Drag Illustrated Issue 178, September / October 2022 - Page 32

Dirt

TRIBUTE

Royce Freeman Sr .

1938 – 2022
By Jessica Hatcher

When Royce Freeman Sr . passed away earlier this summer , the entire drag racing community mourned . It took our breath away . He was well-known and well-liked . His legacy will loom larger than life for generations to come .

It seems impossible to put into words how much he meant to everyone who knew him , or even knew of him . Therefore , this is a bit of a fool ’ s task . And this fool is honored to have been asked to complete it . Even though I know that nothing I say will be able to properly encompass just how loved , respected , and cherished Royce Freeman Sr . was in the world of drag racing .
He had a smile that could charm the socks off of anyone . As cliche as it sounds , he really did have a boyish grin . There was always a little glint of mischief in his eyes , and so much love .
I probably didn ’ t know Royce all that well , but I felt like I did . Our families had been friends for years and his reputation preceded him . But it was more than that ...
I felt a kind of kinship with Royce right away . For one thing , he ’ s one of those guys who you just know , immediately , is a really good guy – a little feisty , for sure . But a good guy . He made me feel appreciated and special ; like he was more excited about seeing me than anything else going on at whatever race was happening . That was just his
way . He made everyone feel like they were his best friends . He was delighted to see anyone and everyone at the races .
Royce could talk to anyone , about anything . If you asked him a simple question , you might just get a response that included three anecdotes and at least two topic changes . And it would be fascinating , and entertaining , and you would walk away having had a better day after getting to say hello to Mr . Freeman .
Most of us involved in drag racing refer to it as a big , somewhat dysfunctional , always-loving family . Royce lived his life believing that and it showed in everything he did . It was always about family first .
After graduating high school in 1955 , he
went to college and joined the Air Force ( then later the Air National Guard ). He met the love of his life , Sharon , while he was stationed in Waco , Texas . They were by each other ’ s side from that day forward – over 60 years . After he was out of the service , he and Sharon returned to his hometown of Lindsey , Oklahoma , to work for his father , who owned a Chevrolet dealership . He worked in the car business throughout his life .
When he retired , he joined his sons , Richard , Robert , and Royce Lee , in their business ventures including the eventual formation of Elite Motorsports . Family was everything to him . Perhaps that ’ s why he made so many of us feel like we were a part of his .
NHRA announcer and the host of the WFO Show , Joe Castello , said at a race not long after Royce ’ s passing , “ That man was pure gold . He was just a great person – no enemies . He was well-loved by people across teams and categories .”
Royce loved drag racing , and clearly , the feeling was mutual . He started racing in the 1960s , getting in on the ground floor of Pro Stock racing . That was the start of a family legacy within the sport . His sons all shared his passion and it wasn ’ t long before they were all competing . They had a lot of success . They won a multitude of races and Robert won the Division 4 championship multiple times . Royce was there to celebrate all of that success . He loved it . Any day at the races was a great day , from his perspective .
Around the turn of the century , Richard began Elite Motorsports and it wasn ’ t long after that the Freeman family decided to get back into the Pro Stock ranks . It wasn ’ t easy , but Royce raised his sons to share his “ never quit ” attitude . He laid that foundation in his family , often giving his boys opportunities to succeed , but only if they put in the work . He wasn ’ t afraid to speak his mind and while he loved his family fiercely , he was never shy about putting them in their place when need be .
And he was as competitive as anyone else at the track . Royce simply understood that competition was not personal . When you were on the track , facing one of his machines , he wanted nothing more than to take you down . But once you ’ d crossed the finish line , he wanted nothing more than to support you .
Richard credits many of the strong relationships they have in the racing community today to his father , either directly or indirectly . As it turns out , being everybody ’ s friend is good for business . And Royce was everybody ’ s friend .
The foundation that he began turned into a longstanding legacy that will be remembered throughout the years . He played a major role in the drag racing community , and his contributions are forever woven into the beautiful tapestry of drag racing history . DI
PHOTOGRAPHS BY COURTNEY ENDERS
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