By Michael Buhler
Racing is just in Mike Farrell’s blood – that might be the simplest way to say it.
“My dad was a racer,” Farrell said. “I’ve been around it all my life and I love it. It’s my life. I started racing when I was five years old.”
Farrell has raced professionally for 50 years, logging his 50th year on the track by competing in a sprint car race last month at 81 Speedway in Park City before taking off his helmet and becoming a full-time race car owner.
“I ran one race and decided it was time to hang the helmet up,” Farrell said. “I just can’t see good enough to go that fast and – in respect to other racers and myself – I didn’t want to tear cars up.”
Farrell poses inside of his racing trailer.
Farrell started racing in go-karts and was the Rookie of the Year at the 81 Speedway in 1969 and also won a track championship at 81 in 1976. He spent most of the 1970s and 80s racing in California before returning to Kansas in the 1990s and getting into racing sprint cars and modifieds. In 2007, Farrell’s last full year of racing, he finished in the top five in modifieds.
Farrell also spent a year in the late 1970s racing with NASCAR in the Sprint Cup (then known as Winston Cup) series, where he crossed paths with such names as Ernie Irvan and Kevin Harvick.
“It takes a lot of money and a lot of backing to get into NASCAR,” Farrell said. “I was running an asphalt car in Bakersfield, Calif. I was driving for a guy out there and we took our car over to Bakersfield and I won seven straight heats, features and trophy dashes. They put a bounty on me and that was kind of the start of my asphalt racing.”
Farrell said that sprint cars and stock cars (as NASCAR uses) are two very different vehicles.
“Stock cars are heavy and are usually 600-700 horsepower,” Farrell said. “Sprint cars only weigh 1,200 pounds and they’re 800 horsepower. They’re like riding a bull – you’ve got to have it together, you’ve got to be on it, you’ve got to be wide-open and you’ve got to be able to see.”
After following his own father into racing, Farrell’s own children have gotten into it as well. Farrell took some time away from behind the wheel after 2007 to help his son get into racing, and now Farrell’s daughter is driving mini-sprint cars.
“I love it,” Farrell said with a laugh. “She’s a girl and she’s got all I got. She’s going for it. She doesn’t have any fear.”
Maybe that’s why when Farrell was asked what his favorite aspect of racing was, he said, “just all of it.”
“I don’t have any regrets about any of it,” Farrell said. “I’ve been really lucky. I’ve always drove for somebody. This year and 2007 are the only years I’ve owned my own cars. Luckily I’ve got a big enough business now that I can afford it and I’m having fun.”
Driver James “Sugar Ray, Jr.” Riner drives Mike Farrell’s race car at 81 Speedway. Riner took over from Farrell, who has been involved with racing for 50 years.