If you’ve been to one of the local bullrings in the last twenty years, you’ve probably seen Freya Smith. She’s no shrinking violet and openly admits to committing every summer since 1995 to either River City (St. Helens) or Sunset (Banks) Speedway.
It was none other than Gary (Meep! Meep!) Meyers that indoctrinated her: “I started out crewing for Gary,” she explains “and knew right away that I wasn’t going to be content on the sidelines. I’m not one to sit and muss with my hair!” She wanted to know how everything worked and Meyers was willing to teach her. “I remember him explaining “stagger” to me, rolling around a Solo cup!” Because of her hands on approach to the sport, it wasn’t long before she was being offered rides in the woman’s division. Freya believes she won her first race in ’96 driving somebody’s jalopy or low budget street stock. Clearly, it was no milestone in her book.
When Mike McCann took over Sunset Speedway, she left St. Helens and went to work for him. Freya occupied various posts at the clay oval but is probably best remembered for her work as Pit Steward. Ushering racers on and off the track in the heat of battle isn’t for the faint of heart. Freya was always easy to spot with her headset slammed down over her curly blonde locks, strutting about in Day-Glo pink sweat pants! She was content at this level of involvement for several years, but the desire to drive never left her.
Racing with Earl Claypool Jr. at Sunset Speedway
Then when the right car at the right price became available, Freya couldn’t resist. It was a 1978 Camaro built for up and comer Colin Winebarger. In reality, the street stock had seen very little action as young Winebarger leap-frogged directly up to late models. Little needed to be done to prepare the Camaro for Freya other than relocating the seat. Green had become her trademark color and so her father Mike Batalgia blended something special and sponsor Mike Sweere gave it a good slathering. When Freya hit the track on opening day she had a racer that reflected her extroverted personality. It was neon lime with plum crazy purple scallops on the nose! On the flanks was #37- a tip of the hat to her mentor Meyers who runs #36 to this day.
The competition didn’t know what hit them. Between Freya’s experience and the fact that the Camaro was already sorted, no one could run with her. She won all but one event, effortlessly claiming the 2013 woman’s title. In retrospect, Freya downplays her accomplishment. “It was all in preparation to run with the (men) street stock class in 2014,” she says.
The following season started off well enough but an experience on Fan Appreciation Night changed everything. Freya invited a young terminally ill girl to sit in her car for a photograph. The next weekend prior to the races, the girl’s family came down to thank Freya again and inform her that the girl had passed away. They gave Freya the gift of a “Love Rock” which the emotional driver promptly tucked into the seat of her Camaro. That night she drove with new inspiration, starting in the back and charging forward. She won her first street stock feature and dedicated the win to her young fan. It was a special Fourth of July race weekend with another feature planned for the following night. For that event, Freya started on the pole and simply checked out. “I kept watching for the nose of another car,” she exclaimed afterward, “and I never saw one.” According to her crew, no one was even close. Freya finished out the season third in overall points.
Towards the end of last year Freya hauled her car to Willamette Speedway (Lebanon) and Grays Harbor (Elma, WA) to experience racing on a faster venue. At Elma she was looking at a top five finish until throwing a belt. Still she came away encouraged and wants to travel more.
Soon she and fiancé Mike Sweere will lay schedules from Banks, Willamette and Cottage Grove side by side and plot out their own schedule for 2015. Sweere runs an IMCA-type modified so they will go to tracks that feature street stocks and modifieds on the same card. Spending the summer at one racetrack or another…That’s what Freya has done for twenty years…Why would you change now?
Celebrating with a young fan after winning night two of the 4th of July doubleheader