Written by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Kevin DiOssi
When Jeff Frees wasn’t pumping gas at the service station he worked at as a teenager in the 1970s, he and his brother, Tim Frees, were climbing into the seat-less back of a cargo van to be taken to the track near their Ripon, Wisconsin, home to watch their friends race the 1965 Plymouth Satellite they shared.
Instantly inspired, influenced, and interested in Mopars, he purchased a 1971 Plymouth when he was sixteen, and raced it to 11.00s at tracks near his home, and went on to have a 1967 Plymouth GTX that he raced to 12.00s, and a 1962 Plymouth Sport Fury nicknamed “Bad Influence” that he restored and raced to 11.00s.
Frees had a multitude of Mopars after that, but he began to take the spotlight in a 1964 Plymouth Belvedere with a Max Wedge engine when he started racing with the Victory Nostalgia Super Stock Series in 2009 and with NMCA ATI Nostalgia Super Stock in 2012. He has been a standout since then.
“In addition to being a very good racer, Jeff is a very good person who stays positive and looks for the best in people and in situations, and that’s exactly the kind of person I like to be around and the kind of person the world needs more of,” said Frees’ friend and multi-time NMCA ATI Nostalgia Super Stock champion Doug Duell. “We always end up parking next to each other at the races, and we always end up feeding off of each other’s energy. For that, I’m lucky.”
Read on for more about Frees, who currently campaigns a 1968 Barracuda and 2009 Drag Pak Challenger, owns Jeff’s Northshore Auto, lives in Wisconsin with his wife, Tracy, and whose son, Corimac Frees, and brother, Tim Frees, join him in NMCA competition.
You revved up an already-commendable racing career when you began competing in the Victory Nostalgia Super Stock Series in 2009.
“Yes, and that took us to tracks throughout the Midwest, from Missouri to Iowa to Illinois, where I would run in the 10.00-10.50 indexes in my 1964 Plymouth Belvedere with the Max Wedge engine. I was taking part in that series full-time, and I finished third in points a couple of times. It was a good group. I just felt like it was time to try something else.”
That “something else” was the NMCA ATI Nostalgia Super Stock category, which you joined in 2012.
“I was drawn to the NMCA because it was growing, and there were so many things going on at the races. To prepare my car for NMCA Nostalgia Super Stock, I swapped the Max Wedge engine for a 572 cubic-inch Goodwin Competition engine and ran NMCA Nostalgia Super Stock’s 9.75 index. It was great because I found out that there are a lot of good people who really have it together in the category, and I made a lot of friends, including Doug Duell, whom I consider to be one of my very best friends.”
The competition is incredibly tough in NMCA ATI Nostalgia Super Stock. Were you competitive right away, or did it take some time?
“I found out very fast that it was very tough, but I felt like my car and combination were a good fit for the category, and I was fairly competitive early on. I’ve had to run a limited schedule, but I ran more in 2016 and was able to runner-up twice and finish fifth in points. That’s the best I’ve done so far.”
After selling your 1964 Plymouth Belvedere, you purchased a 1968 Barracuda from Mike Sanders in 2016.
“When Mike Sanders told me that he and his son, Michael Sanders, were switching to a Fox-body Mustang and that the Barracuda Michael Sanders had been driving in NMCA Nostalgia Super Stock was for sale as a roller with no engine, I wanted it. Mike and I are very good friends, and I think he was happy that I bought the car.”
What was involved with making the car race-ready for 2017?
“It was a very well-built car, and a proven race car. It had an 8.50 mild steel cage, and we put a swing-out on it. We put the 572 cubic-inch Goodwin Competition engine from the other car in it, and we got new headers from TTI. We took some chrome off the car to straighten it and polish it, and Ryan Seefeldt, who works for my company, painted the car black, and we installed Pro Glass windows and went with RCI wheels and Mickey Thompson slicks.”
All eyes were on the car when you rolled it out of the trailer and debuted it at the final NMCA race of the year last September at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana, and then proceeded to pound out a runner-up and a win that weekend.
“Evidently, taking most of 2017 off for neck surgery and to finish the Barracuda did me good, because I came out fresh. I entered the NMCA Nostalgia Super Stock 9.50 index and was the runner-up, and I won the Victory Nostalgia Super Stock Series race that was also happening that weekend. I knew that I had a good car, and even though I had to leave soft because the converter wasn’t quite right for the rest of the combination, I ran 146 mph, and that was the fastest I had ever been in a Nostalgia Super Stock car.”
You’ve been going rounds and getting recognized this year, and you’re currently in fourth place in NMCA ATI Nostalgia Super Stock points with only a few races remaining on this year’s tour.
“That’s true. I had a 9.25 index and lost in the third round at the races in Florida and Georgia, and in the warmer weather, I had a 9.50 index and lost in the first round at Bowling Green.”
You have your combination dialed in, yet you’ve decided to mix things up by securing a new engine.
“That’s true, and when it’s in my car, I’ll move to Nostalgia Super Stock’s 8.50 index. Mike Sanders had this engine in the Barracuda once before when he owned it, and it blew up. I bought it blown up, and turned it over to Goodwin Competition. It was 565 cubic-inches, and when it’s done, it will be 598 cubic-inches. It’s a low-deck engine, and they’re going to top it with Indy heads that they massaged. When the engine is in the car, I’ll take it to Ben Line, Pro Stock driver Jason Line’s brother, to get headers made. I’m swapping engines because I want to be the fast guy in the Nostalgia Super Stock category. I think there’s an advantage to leaving the line last. The other driver can go red, and once you pass them, they’re not getting back around you.”
In addition to your 1968 Barracuda, you recently purchased a 2009 Drag Pak Challenger that you’ve been racing in NMCA Coan Engineering Stock/Super Stock Combo.
“I had purchased a new Drag Pak Challenger a while back, but never finished it, and when I heard that Jim Bailey’s 2009 Drag Pak Challenger was for sale, I knew I wanted to buy it. He took all of his lettering off of it and put my name and competition number on it, and he had it ready for me for the NMCA race at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida in March of this year. All I had to do was put my helmet on and go, and I’ve been running that car as well as my Barracuda at every race since then. The car has a Jeff Taylor-built 392 cubic-inch Hemi in it and it has been as quick as 9.58, but I’ve been running it in the 10.90 index. Double-entering is a lot of hard work and it’s hard to jump seats, but I’m having a ball.”
What do you have your sights set on?
“I’ll continue to run the Barracuda in Nostalgia Super Stock, and my son, Corimac Frees, who has competed in a different 1968 Barracuda, will start driving my Drag Pak Challenger in Stock/Super Stock Combo. We’ve only got one shot at this life, so to be doing what I’m doing with family and friends means the world to me.”
(Interview from the September 2018 issue of Fastest Street Car)