The past two weeks of racing have brought to the forefront the dangers of driving trucks at NASCAR speeds on the Camping World Truck circuit for Stewart and Jessica Friesen.
Stewart was running his number 52 Toyota truck in the DoorDash 250 at California’s Sonoma Raceway on Saturday, June 11. After starting from the 10th position, Niagara-on-the-Lake native Friesen collided with Wisconsin-born Josh Bilicki with only five laps to go in the third stage. With extensive damage to both trucks, neither finished the race.
“That’s the hardest hit I’ve seen in awhile,” Stewart says. “It was kind of a glancing blow, and I hit a barrier that was really a concrete wall. It kind of hurt, I got some bruises out of it. It still hurts, and running Knoxville the next week, the bruises are kind of where the seat grabs you right around the rib cage.”
Friesen’s truck connected with the back of Bilicki’s vehicle, causing both to spin out of control. It’s clear watching the video that Bilicki and his number 30 truck bore the brunt of the crash, which necessitated a red flag and a restart. Both Friesen and Bilicki popped their window nets down to signal to the safety crew that they were okay.
Both drivers were later treated at the racetrack’s care centre and released.
A week later, Stewart’s wife Jessica, driving the Halmar Friesen number 62 truck, was involved in her own incident at Knoxville Raceway in Iowa during the Clean Harbor 150.
On lap number 58 In just her third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start, Jessica spun around in turn three, catching the berm and rolling her truck upside down.
It was a brake problem that led to her losing control on the berm. Her husband didn’t even know that Jessica had rolled the car until the following stage break. He found out when he returned to the pit.
“It was a soft roll, and it didn’t do much damage to the truck, or to herself,” Stewart says from his home in Sprakers, New York. “She was actually able to continue on after the roll. We joked after that there are only two people who have flipped and been able to continue a race. The first was Dale Earnhardt, and the second was Jess.”
As might be expected, both Friesens are used to seeing teammates in such situations. But rarely are those teammates husband and wife, partners in life as well as in racing.
“She’s been in accidents before and I have seen them,” he admits. “It’s very scary, but we get through it the best we can.”
Their son Parker was with the Halmar Friesen team in Knoxville but fortunately did not see his mother’s car flip. He was watching from home the previous week, though, when his father collided with Bilicki.
“He hasn’t seen enough of it to be numb to it like Jessica and I are,” Stewart says when asked how six-year-old Parker reacts to collisions. “It’s definitely upsetting, and he has had to deal with it. I’m sure he’ll continue to work it out in his own way as we race on.”
“It’s an aspect of the sport you can’t deny,” Stewart continues. “Safety equipment has thankfully come a long way even in the past 10 years that I’ve been doing this professionally. We do the best we can to outfit ourselves, and to outfit the cars with the newest stuff to have it in place when situations arise.”
Stewart finished the Knoxville race in fifth place, while Jessica’s brake problems resulted in her not finishing.
On Sunday, Stewart ran his number 44 modified in the Short Track Super Series 50 lap race at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Vermont, finishing 10th.
This Friday, June 24, Stewart will be competing in the Rackley Roofing 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Nashville Superspeedway. Jessica, meanwhile, will be racing in the modifieds at Utica-Rome Speedway Friday.
On Saturday, the Friesens will go separate ways once again, with Jess at Fonda Speedway and Stewart running at Middletown, New York’s Orange County Speedway, both for modified races.
“It’s kind of tough,” Stewart admits. “We split the team up, with a couple of the guys going with Jess, a couple going with me. We don’t do it often, but we do it the best we can.”