Terry Free is on a mission. He’s chasing a National Championship. Truth be told, he already has one National Championship in Time Trial, in TTU at Mid-Ohio in 2012. He also scored a second-place finish that same year in ST1 and was running in third in STR1 when his car broke.
“I was running in third in the race, and I had the other two guys pretty well figured out, what I was going to do with them, how I could take them,” Free said. “I broke a steering hose, lost my power steering, smoke all over the place, a $3.50 part, and I had to sit in the infield and watch those guys go.”
But he wants to win a National Championship in a racing class, and he’s come close in recent years. The clock is ticking, too. Free has been racing for more than 40 years, and at age 74, he realizes he likely won’t be racing for 40 more.
Free has had plenty of success at the regional level. You can see it when you look at his car. The roof is covered with “winner” stickers that go way back to when he was racing in the SoCal Region. He has done well enough in the Texas Region this year that he didn’t have to race the last Texas event because he had the points championship sewn up.
His racing career goes back even further than that. Free started racing on circle tracks in 1971, first on dirt, then asphalt. He first got a taste of road course racing in 2002.
“A friend of mine asked me if I’d ever been on a road course. I said, “No, not really,” because when I was with NASCAR, they didn’t do road courses at that time,” he said. “I’ve been on a lot of circle tracks. He said, ‘Well, you need to go try it. You’re really going to like it.’”
And he liked it —a lot. The first track he drove was Buttonwillow Raceway, outside Bakersfield, Calif. He was hooked and he began prepping his car for competition, starting with the brakes.
“We burned up the brakes, so we realized that’s where we need to start: brakes, tires,” Free said. “So, we started on that, changed all the brakes and just started from there.”
He competed around Southern and Northern California and even in Arizona. Free also began making the trek to National Championships events. The first National Championship he went to, he took second place, and he still had carpeting in the car.
Since then, he’s had a fair amount of trouble with his car. In fact, this year at Circuit of The Americas, his crew had to replace the head gaskets on Thursday night, and on Friday, he still hadn’t gotten enough seat time to really learn the track. His team was chasing a misfire on multiple cylinders and an overheating problem.
It’s not as though he’s over-stressing the engines. The engine in his car at COTA was capable of 600 horsepower, but he had a restrictor plate in place that limited its output to just over 500. After Friday’s qualifying, they were prepared to pull the heads again, but they suspected the block might be cracked.
“We’ve had a lot of fun with the car, but we’ve had a lot of engine issues,” Free said. “And when I tell people we’re having engine issues, they’re like, “Oh, another one?” Yes, another one, and it always seemed to be at the Nationals.”
The team wasn’t able to fix the problem, and Free didn’t race on Sunday. His quest to win a National Championship will have to wait another year. The good news is that the 2019 NASA Championships will take place at Mid-Ohio, the track where he got his first National Championship in TTU. It’s also Free’s favorite track in the country. If his car keeps up its end of the bargain, Free might just fulfill his mission in 2019.
|Racing Class:||ST1, TT1|
|Sponsors:||Motorsport Enterprises Racing, Cresson, TX|
|Favorite Food:||Macaroni and cheese|
|Favorite TV show:||“Blue Bloods”|
|Favorite Movie:||“Christmas Vacation”|
|Favorite Book:||“Corvette – Fifty Years”|
|Dream Racecar:||My car|