Stewart Friesen: The Eyes of the Northeast Were on You – DTD Exclusive
By DEAN REYNOLDS
It’s been a while since we, the folks in the Northeast, had a night where one of our “own” was participating on a much bigger stage, the NASCAR stage. For four years now the Camping World trucks were shedding the slicks and mounting dirt tires to race at Tony Stewart’s shrine.
With all do respect to others that call the Northeast home who entered the truck race in Ohio over the years, it didn’t come with this much flare. Yes, Stewart Friesen, the proud Canadian now transplanted to Sprakers, N.Y., to start a family with Jessica Zemken was in a truck. A Busch built piece with Childress motor. This wasn’t a hand me down effort hoping to catch lightning once and have a good night. This was an effort to make a statement.
Friesen’s resume’ doesn’t need to be told here, we all know it. The multi-time winner of Syracuse, track championships, double digit wins every year etc… One of the best ever to wheel a dirt modified (and he still have a few years left, ok, a lot of them) was racing a truck, one of those NASCAR trucks but, the great equalizer was that it was on “his” surface.
Landing the well-funded Halmar deal is well documented and it came with this perk.
“Chis Larson owns the truck and he leased the Childress motor that was prepared in Billy Hess’ shop in North Carolina,” said Stewart. “Hess put the crew together with help from Gary Balough, the engine tuner actually helped Gary on the batmobile with the Hutter engine back then. It was kind of a cast of characters but good people. Mario Gosselin gave us the truck and trailer to use and here we are.”
Before the truck got wrapped in Halmar colors and logos, it was down South where Stewart did a test session.
“It went well, I was really surprised how much the truck had grip and how well you could drive it,” he went on. “Of course we were out there by ourselves but glad we did it. Coming to Eldora with some laps in was a plus.”
Eldora, yes, the half-mile where a few brave men call this place their home. More times than not, the men, and few women, behind the wheel will race here but very few want to race here. While it’s one of the toughest tracks in the country, it just seems perfect for this event.
Tony slows the place down and that’s justified. You are throwing pieces of machinery that’s built to race on macadam. This sliding around on a surface that you want water in it is foreign. The first three years, the track prep was just what the trucks needed and each event was safe and successful.
Having experience on dirt for this race is definitely a plus. That’s what makes this Friesen try a headline maker in our eyes. Here is one of the best taking this on for the first time. We knew this wasn’t a try to just make the starting field deal. Some of the fans that watch the Modifieds were picking him to actually win.
Come Tuesday and Wednesday at Eldora you had a feeling that the NASCAR clan, the Fox Sports Clan knew of Stewart but were they making it a huge deal? You didn’t get the feeling…but that was okay.
Two, one hour practice sessions filled the docket on Tuesday. When they were checkered The #16 was 10th fastest and 12th fastest in the two sessions.
“We got some good laps in, I tried several grooves and raced with the people I wanted to during those two sessions,” Stewart went on about Sunday. “We were good. I could drive in hard. It was comfy.”
Race day threw a little curve at the gang. Tony’s crew were up all night preparing the surface so it wouldn’t dry out and dust up like it did the night before. There was bite in the surface, it wasn’t the typical “truck slick” that was seen in years past.
“I am kind of liking it,” dead panned Friesen with a smile. Indeed he did, when 37 trucks took time, he stood seventh in line and if it wasn’t for a jumping of the cushion, yes, cushion in turn one on the second lap who knows what the final outcome would have been. But, seventh will see him start second in the qualifying heat.
The heat had some serious names, Larson, Reddick, Crafton, a stout field but when that event was all said and done Stewart Friesen took the checkers in third behind Reddick and Larson. Not bad indeed.
The event was 150 laps, rolling off 12th and all eyes from the Northeast either on Fox or in person were on this man and hoping for a good result.
By now you know that he did us proud. Running top ten all race even cracking top five for than once. Coming back from a lap 39 wall encounter that was an after effect of what they called the Eldora version of the “Big One” The final results was 28th with 111 laps completed, an oil cooler failure was culprit. That wasn’t the story though.
The story was that heads were indeed turned, he had a chance at maybe not winning but a possible top three, Fox showed several clips of him winning Syracuse so they knew, Kenny Wallace interviewed him and even several of the truck “regular” drivers were seen talking and I’ll bet even getting some tips.
The Northeast was proudly represented on Wednesday night, July 20. For Stewart, hey he’s a racer.
“I sure would like to have finish this one out. We made it a long way and I was just getting comfortable running the top,” Friesen went on. “I was getting in and out of the gas, we were right there with them in the top five.
“I did try to make the bottom work and also roll the middle. But that only seemed to work right after restarts and then the groove seemed to get dirty and you had to go back to the top.”
Syracuse uses spotters and pit stops, kinda the NASCAR way, but this was big league NASCAR and an unique experience.
“I did enjoy it, it was very professional and all. I had a spotter, you had mirrors, although I never really used the one on the side, kind of forgot that it was there,” He said with a laugh. “The whole deal was really cool, it was fun and neat atmosphere.”
Of course many were asking what this means for Friesen down the road.
“The motor will go back to Hess’ shop to get fixed, the truck of course is built for asphalt so we can use it again. Once it’s all ready we will see what happens and maybe get some more races in,” he said.
Then the big question, would he step away from what has been the bread and butter of his career? The Modifieds. Without hesitation.
“Oh for sure!,” he exclaimed. “But, this takes the right connections, money and sponsorships and I know that. We will see what comes along and hopefully we can get a shot at it.”