It’s a big jump from DIRTcar big-block modifieds to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, even if you’re a superstar who is used to winning more than two dozen races a year.
But Stewart Friesen, who put away Donny Schatz to win a World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series race in a rare start in that series, was equally unfazed by the level of competition during last summer’s Dirt Derby at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
“It was awesome,” offered the Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, native who now resides in Sprakers, N.Y., with wife Jessica Zemken, herself a first-rate sprint car pilot.
“We’d tested at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Tennessee so I could get familiar with the truck and we were good enough that I qualified in my heat,” Friesen said. “That was awesome, as Kyle Larson started right behind me. In the feature, we broke an oil cooler and dropped out, but they knew we were there. We raced with Larson and Bobby Pierce, and ran in the top five before we broke.”
Friesen’s eye-catching debut, combined with owner/sponsor Chris Larson’s exposure to NASCAR racing, paid unexpected dividends for the lanky dirt-racing star.
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“All of a sudden, he was buying a superspeedway truck from Chad and Billy Boat,” recalled Friesen. “I first met him at the Eastern States 200 at Orange County two years ago and we got to talking about sponsorship from his business, construction company Halmar International, for 2016. That worked out well as we won 18 races for him, including Super DIRT Week again and Eastern States. That was big, winning at his home track.
“But he’d told me early on that he’d like to try racing at a higher level and wanted to put a truck deal together for Eldora,” Friesen continued. “I thought that would be cool but wasn’t sure it would happen. Then one day he called and told me he’d bought a truck. All of a sudden it was, ‘Oh shit, we’re really gonna do this.’
“Now, we have seven trucks that he bought from JR Motorsports and it’s my main focus,” Friesen added. “Instead of running over 100 dirt races this year, I’ve only got 60 on my calendar arranged around the Truck Series.”
After running six truck races last season and struggling a bit, like all rookies, Friesen went to Daytona Int’l Speedway in February with high hopes.
“It turned out to be heart breaking,” he explained. “I was comfortable drafting right away and our times were great in practice. But I messed up my shift on my time trial lap and that killed my time, putting us in the rear for the start. Then I got caught up in the first-lap wreck and ruined what could have been a great race for us.”
When asked about going from the bullrings of the Northeast to Daytona, Friesen tips that it was relatively easy.
“There’s no grasp of the speed you’re going until you try to slow down and get into the pits,” he said. “The Syracuse mile felt way faster, especially when I ran the Silver Crown cars there. I can’t wait to get back to Daytona again and see if we can run the whole race without getting caught up in somebody else’s wreck.”
That brings us to another major point, the disparity of talent in the series. Friesen, Christopher Bell and a few others are proven winners, while many of the other newcomers are relatively unknown.