BRISTOL, Tenn. — On an average weekday, Lauren Freer will administer radiation treatments to 60 cancer patients through the use of a device called a linear accelerator.
On the weekend, the radiation therapist at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, North Carolina, finds her emotional release in a totally different world.
For the past 16 years, Freer has been mastering the sport of drag racing. She’s competing in two categories in this weekend’s NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at Bristol Dragway.
Freer, who is from Clemmons, North Carolina, admits that her job is stressful and full of emotion. She must somehow balance the fine line between empathy and sympathy as patients of all ages struggle for their lives.
“You become attached to people, especially kids,” she said. “I’ve attended a couple funerals. It’s tough.”
When it comes to the starting line at a drag race, the 26-year-old Freer certainly qualifies as tough.
After winning a room full of trophies and three points championships in the entry level Junior Dragsters division, Freer has turned more heads in the Sportsman ranks.
Her list of achievements includes NHRA national event victories at Bristol and Atlanta along with two IHRA divisional championships and a $25,000 victory in the 2008 Superbucks event at Atco Dragway in New Jersey. She also earned a victory in the NOPI Nationals at Bristol on June 1.
Freer is one of several former Junior Dragster competitors who have used Bristol Dragway as a launching pad to success. For example, Trevor Denton of Bristol, Virginia, is competing against Freer in the Top Dragster class this weekend.
“I started drag racing at age 10 and ran my first race in Bristol two years later. I see a lot of familiar faces here and everybody is kind of like family,” said Freer, who won her first national event in Bristol in 2007 in the Super Comp class.
With the help of father Paul, Freer now travels the country racing her classic 1963 Corvette roadster in Super Gas in addition to her sleek 200-mph Top Dragster.
“I would race three cars if the NHRA allowed it,” Freer said.
With the temperature approaching 90 degrees Friday afternoon, Freer delivered a qualifying run of 6.29 seconds at 193-mph in her Top Dragster.
“My Super Gas car is actually harder to drive than the dragster because of the doors,” Freer said. “I had never driven a door car until this year. I almost crashed at a race in South Georgia. It just takes a while to set the car up right and adjust.”
With her father away on a fishing trip this weekend, Freer came to Thunder Valley with just her longtime friend and tuner Brian Williams. While other racers were sweating, Freer juggled a variety of tasks ranging from strategy to setup.
“The heat doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I watched my dad work his butt off since I was little as a plumbing contractor. With dad not here, I just have to take over and learn more.”
Freer also competed in two classes during last weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. With the track temperature passing 130 degrees, she advanced to the third round in Super Gas.
Though Freer grew up competing at Thunder Valley, even the most experienced racers and tuners struggle to solve the mysteries of the track tucked between the mountains.
“Bristol is much different from the other tracks we go to,” Freer said. “We’re used to places with much lower altitudes, but this track does feel like home.”
The upcoming schedule for Freer includes stops in Norwalk, Ohio, along with St. Louis, Chicago, Pennsylvania and Las Vegas. It’s all part of the learning process for a racer with goals of advancing to the lofty world of the NHRA pros.
“I haven’t been on a real vacation since I graduated from college. We race somewhere about every weekend, and that’s my vacation,” Freer said. “Someday, I’d love to jump to Pro Mod, Pro Stock or Top Fuel.”
For now, Freer savors her weekly battles in the Sportsman ranks.
“I always want to be the best female driver. That’s just the competitive side of me,” Freer said. “I feel the same way against men who have been doing it for 40 or 50 years.
“I’m not out here to just socialize. I always feel pressure to win.”
Of course, the pressure in drag racing pales in comparison to the stark reality of undergoing cancer treatments. The linear accelerator, which Freer operates, delivers high-energy x-rays to tumors and can be designed to destroy the cancer cells while sparing the surrounding normal tissue.
“I work with all ages, from newborns to 90-year-olds,” Freer said. “It’s not easy and I miss the kids that I work with when I go racing, but I’ve had a few kids come to watch me race. I love this sport.”
Action is scheduled to continue today at Bristol Dragway.
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