Stewart Friesen –– an accomplished dirt track racer –– with 11 Big-Block Modified Championships has moved up to a full-time ride with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2017. Even with that added commitment, he is still racing dirt track venues throughout the Northeast as well…how is that possible?
“It’s pretty crazy, the truck schedule requires a lot of travel, a lot more time away,” Stewart explained. Since the truck series races are mostly on Friday nights, he will be running at Fonda Speedway on Saturday nights as much as possible, the advantage of which it is “only 15 minutes from the shop.” In addition, he is planning to run as many dirt track venues as possible, while staying committed to the full-time schedule of the truck series.
Big-Block Modified Race Car
The Big-Block Modified race cars are a highly refined and popular race car that can be seen at dirt tracks throughout the Northeast. We are lucky in upstate New York, because we have many tracks scattered around the state. The cars weigh about 2,500 lbs and have upwards of 850 hp. The transmission has only two gears, a high and low gear. The low gear is for “creeping through the pit areas and the high gear is a 1/1 ratio that connects to the quick change rear axle,” explained Stewart. The drivers are skilled operators, many of which have gained experience in the lower Sportsman series before entering the Big-Block Modified cars. Stewart usually runs 90 to 100 races in a typical year, but with racing in the truck series this year, it will be less this year.
NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week
The Super DIRT Week is an event that dates back to the early 70s and is the premiere showdown for the Big-Block Modified teams to this day. The event used to be held at the former race track at the NYS Fairgrounds, commonly referred to as the “Moody Mile”. There was a lot of racing history at that track, but the state decided to remove the track as part of a plan to expand other venues at the Fairgrounds.
In 2016 the NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week was moved to Oswego Speedway, which is nicknamed “The Steel Palace”. The track is a 5/8 mile paved track, so some 9,600 cubic yards of dirt had to be brought into (and out) of the track.
The race week culminates with the final race, known as the Bud Light 200, which is the crown jewel race for the Big-Block Modified drivers. Stewart Friesen managed to win that race five times in the last seven years, including the last time the race was at the Fairgrounds and the first time it was held at Oswego Speedway last year — wow! And even with running the truck series racing this year, he is planning to race there again in 2017 when the event returns to the Oswego Speedway on October 4-8.
In July of 2015, Stewart scored his first win in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series at the Ohsweken Speedway in Ontario, Canada. The premier World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series started in 1978 and now races around the country, including tracks in upstate NY. The cars, with their 410 cu-in, 900 hp engines, are an incredible spectacle to see and hear. Check the schedule on-line to see where they are racing in upstate NY, watching them race will not disappoint.
Stewart also races in the Patriot Sprint Tour on a “semi-regular basis” and has many wins in that series. The engines have a steel block and 360 cu-in engines. The winged cars are very light, about 1400 lbs, with a straight shaft known as a torque tube with a 1/1 radio directly to the rear axle. The fact they don’t have a transmission, starter and battery saves weight, but requires that the cars must be pushed to get them started. The Patriot Sprint Tour races at tracks throughout upstate NY, as well as surrounding states.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
“It’s always been a dream of mine to compete at that level,” explains Stewart about racing in the NASCAR truck series. His first race was in July of 2016 at Eldora Speedway, NASCAR’s only dirt track. Initially, it was supposed to be a one-off race, but that changed to a total of six races last year. After that, Stewart formed a partnership with Chris Larsen and a full-time team was put together — Halmar Friesen Racing — to compete in the NASCAR truck series with the #52 Chevy Silverado. The primary sponsor, Halmar International, is a NYC based construction company known for doing large projects throughout the NYC metropolitan area.
So what does it take to form a startup team and compete at that level? At the shop in Mooresville, NC, there are six trucks: one setup for the only dirt track, Eldora; two for the 1-1/2 mile tracks; two for the super speedways; and one for the short tracks, like Martinsville. Stewart says, “The team consists of six full-time guys and it’s a good group.”
The engines are a Chevy LS1 with aluminum blocks and heads that are spec’d out by NASCAR. The engines have a tapered spacer that “chokes them down to 600-650 hp.”
Stewart explained that on the 1-1/2 mile tracks, the trucks are going 170-180 mph and the grip comes from the downforce generated by the truck body. “When racing in a pack, you get a lot of dirty air and you lose downforce on the nose. One lap can be really good and be out-of-control on the next. It’s been tough and more of a challenge than I thought it would be.”
Stewart is a native of Niagara-of-the-Lake, Ontario, a scenic town on the shores of Lake Ontario. He played hockey from when he was five years old, until about 18. Stewart has a 4-year science degree from the University of Windsor Ontario in Geology and Physical Geography. During the summers, while attending college, is when he started racing.
In 2014, Stewart married Jessica Zemken, a sprint car driver who is planning to compete in a couple of races this year with her team. They live in Sprakers, NY, where they started a t-shirt screening business known as One Zee Tee’s that provides race apparel for teams and is “doing well,” said Stewart. Their son, Parker, who is 1-1/2 years old should be racing soon…so stay tuned!
Words by Bob Sblendorio and photos by John Zachary