Big changes are coming for Niagara-on-the-Lake native Stewart Friesen when the 2020 racing season kicks off in February.
After a very successful year in both the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and the Super DIRTcar Series, Friesen has no plans to rest on his laurels while away from the track.
First up will be a rebuild and winter maintenance of his existing dirt car, which was put through the paces for 52 races this season.
Friesen drove his Halmar-Friesen #44 car to the winners’ circle 14 times in 2019, driving in the Big Block Modified division. He describes his DIRTcar season, though, as a bit up-and-down this year.
“We switched to Bicknell chassis’ at the end of August, so for our last bunch of big races, we made a pretty big switch, and had to scramble to put new cars together quickly,” he said, on the phone from his home near Albany, New York.
The adjustments must have worked, though, as his late season first-place finish at Syracuse in the Eastern States 200, a race in which he started last and won $40,000, would suggest.
Friesen and his team are also expecting the delivery of a new racing vehicle soon to his shop. That new car will also have a Bicknell chassis, made in St. Catharines.
He will be dividing much of his time this winter between the Albany area, and Statesville, North Carolina, where he will be preparing for his third full season on the NASCAR Truck circuit. And some very big changes are in store for Friesen there.
After being part of the GMS Racing team the past two years, Friesen is switching manufacturers, moving from GM to Toyota Racing Development (TRD).
Friesen says the move came as his team was “searching for a little bit more. Chris Larsen, the owner of our team, decided he wanted to have a little more stake to his claim, rather than lease off someone else’s program. It’s a little bit more of an initial investment but it will hopefully lay the future groundwork for us to be in the series for years to come.”
The move means Friesen will be building a new team, but has managed to retain his crew chief, Tripp Bruce, along with many of his crew members from his GMS days.
“On the performance side of things,” he adds, “Toyota has made us a really good offer to support us technically and with engineering and all the other stuff that goes along with it.”
After having a chance to tour the TRD facility in North Carolina, and seeing the resources they can offer, he feels it will be a very positive move for his team.
Friesen broke through into the Truck Series winner’s circle for the first time this season, taking the chequered flag at both Eldora and Phoenix.
“We were able to win two races, and to compete for the championship right down to the final race,” he enthused. “It was definitely good to finally get a couple of wins in the series, I think it was a pretty validating season for us.”
In addition to notching his first two wins, Friesen added 12 top five and 16 top 10 finishes. Though he is disappointed in how the championship race turned out (he finished 11th in the race, behind winner Austin Hill, and fourth in the points championship, behind three-time champion Matt Crafton), he has to be a driver to watch for in 2020.
“I learned a lot this year,” says Friesen. “There’s momentum, and I’ve learned how to compete in the series. It’s a lot different than the racing I grew up with.
Though Friesen says his full-time job is working every day on the dirt cars in Albany, he’ll be making regular trips this winter to Statesville to work and train with the Toyota team.
“We need to be in North Carolina. All the resources are there, the wind tunnel, that’s where the technology is. If you’re going to race Indy Cars, you go to Indianapolis. If you’re going to race NASCAR, you go to North Carolina. That’s where you need to be.”
He’s looking forward to getting some time on the simulator rig that Toyota has down south. Friesen says now that his team will own the truck he’ll be driving, he will be entitled to more time on the simulator than he ever was with GMS. He won’t be able to get behind the wheel of his actual new truck until Daytona Speed Week in February, due to a NASCAR rule that limits when a driver can take to the track.
Friesen and his team are aiming to test his dirt cars, though, this January in Delaware.
As he looks forward to his upcoming season on both circuits, Friesen says “it’s always good to represent Niagara-on-the-Lake, and all the great Canadian race fans, it’s just great to have everybody’s support from back home.”
It’s a busy schedule, but Friesen plans to be back in NOTL later this month with his wife and young son to celebrate Christmas with his family. Then it will be back to Albany for Christmas Day, and on to his “full-time job” working in his shop.