Prior to Saturday’s fourth and final Pro Stock qualifying session, Richard Freeman glanced at the sunsetting behind the tower at Route 66 Raceway and said to no one in particular, “If I make a good run, I should go about 6.59.” Moments later, the Elite Motorsports team owner did just that when he wheeled his new Pro Stock Mustang to a 6.593 to qualify in the top half of the quick Route 66 Nationals field. It was an uncanny prediction for a driver who races sporadically and was making just the fifth run in a brand new Rick Jones-built race car.
Freeman made another bold prediction last year when he offered that the Pro Stock class would not only survive but thrive under a revised schedule that reduced the number of events from 24 to 18. So far this year, the class has seen a resurgence with several new faces and at least a dozen drivers committed to the full schedule. Freeman has certainly done his part fielding championship caliber cars for Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr., and supplying power to Matt Hartford, Rodger Brogdon, and Alex Laughlin.
“I think there are a lot of good things happening in Pro Stock right now and its only going to get better,” said Freeman. “We’ve had a lot of interest from new customers since the schedule change and I think we’ll see even more cars before the end of the season. That’s one of the reasons why I brought this new Mustang here this weekend, I wanted to show that if I can do it, anyone can. This car has just five runs on it and I put it into the top half of the field. I made one run in testing in Tulsa just to make sure everything worked and then we loaded it up and came here.”
Freeman’s primary motivation behind building a Ford was to add brand diversity to the class that is currently dominated by Chevy Camaros. Even though the new car is powered by one of Elite’s GM-based engines, Freeman is quick to note that the fans appreciate that it’s different.
“The Ford seems to be pretty good when it comes to aerodynamics so that’s not really an issue, but I wanted to show that there is room for other brands out here,” said Freeman. “I don’t particularly care to drive; I’ll do it every not and then just to get some runs in but for now, this is a car that will be available for lease or whatever someone wants. We’ve got room here to run one more car as part of our team. We can supply engines to just about anyone who wants one, but as far as administering a whole program, we can take on one more. That’s’ about the limit of our manpower right now.”
Given the locker room culture that exists in the Elite camp, thick skin is almost a pre-requisite. When it comes to practical jokes and good-natured ribbing, the Elite crew sets the gold standard for NHRA teams so Freeman wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to let his teammates know that while making his first appearance behind the wheel since last year’s Topeka race, he was able to out-qualify Coughlin, Laughlin, and Brogdon, and he ran just a thousandth of a second slower than two-time world champ Enders, the quickest of the Elite team drivers.
“See, I keep telling them this isn’t that hard,” Freeman laughed. “I’m the heaviest driver out here and I haven’t driven in a year and I can do this. Seriously, this shows the strength of our program. It took a long time to get to this point, but we have the ability to deliver competitive engines for six or seven cars. We can make them all equal to our best stuff and I think that’s another reason why the class is doing so well.”