby Allison, the power trio raced anywhere they could at Southern tracks beginning in the late-’50s.
They would later form one of the most exclusive fraternities in NASCAR history, the ill-fated Alabama Gang.
Eight decades and numerous tragedies later, Farmer is still racing emotionally with survivor’s guilt.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Red Farmer escaped unemployment by racing, but could not avoid losing his racing companions
During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Jan. 21, Farmer relived a few of his experiences with a group of “racing brothers.
Now, 89 years old and still driving competitively, Farmer continues to reflect on the gang members who died tragically:
- 1992: Clifford Allison died following a Busch (Xfinity) Series practice-lap crash at Michigan International Speedway.
- 1993: Davey Allison died because of injuries he sustained in a helicopter crash he was piloting. A passenger, Farmer survived.
- 1994: Neil Bonnett died as a result of a head-on crash into a wall at Daytona International Speedway.
“… I’ve got so many great friends of mine that aren’t with us anymore,” Farmer told nascar.com. “Maybe I cheated some of them. I’ve got nine lives. I think I’ve used up eight of them.
“Some of them were snuffed out in the prime of their life, like Davey. It’s a hard deal.”
Surviving the fatal helicopter crash, Farmer struggled emotionally with the accident
The loss of Davey Allison was among one of the most emotionally deflating experiences of his event-filled life. Farmer’s played the part of a second father, crew chief, mentor, and friend.
“He truly never got over Davey’s death,” said Liz Allison, Davey’s widow. “I’m chasing two little kids around the track, and they’re just hee-haw laughing and getting in trouble. That was the essence of their friendship. They loved each other and were always in trouble together.”
Added Farmer: “So many close friends I’ve lost over the years. But they passed away doing what they loved to do, and I understand that.”
But understanding is not an emotional shield.
“Why did they have to die?”
“Why not me?“
Familiar thoughts by many who possess survivor’s guilt.
Farmer paid tribute to each fallen friend by riding on. There’s not much else to do.
Liz Allison on Farmer: ‘Goofball and a troublemaker – in the most loving way’
A few years into their racing trifecta, the Alabama Gang emerged as a dominant force. In 1962, for example, the members entered 106 events and earned a first-place finish in 96 races.
How did the group get its name? Glad you asked.
Regional racer Jack Ingram happened to be standing next to a sportswriter before a race in the 1960s. He witnessed the trio entering the track. Ingram gasped and said: “Oh, no, here comes that damn Alabama Gang.”
The reporter heard it. Printed it. The moniker continues to thrive.
Over the past eight decades, other family members or Alabama residents have joined the exclusive club, including Clifford Allison, Davey Allison, mechanic Eddie Allison, Bonnett, Mickey Gibbs, Jimmy Means, Hut Stricklin, and honorary adopted member, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The Hueytown garage served as the Alabama Gang’s headquarters. Thanks to Farmer, the members staged “daily” meetings full of pranks.
“As much of a goofball and a troublemaker – in the most loving way …,” Liz Allison said. “He has a really big heart.”
One that has been broken for over four decades.