Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – WEEDSPORT, NY – The Super DIRTCar Series has been “Freezin'” to start the 2021 points campaign, in the words of Series announcer Shane Andrews post-Bristol.
That is because Stewart Friesen has had an incredible start that hasn’t really been seen in the Series in quite some time. Five races, five top threes, and three wins following Sunday night’s Heroes Remembered 100.
I spoke with Stew before last night’s event in Weedsport on the start he has had to the DIRTCar season.
“Just a good group effort,” Friesen explained. These guys are awesome. Working with Tommy in the shop every day, Brian and Jake, it’s a good group of guys. We’ve got a great sponsor, Chris Larsen, and everybody at Halmar has been awesome. We’re just rolling with it. Our 4th and 5th year all together working, and it’s going good.”
Critical wins for Friesen included sweeping the weekend at Bristol in the Bristol Throwdown.
“It was cool; it’s a lot of fun—a good deal for Big Block Modifieds, an awesome stage to be on. We put on some good racing, good to get some exposure with the sprint cars and late models,” Friesen said.
Stewart told me as well the swords he received from winning are on his mantle at his home. His crew even got duplicates to take home for being a part of the winning team.
One of the big stories entering the weekend, though, was the Big Block conflict. On the same day as the Heroes Remembered 100, the rival Short Track Super Series’ “Clash At The Can” down at Penn Can Speedway was planned to happen. Friesen, not being a platinum driver on the SDS tour and going for points in the STSS, chose Penn Can.
However, Penn Can was postponed to Tuesday due to weather. The Halmar Friesen Racing camp switched plans to Weedsport to help keep the team in the SDS points lead, despite currently not being eligible for the championship points purse at the end of the season.
“Just the points deal,” Friesen explained why Penn Can over Weedsport initially. “We’re in the points hunt for the Short Track Super Series, and not really oddly enough with the Super Dirt Series. Going race to race with everything, it rained out this morning, so we were able to come [to Weedsport], then run Lebanon tomorrow and then still do Penn Can on Tuesday.”
The Clash is a part of the STSS North Region schedule. Coming into Tuesday, Friesen is 12th in the standings, 80 points behind Anthony Perrego. He is far back in points due to a wreck in Accord during a heat race that was enough damage to not put the car in the feature, so Friesen is trying to regain ground. On the South side, he is 70 points back to Mike Mahaney in 4th.
Another conflict that comes up on the Big Block schedule is September 18th. While the Super DIRTCar Series is at Land of Legends for the Gerald Haers Memorial, the Short Track Super Series has a hefty $53k to win 200 lapper at Fonda Speedway. Fonda is a home race for Stewart, just about 15 minutes from his Sprakers, NY home. Friesen is unstoppable there, so it could be interesting late in the year.
But could Friesen possibly make a run here for his first points championship if he is dominant in SDS competition this season? It’s possible, but it really depends on if he’s leading by a significant margin. Because not only is there the STSS conflict, but also the Super DIRTCar Series conflicts with higher NASCAR commitments on September 25th. As SDS is at Albany Saratoga, Friesen will be racing his #52 Toyota Tundra truck in Las Vegas. It also conflicts on November 5th, as it is its championship night for the Truck Series in Phoenix and the first of two Super DIRTCar races at the World Finals in Charlotte. Friesen is currently 8th in the NASCAR Playoff Picture, 72 points above the cutoff, and you never know if he could fight for a NASCAR title like he did in 2019.
Speaking of NASCAR, that’s where we took the conversation next. Coming off a fourth-place finish at Charlotte Friday night, the team relied on great strategy short pitting in stage 2. Intermediate tracks have been a positive for his #52 team this year.
“We’ve had quite a bit of speed at 1.5 mile [tracks] and stuff. Hopefully, we can turn it around and get some momentum. It’s just tough, a really tough series; there’s a lot behind the scenes, a lot that goes into it. It’s tough racing; you can have a fast truck and just not get the balances during the race and end up without a good finish. Hopefully, we leave that behind us, and in the future, get in the Playoffs and make a run at it.”
The team recently made a crew change. Tripp Bruce recently moved up to competition director for HFR, moving Jon Leonard up to the top of the war wagon to crew chief. Friesen said there was “a lot on Tripp’s plate.”
“Jon’s a great guy. He was our engineer for the past eight months. He’s a leader and works well with the guys and frees up Tripp to concentrate on a lot of different aspects of the team,” Friesen said.
There are two races on the schedule Friesen has circled on the calendar. The first one is the Truck Series’ inaugural trip to Knoxville on July 9th. Stew told me he has never raced at “The Sprint Car Capital” but is looking forward to it. The second is his first trip to Watkins Glen, a home race on the NASCAR schedule for Stew.
“I’m definitely looking forward to that, especially with all the restrictions being lifted,” Stewart said. “Being able to have fans and stuff is going to be really, really cool to race close to home.”