NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison reveals how he, Donnie Allison and Red Farmer earned "The Alabama Gang" nickname.
By Duane Rankin
Being in Montgomery last week took Bobby Allison down memory lane.
Back in 1960, Allison remembers leaving the capital city with Red Farmer and his brother Donnie to race in Greenville, N.C., where Jack Ingram uttered the nickname that defines those three to this day.
“I was this close to him and he said, ‘Oh no, here comes that dang Alabama Gang,’” Allison said.
The name stuck.
“And it sounded so good, we just adopted the name,” continued Allison with a smile. “We became ‘The Alabama Gang.’”
‘The Alabama Gang’ became stock car racing royalty as the Allison brothers and Farmer competed, helped and pushed each other become three of the best drivers ever in the sport. Bobby Allison, 78, is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame and all three are in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega.
“We put a lot of years in,” said Donnie Allison, 76, who was in town with Farmer and his brother for the premiere of ‘White Lightning,” a play about racing in the 1940s. “A lot of years and not begrudgingly.
“It was all very willingly. I’m proud of the fact that I came to Alabama and built the name and reputation of ‘The Alabama Gang’ and went to big-time races and did reasonably well there.”
Settling in Hueytown in the early 1960s, they dominated the short track in Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville and established a mystique that was often imitated, but hardly ever duplicated.
“A lot of drivers, they’d say, well, they got a South Carolina or Georgia gang; those are guys that maybe saw the guy on a Saturday night and never saw them until the next Saturday night,” Farmer said.
“They’re not a gang. We raced together and lived with each other. We worked on each other’s cars together Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so we could race Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
“We had one bedroom,” Farmer said. “One would get the bedroom, one would get the couch and the other would get the floor. We rotated around.”
Bobby and Donnie Allison now both live in North Carolina while Farmer, 83, resides in Alabama. When “The Alabama Gang” came to town back in the day, it made an entrance.
“We left together like a convoy going over the hill,” Farmer said. “Three of us pulling trailers bumper-to-bumper looking just like a bunch of gypsies.”
They usually left a track ahead of the competition.
“We ran 1-2-3 at so many races, I can’t even count them,” Farmer said.
Bobby Allison had the most celebrated career. He won the 1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and retired with 84 victories.
Well, 85 depending on who you ask.
“He’s tied with Waltrip,” Farmer said. “Actually, he won 85, but they haven’t given him credit for that one yet. He’s still fighting that one to this day. It was kind of a trumped up deal I guess you could call it.”
On his website, Allison, a three-time Daytona 500 champion, credits himself with 85 wins.
“If he could get that finally passed since they’re both retired and they give him that 85th race, then he’ll have one more than Darrell Waltrip,” Farmer continued. “I know he would want that.”
Farmer is actually still racing as he competed in Talladega’s Ice Bowl in January.
“That started my 69th year racing,” Farmer proudly said. “I ran 22 races last year. I hope I can run that many this year.”
They’re household names, but the Allison brothers and Farmer planted their racing roots in Alabama after growing up in Miami. Bobby Allison won his first pro featured race in 1959 in Montgomery.
That’s not the only thing that happened that night.
“I brought Donnie with me when we come to Alabama with two other youngsters with another car,” Bobby Allison said. “In the second week, the driver with the other car quit and went home. The guy that owned it said, ‘Bobby, what do I do?’ I said, ‘Put Donnie in it.’ Donnie got in the car.”
They eventually returned to Florida to get Farmer, whom Bobby Allison called “his hero.” Allison admitted Farmer initially got the best of them, but after a few weeks, he said they started “swapping those wins.”
The competition was fierce, especially between the Allisons.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody any more competitive than he and I were,” Donnie Allison said. “We were our own best competitors, but we were also family. I never gave him anything he didn’t earn and he never gave me anything. We didn’t take advantage of each other, but we did not give each other an opportunity. I would never let him win a race.”
Competition aside, it was all love between the three — for the most part.
“We supported each other at least 80 percent of the time,” Bobby Allison said. “Put up with each other another 10 percent of the time. The other 10 percent of time, I’m not talking about.”
They supported each other’s cars, too. Calling themselves “budget drivers,” Farmer said they’d “cut a tire down and sewed it up with lacing wire and run it again” in the early 1960s.
“We kept all three cars at a gas station backed up next to the fence,” he continued. “We’d leave them there overnight at Joe Moore’s Shell service station, come back the next morning, unload them and work on them. We had no garage or nothing. It was a shoestring way, but that’s the way we came up.”
They always tried to stay ahead of the curve.
“We worked on each other’s cars and tried to increase the technology on it,” Bobby Allison said. “We always were innovative about doing something within the rules that would help the car go better or make it safe.”
Looking back on that landmark race in North Carolina, Allison said they ran 1-2-3 with him taking first place. He can’t recall how his brother and Farmer finished, but “The Alabama Gang” has earned a permanent place in stock car racing history.
So when Bobby Allison takes that ride down memory lane, it always passes through the state where he, his brother and Farmer made their name. He enjoys that ride every single time.
“I don’t live here, but this is my home state,” he said. “I was born at sea and finally found a homeland. Born and raised in Miami, went to Wisconsin, bounced all around, but Alabama is still my home.”