Canadian Stewart Friesen parlayed great success in the DIRTcar modifieds and a World of Outlaws victory over Donny Schatz into a well-deserved NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series ride.
But he’s not the only big talent to come out of Ontario’s Niagara Frontier, as Mat Williamson snared two of dirt modified racing’s biggest prizes back to back.
Williamson took down the $100,000-to-win 100th Anniversary Race at New York’s Orange County Fair Speedway in August and October’s $50,000-to-win Billy Whittaker Cars 200 during Super DIRT Week at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway.
“We’re in the low 20s for the season with a couple more big races coming up,” said Williamson as he enjoyed his Oswego victory. “We think we have a shot at winning them as well, which would be a great way to end the year.”
Two weeks later, he led most of the way to win the small-block modified portion of the Eastern States weekend at Orange County, earning a $15,000 payday.
Williamson outran Matt Sheppard in the final two races of the season during the Can-Am World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte to claim the Super DIRTcar Series championship.
Williamson, who laughs and says, “You’ll have to ask my mom,” when asked about the missing second “t” in his name, is seen by some as an “overnight success.”
But like most overnight successes, he’s put a great deal of time and effort toward becoming a consistent winner.
“Actually, we’ve been digging and working hard since I was 19,” Williamson said. “For 10 years we’ve been doing this deal, going to lots of races, struggling sometimes and working on getting better. It’s been a long road to get here! The good thing about racing is that when you have a good car, it’s pretty easy to knock out the wins and lately, we’ve been doing that.”
And while most drivers would trade a body part or two for a great ride, Williamson has four such rides at his disposal — and wins in all of them.
“Besides having my own car, which I run at Merrittville and some of the DIRTcar 358 series races, I drive Pete Cocco and Harry Wendt’s small block at Ransomville and the rest of the series races,” explained Williamson. “Then I have Jeff and Harry Behrent’s car that I won Orange County with. I run that at the Short Track Super Series events and Orange County. And for DIRTcar big-block series races, I’ve run Buzz Chew’s No. 88.
“I’m fortunate to have this backing, which lets me race about 80 times a year.”
With Williamson’s father Randy serving as a partner at Bicknell Racing Products, it’s not a surprise that all the cars came out of the same factory and all the teams have access to the latest setup info. Still, it seems like it would be hard to keep track of what’s on each car.
Setups vary by tracks and series, as the Short Track Super Series mandates American Racer tires, while DIRTcar requires Hoosiers.
“Actually, it’s not too bad,” said Williamson. “It really helps that we have so many smart people to work with on the different teams. Ron St. Marie was here with Chew’s deal, Johnny Coco was with the No. 6 and Jeff Behrent is very smart as well. That’s the secret, having good people behind you. It makes my job easy.
“Another consideration is that we do this for a living and we focus 100 percent of our time on racing,” Williamson noted. “I’d say that’s more of an advantage than anything else. I hang bodies at Bicknell when we’re not racing and we just keep grinding, trying to get better and better.”
Brett Hearn, for one, thinks Williamson’s plan is working.
“Being part of the factory doesn’t hurt. I’ve been there and done that,” Hearn said. “But beyond that, he’s worked hard and dedicated himself to getting better. He’s gotten better year by year and now he’s got some outside rides to take the pressure off his own deal. As long as he can make a living at it, I think he’ll be in it for the long term.”
Multi-time Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard agreed.
“I don’t care how good the car is, in this business you still have to be able to drive it,” Sheppard said. “It takes seat time and taking advantage of opportunities. He’s gotten to be good enough now that he can take advantage of the opportunities that come his way.”
To continue reading, advance to the next page.