Don Freeland

If everyone must wait his turn in life and
love, then what put six foot, 190 pound Donald Lloyd “Fritz”
Freeland on the championship car map was the death of Bob
Estes driver Jim Rigsby on the high banks of the Dayton,
Ohio half mile paved track on August 31, 1952. Freeland
assisted mechanic Jud Phillips (who later married Rigsby’s
widow) in removing Rigsby’s body that was scorched from a
fire that erupted off of Dayton’s third turn. A week later
he was in the Estes championship car at Syracuse, where he
qualified third and finished sixth in the number 29 former
“Pots and Pans” low-budget A.J. Watson Speedway and dirt car
formerly driven at Indianapolis by Dick Rathman, Joe James
and Rigsby. Socially inclined, Freeland became known as
“Organizer” because of his fondness for a good party and his
insistence upon everyone else’s whole-hearted

Freeland drove in 64 championship events in
the 1950’s, and although he finished among the first ten 55
percent of the time, the wonder is that he never won, since
in the 1950’s alone he led 134 laps and started four times
on the pole. He pulled seconds at Syracuse (1954) and
Sacramento (1956) and claims to have run second at
Indianapolis in 1956, where he was scored officially in
third position. “The [race team] operations,” Freeland
explains, “weren’t running on a whole lot of money. I’d
have had a whole different career if I’d had the cars and
the money behind them. Absolutely.” But in the 1950’s,
racing conditions were not always ideal. At Darlington in
1954 he was running behind Ernie McCoy. “We called him
‘Scarface,’ because he had so many scars on his face. He
lost it in some way or other–maybe a tire went down–but he
hit the crash wall and the fence went straight up in the
air, and he went under it. The fence came back down again,
and there wasn’t a yellow flag as we came around to the
starter. I’m waving my arm and pointing over in that
direction. Of course, they think I’m crazy, and on they
go. No yellow ever did come out, but they finally found
that he was missing and sent some hound dogs to find him.
They sniffed him out on the other side of the wall. It
didn’t hurt him too bad. Very lucky.”

He told the Indianapolis Star that in 1955 “I
was running second right near the end and was catching
[leader and ultimate winner] Sweikert by about a second a
lap. I had him in my sights, but my transmission fell
apart.” In August of 1958 Freeland stuffed the Bob Estes
Special into a wall at 137 laps. “I ate up the center of
the steering wheel without any ketchup, and cut my lip
open,” he recalls. “We went to the first aid room there.
Roy Rogers was on the fairgrounds show that night, and he
said to Jimmy Reece, ‘I missed that. I didn’t see him
crash.’ Reece said, ‘That’s all right; he’d do it again for

Freeland, born on March 25, 1925 in Los
Angeles, is the son of Bakersfield letter carrier Ted
Freeland and LaRue (Weisel) Freeland, from near Finley,
Ohio. Now and then playing hooky from Polytechnic High
School, Freeland congregated before the war with hotrodders
at The Frying Pan in West Los Angeles. He was inducted into
the Navy on March 24, 1943 and served as a Diesel mechanic
and motor machinist third class in the South Pacific, during
which time his mother sold his hot rod. Discharged on
January 18, 1946, Freeland still recalls his first
automobile race, a roadster contest at San Bernardino’s Ash
Can Derby in 1946. “I parked my car right behind the
fence. I just got it painted, and didn’t have any
upholstery in it yet. A guy that called himself Spider Webb
–that wasn’t the real Spider Webb, we found out later–lost
it and came up through that fence and hit my headlight.
Then he put it in reverse and threw gravel all over my new
paint job. I wanted to punch him out. Then we found out
how to enter. We had just been spectators [but] we found
out that you pay $5.00 to enter. We didn’t care. It’d give
us something to do on Sundays. That was my very first
race. I had a ’29 Model A, and I built every bit of it. I
ran there on the Fourth of July, 1946. It was 120 degrees
in the shade. We ran a 100-lapper, and I’ll be damned if I
know how, but I finished. Hey. The hood flew off the son
of a bitch. Never paid one cent.”

Don Freeland raced at Gardena’s Carroll
Speedway with the fledgling California Roadster Association
in 1948. He took his first midget ride in one of Bill
Krech’s Inglewood Tire Specials at the Los Angeles Coliseum
and then at the Rose Bowl board track where he set a 12.50
second one lap record while teammate to Jack McGrath,
another roadster graduate. Freeland sustained burns, a
severed ear and a broken jaw in a Roy Russing midget at the
Rose Bowl (after which the ambulance to which he had been
assigned crashed on the way to a hospital), but ventured
East in 1951 to run with the Granatelli Hurricane Hot Rod
Association, and to join ranks with the AAA. He married Jan
Fredendal, a Chicago advertsing agency director, and to them
was born a son (Donald Scott, dead in a 1987 California
highway accident) and a daughter (Deana, a singer).
Freeland, a business associate of lifelong friend and fellow
racer Chuck Leighton, is employed as a truck driver at
Leighton’s Torrance, California C and G Mercury Plastics.

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