After years of dedication and perseverance, Stewart Friesen will be celebrating his ninth season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2024. Friesen’s success on both dirt and asphalt is widely known, but his humble beginnings in dirt track racing were the quiet catalyst for a prosperous career in asphalt racing.
Friesen grew up around motorsports. His family owned and promoted a track called Ransomville Speedway in northwestern New York. This is where Friesen became a fan of racing.
“That’s where I grew up working at the track with my family as a little kid,” Friesen said. “I ultimately became a fan of dirt modified racing.”
Stewart caught the racing bug at an early age, and he did not want to be just any racing fan.
“From being a little kid watching those guys race on Friday nights, it was always something that I wanted to do.” Friesen said.
He started go-kart racing at 15, where he advanced through the ranks and moved on to dirt racing. It was not until a few years later that Stewart began running in the Sportsman Division on dirt.
2003 was the golden year in which Friesen started winning Sportsman races, which eventually carried him into modified racing. He also considered the possibility of becoming a NASCAR driver in his early dirt racing days.
“You know, when I was a kid, sure, I thought you could just go there and win every race and Rick Hendrick, or Jack Roush was going to phone you up right. And I missed that by a generation,” Friesen said. “The sport now is very sponsored and very market driven, and a driver needs a lot of financial support and monetary sponsorship to make it work. It took some time. I thought maybe we could do something NASCAR.”
Friesen’s career eventually took off to a point where he felt comfortable as a successful dirt modified driver. The idea of becoming a NASCAR driver became less of a goal for him at this point.
“I started making a really good living dirt modified racing and met some people who had done the NASCAR thing,” Stewart said, “I got some kind of inside insight there, and I was like, ahh, I think I’m doing OK dirt racing.”
Not to mention, Friesen was starting a family with his wife Jessica at the time. However, the perfect career opportunity came knocking and Friesen answered. At the age of 33, Friesen got in touch with Chris Larson and Halmar International. This meant new beginnings for Friesen in the bright lights of NASCAR.
“They kind of reignited that NASCAR flaming goal,” Friesen said. “Because with him and his business, they shared that passion for NASCAR and racing at that level.”
Friesen kicked off his NASCAR career in 2016, making six starts in the Truck series. It was not until 2017 that he started seeing significant time in the car, with 19 starts during the season.
One of the tougher parts of the journey for Friesen was the transition into NASCAR. With dirt and asphalt racing being so different, not to mention the vast contrasts between dirt modified cars and NASCAR stock cars, Friesen faced many challenges in his rise through the motorsports world.
The length of time Friesen would be racing was a big adjustment, since NASCAR races are significantly lengthier than dirt races.
“The dirt races, a majority of them are a lot shorter,” Friesen said. “You can be a lot more aggressive.”
Transitioning to Trucks also meant a bigger emphasis was placed on taking care of the vehicle. On dirt, it was easier for him to push the car to the limits rather than protecting the equipment. Truck racing was a whole different story.
“Sometimes, that truck is only going to go so fast,” he said. “On the dirt, you can push a vehicle and you can get a little bit more out of it. You can take a 10th place car and run fifth, where in the Truck Series, if you’ve got a 10th place truck, it’s really hard to do anything more than that.”
In Friesen’s rookie season, being new on the scene posed some challenges for him and his team. It was a completely different universe for him. “Being a rookie in the series, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.” Stewart said.
Stewart started running with the GMS team in 2018, where he was given access to better equipment. Eventually, better equipment meant better results. Namely, Friesen ended up ranking seventh in 2018. He eventually amassed two wins in 2019, his first official wins in the Truck Series.
Another important transition for Friesen was his decision to go back to having his own team. In 2020, Friesen left GMS, which was, according to him, a learning curve. This would come to be the beginning of a new era for Friesen.
After a few winless seasons, Friesen chalked up one victory in 2022. He has had variable success in the points over the past few years, but his goals are still set. According to the Truck Series veteran, he is not where he wants to be just yet.
“I just kind of feel like I’m not there yet,” Friesen said. “We’ve been really fortunate to win some big races on the modified side and the Truck side.”
Friesen is now in what he sees as an ideal situation. “I feel like I’m finally at a point where I’m surrounded by the right of people and the right teammates,” he said.
Certainly, Friesen says his family support has been instrumental to his success. The contacts he made at his family’s track played a big role in where he is today. The work ethic he saw from his family is something that he has strived for in his own life.
Friesen’s wife, Jessica, also races dirt. She is even on the same team as him. They have found ways to integrate their racing backgrounds into their careers right now.
“We pretty much run the truck team together on the management side of it,” Friesen said. “It’s cool to be able to do that with her and have her support whenever I’m driving around the country.” It is safe to say that family played a huge part in Friesen’s success in all forms of racing.
“It’s been a long time. It’s been a 25-plus year career at this point. So, a lot of things have happened,” Friesen said. “But it’s been great teams, great car owners, great sponsors who saw something in me many years ago.”
What’s next for Stewart Friesen? Only time will tell when the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series kicks off their 2024 season at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, Feb. 16.