This upcoming weekend is a huge one for Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Stewart Friesen and his wife Jessica.
On Saturday, March 27, Stewart’s Halmar Friesen Racing (HFR) teammate Jessica will join her husband on the track in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event in Bristol, Tennessee. The couple have raced as teammates in a number of dirt car events, but this weekend’s Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt will be Jessica’s debut behind the wheel of a truck in competition.
Jessica will be driving the number 62 Toyota Tundra, while her husband will be strapped into his familiar number 52. It marks the first time the HFR team has fielded two trucks in the same race. The Friesens become the first husband and wife to compete as teammates in the same NASCAR event, while they also become only the second married duo to drive in the same NASCAR race, since Elton Sawyer and Patty Moise in the early 1990s.
“I’ve been racing sprint cars and modifieds on dirt for my entire racing career,” Jessica said in a press release. “It’s amazing to get an opportunity to compete at this level. I’m looking forward to the experience of driving a truck for the first time.”
Like her husband, Jessica grew up in racing, starting with go-karts at age seven, and working her way up to larger vehicles. In recent years her focus has turned to her family, especially the couple’s young son, Parker, who will turn six this year. She also runs a screen-printing business, One Zee Tees, out of their home base in New York state.
But this year she’s been more active on the Northeast Dirt Modified circuit, where they often compete together. Last weekend in Port Royal, Pennsylvania, Stewart and Jessica finished third and fourth in a 40-lap Short Track Super Series event won by St. Catharines native Mat Williamson. The couple both began the race in the front row after finishing their heat in first and second.
In a video call with reporters last week, Jessica said Parker is trying to wrap his head around the idea of both of his parents competing in the trucks. To Parker, Dad races the truck, while Mom races the modifieds.
It’s a story Jessica says will be great to tell their grandkids someday. Stewart has been giving Jessica some pointers for her first time in the truck, and she admits his experience on the circuit is valuable.
On the line from the shop Tuesday, where both trucks were being prepared, Stewart says Jessica will take a few days to learn the transmission in preparation for Saturday’s race.
“Last weekend in Georgetown, a friend of ours brought his pro-stock and she ran it for a bunch of laps,” he adds. “There’s a lot of similarities between the truck and the pro-stock. She got the feel of a full-fendered vehicle, sitting on the left-hand side. She looked really good, got really comfortable, and turned a lot of good laps.”
Being with the HFR crew for many of her husband’s truck races will also serve as valuable experience. “She was at Eldora (Speedway, in Ohio) for every one of our truck starts there,” he remembers. “She was on the radio as one of my spotters when we won there in 2019. She gets it, she knows how the race is played out.”
On Sunday, March 28, the big weekend continues for Stewart.
He will be driving the number 77 Spire Motorsports car, sponsored by Halmar International, in his first NASCAR Cup Series event. Also being held at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Food City Dirt Race is 133 miles long, requiring 250 laps to compete.
Having grown up with the family involved in Niagara’s dirt track circuit, Stewart will be right at home this weekend. He has over 330 career wins in dirt modified racing behind him, and his first victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series came on the clay at Eldora in 2019.
He knows his experience and success on the surface is what attracted Spire to give him this weekend’s opportunity. Though he does say it feels kind of surreal to be driving in his first Cup Series event, the 37-year-old credits the hard work of his sponsors and his crew members for helping him get to this point.
“It’s a dream come true to compete in the Cup Series,” he said in a second press release. “It’s the pinnacle of motorsports in North America. As a race fan myself, it has always been something I’ve dreamed about doing.”
The process to transform the all-concrete track at Bristol into a red clay surface for this weekend began about three months ago. Over 2,000 loads of dirt, 23,000 cubic yards full, were hauled in to construct the multi-layered surface. Global Satellite Positioning (GPS) equipment on the bulldozers and graders were used to place the Bluff City clay onto the right spots on the track.
It took between nine and 10 feet of dirt to bring the banking at the corners to 19 degrees, while along the front and back stretches it will be one to two feet deep. The total racing surface on the track will be about 50 feet wide.
Stewart sees little difference between the permanent dirt tracks he grew up on and the transformed Bristol tracks. He does say, however, that the NASCAR vehicle he will drive for Spire will not be purpose-made for the surface. That means he will have to get used to how the track smooths out over the 250 laps.
He’s looking forward to working with Spire crew chief Kevin Bellicourt, and has felt truly welcomed by the entire team. His usual HALMAR-Friesen crew chief, Tripp Bruce, will be part of that team Sunday, lending his support and guidance on race day. Stewart is hoping he can apply the lessons he learned racing the truck on the Eldora dirt track to compete at a high level at Bristol.
The two drivers will get limited practice laps on Friday. On Friday and Saturday, when both Stewart and Jessica are busy with those practice laps and with the Pinty’s Truck Race, Stewart’s parents Jamie and Yvonne will be there with Parker to watch how it all unfolds.
Qualifying heats for the truck race will take place Saturday between 4:30 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., with the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt scheduled for 8 p.m.
The Cup Series qualifiers run from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Saturday, while the Food City Dirt Race will start at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Fans of both Friesens can follow the action Saturday on TSN, and Sunday on Fox.