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Red Farmer: Still racing -- and winning -- at almost 90 years old

Over the past two years, Charles “Red” Farmer has had COVID-19. Twice.

He has had a heart procedure. Twice.

He has had pneumonia. Double pneumonia.

Yet the biggest news concerning Farmer occurred just last week.

He won a race.

Yes, Farmer, who will be 90 years old October 15, won a 10-lap heat race at the Talladega Short Track, a 1/3-mile dirt track located near Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Farmer is a regular at the track. That is, he was until health problems limited his racing over the past two years. Some thought heart and breathing issues might finally sideline Farmer, who has won more than 700 short-track races and whose long resume in the sport earned him induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2021.

Those who thought that didn’t know Farmer well.

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“He’s got a gene that nobody else has,” Donnie Allison, Farmer’s long-time friend and fellow member of the Alabama Gang, told NBC Sports. “Whatever keeps driving him, I’m glad he’s got it. I believe if he stops doing what he’s doing, he might die.”

Farmer was hard at work in his shop Wednesday but stopped -- somewhat reluctantly -- to talk about his latest success.

“I started on the pole and went into Turn 1 and came off Turn 2 in the lead,” he told NBC Sports. “Then I pulled away from the field. The car was real good, hooked up all the way.”

Farmer talks about his racing as if he’s 29, not 89. There is little mention of his age, except when he runs into the reality that health problems sometimes ride along with him.

“I talked to him the week before he won the race,” Allison said. “We were in his shop, and all he could talk about was his brand new car. He expected to do well in it.”

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Farmer plans to be back in competition at the Talladega dirt track for three races over the next month.

“I was sick for two years, and now I’ve got shortness of breath real bad,” he said. “I’ve been able to run some hot laps but hadn’t been able to race until recently. I tried a heat race a couple of months ago, and I almost died before I got out of the car. I was so short of breath. But my doctors changed my medicine around a little bit trying to strengthen my heart.

“After I won the heat race and went across the scales, I was breathing a little bit hard, but nothing like I had been.”

Farmer, who has raced with a NASCAR license since 1953, said he realized after winning the heat race that his breathing issues would prevent him from completing the feature. He started on the outside of the front row and dropped out of the field on the pace lap.

“I let the field go by,” he said. “I ran a few laps so I could get my ‘gas’ money, then got out and watched my two grandsons race.”

The short track plans to celebrate Farmer’s 90th birthday with the Red Farmer 90th Birthday Bash race October 15.

“I’m hoping to run the feature race on one of the weekends coming up,” Farmer said. “I’ll just have to play it by ear.”

He already has circled the January Ice Bowl, which starts the season at the 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 as long as I’ve known him to see him do what he’s doing. I’m a lot younger and a lot stronger, and I’d have a hard time doing it.”