It was the first round win in a national event for Freeman, a former national-event winner in Pro Stock Truck, since Houston in 2000. His normal role is as the assistant crew chief for KB Racing for teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line. But Bristol was his second race as a driver after running at Chicago.
Freeman had a .014 reaction time and went 6.787 seconds at 202.58 mph to win against Laughlin.
"It was awesome to get to race here at Bristol, win a round in Pro Stock," he said. "The first round to win against a good opponent like Alex Laughlin, I couldn't ask for anything more. We use my car to scuff tires for Greg's car or Jason's car. Anytime we run a third car, it's to help the other two out.
"I have a lot of friends and family here, but it was great to get to race today in one of those Summit Camaros. They're fast."
Freeman was a little too fast at the start and red-lighted in a second-round loss to Tanner Gray.
"I got a little excited," Freeman said. "Tanner is one of the best drivers out here. I just let go too soon. I messed up. The driver did a bad job."
RUSTY THE RACE FAN
NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace, a nine-time winner at the adjacent Bristol Motor Speedway, spent the weekend camping with his son, Steven, at the Thunder Valley Nationals. Wallace talked about coming to Bristol as a race fan instead of a racer.
"Steven talked me into coming up here," Wallace said. "It was an off weekend (as a Motor Racing Network analyst). Everybody knows I love Bristol. Coming up to the drag races, I've a great time seeing old friends and hanging out. I got to see (NHRA star John) Force and his family. I grew up with Jerry Haas in St. Louis, who builds all these Pro Stock cars.
"This place is just majestic with the hills and the beauty of the place. I know if I was a drag racer, this would be my favorite track too."
It had been a long time since Wallace had been to a drag race — well over a decade.
"The last time I was at a drag race, it was when Larry Dixon won the U.S. Nationals with Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme (as car owner)," Wallace said. "That was over 15 years ago. Now I'm up here with my NASCAR motorhome on top of the hill, camping out, grilling steaks and having fun."
TOUGH DAY FOR FORCES
Sixteen-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force and his daughter, Brittany, the defending Top Fuel series champion, were each bounced in the first round of Sunday's eliminations. Courtney Force, who qualified No. 1 in Funny Car, lost in the event semifinals.
John Force lost to longtime rival Ron Capps after smoking his tires halfway through his run down the track. Force's time at 5.824 seconds included a speed of just 128.57 when he coasted across the finish line.
Brittany Force lost to three-time Thunder Valley Nationals winner Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel. Kalitta won on a holeshot with his .030 reaction time being much quicker than the .111 by Brittany.
Courtney Force had her hands full with her Funny Car in the semifinals when the car's traction broke loose and the back end kicked out, sending her near the center line. She got the car back under control, but not before Bob Tasca rolled to the round win.
Matt Hagan from nearby Christianburg, Va., also lost in the first round of Funny Car eliminations, losing traction in his race against teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. Hagan finished in 5.381 seconds, posting a speed of just 142.06 mph.
Tommy Lee, who lived in Kingsport for nearly two decades, wasn't able to get his car fixed in time for eliminations after it was badly damaged in a crash Saturday. He had qualified 15th, but with him unable to go, five-time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. got a free pass in the first round of Pro Stock.
Despite a better reaction time, Blountville driver Barry Brown lost in the semifinals of Top Dragster. With a bracket racing format where a driver tries to match a dial-in time, he broke out (faster than his time) by just .006 of a second.