Payton Freeman tapped for multi-year deal with Team 22 Inc.

The 2023 season will see Payton Freeman take a major step forward in his Dirt Late Model career.

Freeman is set to depart his family-owned operation and join the Team 22 Inc. program led by G.R. Smith beginning with the 2023 season. The duo is set to compete full-time in a national Dirt Late Model touring series that will be announced later.

While Freeman admitted that moving on from the team that helped him develop as a driver will be a little jarring, he is eager to start working with Smith and build upon the consistency that has followed Team 22 Inc. over the past several years. 

“G.R. reached out through Facebook and we got to talking a little bit,” Freeman said. “I told him what I was looking to do and he gave his side on what he wanted to do. Fortunately, both sides lined up with one another and we worked out a deal. Hopefully this is a good combo for success.”

Freeman knows expectations are going to be set very high the moment he climbs into one of Smith’s Dirt Late Models for the first time. 

With a background in Big Block Modified racing, Smith spent a brief amount of time in pavement racing by competing in a handful of ARCA Menards Series events before eventually returning to dirt so he could form his own Dirt Late Model team. 

Primarily based in the southeast, Team 22 Inc. received a breakthrough in 2017 when Smith brought in Jonathan Davenport to drive one of his cars. Davenport’s accomplishments up to that point included victories at Eldora Speedway in the Dirt Late Model Dream and the World 100.

The partnership between Smith and Davenport was an efficient one. Davenport claimed his second World 100 with Smith after leading every single lap, while also managing to find victory lane in the Hillbilly 100 at Tyler County Speedway and the Red Frederick Memorial at Elkins Raceway.

Following Davenport’s departure, Smith elected to scale back to a part-time effort. Along with having drivers like Brian Shirley, Ross Bailes and Ashton Winger pilot cars for him since 2018, Smith also occasionally competes in both the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Now that he has Freeman in his stable for next year, Smith is ready to increase his involvement in Dirt Late Model Racing once again and surround Freeman with the right people that will allow him to showcase the talent that has become more prevalent throughout the 2022 season. 

“I’ve been watching Payton for a while and got to race against him a couple of seasons back,” Smith said. “I like his maturity level and how hungry he is. Payton is aggressive, but he keeps the fenders and spoiler on the car. He has a natural gift to do this at his age, so he’s a good fit with what we’re trying to accomplish here.” 

Freeman knows that it will take time and patience to reach the bar set by Davenport, but he is confident that the equipment provided by Smith and Team 22 Inc. will allow him to contend for wins in any major Dirt Late Model event. 

The opportunity to drive for Smith is something Freeman said would not have happened without the risks he took in 2022. There were many stressful nights for Freeman, particularly when it came to competing in the UMP DIRTcar Summer Nationals ‘Hell Tour’, but he said every obstacle only made him stronger. 

“It’s been a pretty good year so far,” Freeman said. “We’ve done a lot of different things that weren’t originally on our schedule like running the whole Summer Nationals deal, which I think showed a lot of people what we were capable of doing with our own stuff. To have the success we’ve had this year and take that over to G.R.’s program is really cool.”

Smith compared Freeman’s first visit inside the Team 22 Inc. shop to a college tour visit, as he thoroughly explained to Payton all the organization’s standards and how they plan to set him up for success.

Contending for wins will be a challenge for Smith regardless of the series he and Freeman end up competing in due to the competitive depth in Dirt Late Model racing, yet he has every reason to believe Freeman will start making some noise amongst the heavy hitters by the time the summer concludes.

“We’re on the same path,” Smith said. “No unrealistic expectations are being set. We want to go out there and have fun while continuing to improve so our program can get to where we need it to be. There is a long-term plan in place, and I think we’re going to open some eyes. Payton is one of the rising stars in our sport and we’re going to develop that in a quick timeframe.”

As Freeman prepares to take part in his final races with his own team, he plans to cherish every moment out on track while simultaneously preparing to jump over to Team 22 Inc.

One person that will follow Freeman over to Team 22 Inc. is Coltman Farms Racing, which is now signed with Freeman on a multi-year deal. Freeman is thankful for the support Brett Coltman has provided over the past couple of seasons and is looking forward to continuing their relationship at Team 22 Inc. 

Freeman also expressed his gratitude to MPM Marketing founder Tonya McCallister for ensuring he had a chance to grow even further as driver with Team 22 Inc.

“I can’t thank Ms. Tonya with MPM enough for all of her help,” Freeman said. “She spent a lot of time on this and was instrumental in pulling this deal together. I am grateful for everything she and her team do for us.”

With everything settled for 2023 and beyond, Freeman has a positive outlook on his long-term future in racing and is ready to show the entire Dirt Late Model community that he can be one of the best drivers in the discipline. 

“I’m going in with a fresh mindset,” Freeman said. “We can and should have success together, even though I know there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve. I’m looking forward to getting into something a little bit different and seeing where everything goes.”