The past two weekends of stock car racing were full of emotion as well as success for Niagara-on-the-Lake native Stewart Friesen.
When it was over, he counted four races, two wins, a second- and a sixth-place finish, and chances to honour two people who have meant a lot to him.
Friesen took the checkered flag on Sunday, April 24 at the 40-lap Montgomery County Open Jack Johnson Memorial Sunoco Modified feature at Fonda Speedway. The track is just a short 12-minute drive from the home he shares with his wife Jessica and son Parker in Sprakers, New York.
Friesen took home $12,000 for the win, but just as importantly, he honoured a person he has greatly admired throughout his entire career.
Jumpin’ Jack Johnson, as he was known, made Fonda Speedway his home. The big-block modified driver won the Super DIRTcar Series four times and is one of the most successful dirt drivers in U.S. history. Johnson passed away in early April at 76 years old.
“Jack was a mentor and a friend,” Friesen says on the line while driving to pick up Parker from his kindergarten class. “I’ve raced with his son Ronnie at Fonda, too, for years. It’s really cool that we were able to win that race.”
One might say Friesen has been following in his mentor’s footsteps in
making Fonda his home. Since 2015, he’s been the modified driver to beat there, earning five track championships in the last seven years.
From Fonda, it was about a seven-hour trip to Delaware International Speedway in Delmar for the Diamond State 50 stop in the Short Track Super Series.
Starting from the sixth position, Friesen exercised patience early in the race, taking the opportunities as they arose, methodically advancing into third place by the 10th lap. Three
laps later he was in the runner-up spot.
When Delaware native Jordan Watson slipped up after a lap 19 caution, Friesen jumped into the lead. He held on the rest of the way, ending the race with his second victory in four days and his third straight win in that race, worth $5,700.
“We had a good run there,” Friesen says. “For whatever reason we continue to run well at Delaware. The track is kind of technical, a little bit different than what we see here in the Northeast. But it’s been fun, and it’s definitely cool to win that one for the third year in a row.”
Friesen’s next stop, last Friday night at Utica-Rome Speedway, gave him another chance to honour a mentor, this time a family member.
Friesen’s usual number 44 modified was redone in throwback style as number 68 in tribute to his uncle Alex Friesen, who died in 1996 in a snowmobile accident in the Adirondacks.
Alex had an enormous impact on stock car
racing, and was credited with reviving the sport in the Northeast. His career began at 21 years old, helping promote races for the family’s racetrack in Ransomville.
In 1989, Alex bought Lancaster Speedway. He went on to purchase a number of racetracks in New York and Pennsylvania, including Utica-Rome, where Stewart’s father Jamie continues to tend to the track on a weekly basis.
When he raced, the younger Friesen brother drove a number 68 car in the Sportsman division.
“It was a tribute to Alex and everything he did behind the wheel and as a promoter,” says his nephew. “It was great to see a lot of old friends and to show our love for Uncle Alex. Hard to believe it’s been 25 years since he passed.”
Friesen wasn’t able to take the win in his uncle’s name as he did for Johnson. He passed St. Catharines native Mat Williamson for third place on the eleventh lap and jockeyed back and forth in the top positions for a number of circuits. With only five to go, he went up top to make his run for the lead but went over the bank and finished sixth. Matt Shephard won the race.
Friesen closed out the month of April Saturday night by bringing the number 68 Alex Friesen throwback back to Fonda.
His wife Jessica made a big splash early in the race, pulling into the lead for the first three laps before Rocky Warner pulled into position. Starting from the 12th position, Stewart chipped away at those ahead of him. He fell just short of overtaking winner Matt DeLorenzo, who took the lead from Warner for good in the 13th lap. Jessica placed fifth in the 30-lap modified feature.
As of press time, Friesen was heading into Swedesboro, New Jersey for the King of the Blocks at Bridgeport Motorsports Park, the opening event in the 2022 Super DIRTcar Series championship.
This Friday Friesen will be in Darlington, South Carolina for the next stop in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He’s currently holding down the third spot in the season point series.
“We’ve had a really good start,” he says of his Halmar-Friesen Racing truck team. “We’ve been making some points, and I feel like a win is right around the corner. We’ve been making good stage points, and we’ve had a lot of top five finishes.”
The team unveiled another throwback design for the Darlington Dead On Tools 200 Friday.
“We decided to hold an auction with proceeds going to Aim Autism (a Markham, Ontario-based children’s charity),” Friesen says. “We’re actually doing another Jack Johnson throwback at our winners’ request. We raised $4,000 for the charity.”
Short of changing the number on his Toyota truck, he’ll stick with his usual 52 but it will be lettered just like Johnson’s 1992 Syracuse Super Derby dirt modified. The orange and yellow paint scheme with a checkered flag accent will be a marked difference from his blue and red.
Friesen has a busy two months ahead of him, as well.
“We’re heading into an eight-week stretch where we race every week with the truck,” Friesen explains. “It’s exciting. It’s something we’ve never done in the truck series. We’re looking forward to it. Our team is the strongest it’s ever been over the past three years of building this up.”
As he nears the school parking lot to pick up his young son, one could almost see Friesen’s face light up with love and pride over the phone. He says Parker is having a great year at school.
“He’s looking forward to the summer, and travelling to all the races,” Friesen laughs. “He loves it. It’s a big social game for him, he’s made a lot of friends at the tracks. After June he and Jess will be doing the whole truck schedule on the road with us.”