By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, we sat down with Stewart Friesen. Friesen is a 33-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver that drives the No. 52 Halmar International Chevrolet Silverado in the Truck Series and the No. 44 Halmar International Modified in the Super DIRTcar Series for Halmar-Friesen Racing. Friesen is competing for the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as well as Rookie of the Year honors and in the Super DIRTcar Series.
Seth Eggert: How did you become interested in Motorsports?
Stewart Friesen: Growing up, my family owned and promoted a speedway in western New York, Ransomville Speedway, which is a half-mile dirt track. I grew up there since I was born, cleaning the toilets, mowing the lawn, doing everything.
When I was nine, my Dad and my Uncle put a go-kart track in the infield. I had a cousin who was a year younger, and they did this to get us into racing. So, over 20-years later, their go-kart program took off at Ransomville and it has been strong ever since.
So, I started in go-karts when I was nine, and then moved into ¾ midgets, did some pavement stuff at Lancaster Speedway. Then we moved into a dirt sportsman, and I was lucky enough to get into some good rides in both dirt big-block and small-block modified racing.
It took off from there. I was living in an RV for five, or six, maybe 10 years. Now I have a good sponsor in Halmar, and from 2010/2011 on I’ve been hooked up with some good team owners. And here we are.
SE: Do you remember your results in your first race?
SF: Yeah, I do. I remember clear as day. I was doing good, leading or running second, and then I slid off the end of the track. I lost, and I remember crying and screaming the whole way home. We came back the next weekend and were able to win. I was never super great in go-karts, but for the local stuff we were pretty competitive.
SE: What inspires you to compete?
SF: Just to be better than the next guy in anything. I don’t want to be last in anything whether it’s racing or whatever.
SE: How difficult have you found the transition from dirt to pavement racing?
SF: It’s a lot harder than I thought. Just to jump in at this level without running any super late models or K&N it’s been tough. It’s been hard to get the right people in the right places and to grow.
We ran six races last year and it felt like we were beating our head against the wall. We made some changes over the winter and got hooked up with (Tommy) Baldwin, to manage the team, and put the stuff together. But it’s still a rookie team. But we got some really good mechanics and some really good guys. Hopefully we just keep plugging along at it and it will come around.
SE: Have you considered running some K&N Pro or ARCA to gain that experience?
SF: Yeah, but it’s tough. I make my living running the dirt car between these races. To take away from that is tough right now. Right now, we’re going to keep plugging along with the Truck and try to keep it running real fast.
SE: There have been occasions in which you have competed in NASCAR and on dirt on the same day. What kinds of obstacles does a schedule like that present?
SF: We did that at New Hampshire last year and it was good. We had some really good runs. We ran 13th at New Hampshire which was our best run doing anything, and we went to Fonda and ran top five there in the dirt series race. It was fun. But my ass was kicked by the end of the day.
It was a lot of fun to be in two different cars. To be able to do something like that was like a shot in the arm for the Halmar Racing Team, my dirt guys. It’s a big family, it takes a lot to put this together.
SE: You have over 300-350 career wins on dirt, what does that mean to you?
SF: It’s special. It’s pretty cool to do that and grow up racing side-by-side with Brett Hearn, Danny Johnson, and Billy Decker. Guys that were legends of the sport. Alan Johnson, guys that I grew up watching when I was five, six-years-old. And to get out there and race with them was really cool.
SE: Is it frustrating that you have not found the success on pavement that you are known for on dirt?
SF: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t or if it didn’t sting a little bit, but there’s so much more to it with this deal. There’s 10, 15 more people in the organization, on the race team. Just a lot more stuff happening and areas to address. But I think we’ll get it. It sucks that it’s tough, but I can’t give up on it.
SE: You have won SuperDirt Week several times. What do those wins mean to you?
SF: Oh, that’s awesome. It sucked when they took down the New York State Fairgrounds a couple years ago. But to win the last one there, and to win one, putting dirt on Oswego this past year is special. I have said if I never win a race after that, that I could hang my hat on those two wins.
SE: How do you feel being considered a favorite for the upcoming Eldora race?
SF: I wouldn’t say that we’re a favorite. We have a good shot and have some good dirt experience. You’ve got guys like (Chase) Briscoe and Christopher Bell. (Matt) Crafton is doing some dirt stuff now with his IMCA car. There’s some tough guys. Larson will be tough if he runs, and Bobby Pierce will be in that Mittler Truck. If we can go and run top five with those guys, that’s what I’ll be proud of.
SE: Do you believe that one race on dirt is enough for NASCAR competition, or should there be more?
SF: I think we’re good with one right now. These things are not set up to run on dirt whatsoever. I think if we did any more of it, and we tire tested the other day, learning with what we did last year, it wouldn’t be easy to build a purpose-built dirt truck at the moment.
And I don’t think you want to see it go that way. That would take away from guys like Pierce and others jumping in any truck and taking it to the front.
SE: How do you feel being considered a Rookie once again with the success you have had throughout your career?
SF: It’s not really annoying so much as it is different. Going to the rookie meetings and being in my early, early 30s, and these guys are in their late teens is a little interesting. But it’s cool, these kids are coming with good backing and they are getting in the top rides. They’re good drivers in their own right.
You don’t see that in stick and ball sports. Kids don’t just jump right up like that and these kids are doing a good job with it.
SE: How beneficial is it to have veteran NASCAR crew chief and team owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. as a part of your team?
SF: It’s awesome, it’s cool. I had him spot for me at Kansas in practice and had him on the radio. Organizing the whole team is just awesome. He’s a neat guy to work with, a lot of fun. A real hardcore racer, definitely enjoy the time we spend together racing and competing. I enjoy our conversations away from the track too so it’s pretty cool.
SE: Is it difficult to be a one-truck team competing with several two, three, and four truck teams?
SF: Yeah, I think the hardest part is not having a notebook. We have an affiliation with the GMS team, kind of a loose, loose alliance. It’s just hard going to places for the first time. Trip (Bruce) hasn’t been to these places in a while. Tommy’s been everywhere in the Cup but it’s a lot different aero package. That’s the hard part, and if we can get through this year and keep the ball rolling for next year I think we’ll be good. The more we do, the better we’ll get.
SE: Is there anyone you lean on for advice since you do not have any teammates?
SF: It’s tough. Probably just anyone who will listen to me. I try to pay attention to when (Johnny) Sauter and those guys talk.
SE: What does the future hold for you? Where will you be in a year from now?
SF: That’s a good question. If you had asked me that last year or two years ago if I had seen myself here, I would have said no way. We’re really taking it week-to-week at this point. The last four or five years on dirt, I’ve been able to map out a season long schedule. We’d run 100, 110 races. This is the first time we haven’t done that.
It’s tough for my wife, Jessica, she’s an awesome supporter and we have got a little guy at home, Parker. That’s the hardest part right now, a lot of uncertainty. We’re taking a chance and they’re taking a chance on me. We’ll see what happens and just take it one day at a time.