Feature Article, Open Wheels, Washington — June 26, 2011 at 4:47 am

Freddy Vela (issue 96)

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96-freddie-vela

By Steve Heeb

Freddie Vela of Sedro Woolley, Wash., has logged seat time on the quarter-mile dragstrip at Pacific Raceways and on the 3/10-mile clay oval at nearby Skagit Speedway.

“My first drag race car was a ’79 Z-28,” he says of competing at Pacific Raceways just after graduating from Mount Vernon High School in 1985. “I raced that for five years and only lost two times. I beat a lot of cars with that Camaro.”

He got his first taste of racing Hornets at Skagit Speedway five years ago.

“My friend Travis Miens threw me in a car and I have been hooked ever since,” he recalls. “I built a car to race the next season.”

Freddie borrowed a car for the 2007 season while he prepped the Mitsubishi Eclipse he has been racing with the GTS racing team since 2008.

Freddie recalls the advice he got from Travis when he was getting started.

“He advised me to run the car as high as I could and go straight into the corner,” Freddie explains. “When you get scared count to three and then turn. If the hair isn’t standing on the back of your neck, you’re not doing it right.”

Freddie remembers getting a harsh reminder of that during the 2009 campaign.

“Travis came up and chewed me out through the window net because I was lifting in the corners,” Freddie says. “His lecture woke me up because I was driving timid. Since then I have stepped up and have done well.”

By the end of the 2009 season Freddie finished third in points, followed by another third place ranking in 2010.

“I got more aggressive,” Freddie says. “You can’t be too aggressive.”

But aggressive does not mean chaotic.

“I tend to be a clean racer,” he adds. “People like that.”

“He is the cleanest, and one of the most respected drivers out there,” confirms friend TJ Campbell, who has raced in the Hornets for the last three seasons. “He’s not only a good friend, but a mentor. He’s taught me the ins and outs of racing.”

“Freddie is an incredibly passionate person,” says Kaleb Hart, Skagit Speedway’s announcer. “He has an unlimited amount of love for his family, friends, and his racing.”

“He’s one of the best racers I know,” adds Kayla Cameron, who is on Freddie’s pit crew. “You can always depend on him. He’s an awesome friend.”

In fact, friendships are one of the big attractions of racing at Skagit.

“The greatest part about it is being with my friends,” Freddie says of racing. “I’ve made a lot of friends with this.”

These include Travis and the other GTS teammates Greg Hibma, Scott Naylor and Eric Harget, all of whom Freddie credits for their help on and off the track.

Freddie joined the team shortly after Greg, Travis and Scott had combined their initials to come up with the name for GTS Motorsports.

“It sounded great and there was no reason to change it to GTSF,” Freddie says. “It just wouldn’t have the same impact.”

Freddie also thanks his wife Tessa and their daughter Shawntelle.

“They put up with all of the hours building the team cars,” he laughs. “The first months of the year they hardly see me.”

Even if much of his time is spent working on the cars with the team, when the green flag falls racing still is an individual sport.

“I love it when I get in a race car and the whole outside world ceases to exist,” Freddie says of the pre-race ritual. “But I am always nervous at the beginning of each race.”

Early this season Freddie got a reminder of how unpredictable racing can be, hitting the turn 2 wall after leading most of the race on April 30.

“The right rear tire came totally off the rim,” Freddie says of the impact. “I finished the race on three tires and was the first driver to ever make the podium on three tires taking home a third-place trophy.”

“It didn’t surprise me one bit that he finished the race on three wheels,” Kaleb says after seeing the incident from the tower. “His racecar is his baby, and I’d guess that he probably could have nursed it across the stripe on two wheels if another tire had blown off.”

“I just wish I was close enough behind him to have witnessed it,” says TJ who also was on the track at the time.

“To hear the crowd go crazy when I climbed out of my car and Kaleb mention me getting to the podium on three tires was awesome,” Freddie beams. “A race I will never forget.”

The interesting finish helped advance Freddie to third in points.

In mid-May Freddie was sidelined by hernia surgery and had to turn the driver duties over to GTS teammate Greg for the John Carroll Classic race May 28.

“He knew what that race meant to me with me being unable at that time to drive myself,” Freddie says of the decision to put Greg in his seat for the John Carroll Classic. “I knew if anyone could go out and pull off a win for this trophy for a third year for me and our team, it was Greg. My heart-and-soul style of driving comes from having an awesome team backing me.”

Greg did take the checkers in Freddie’s car that night.

“This makes the third year in a row that me or my car have won that race,” Freddie says while recovering.

The victory bumped Freddie up to second in the standings going into June, and was follwed by another win the following week making him the front-runner as he pursues the 2011 Hornets championship.

“Follow your dreams and never give up,” he says of racing and life. “When you quit you can never get what you want.”

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