Stewart Friesen thought he’d have a quiet December in New York before shifting his focus to the 2022 Nascar Camping World Truck Series season, in which he runs full time. He never expected to get an offseason call from Nascar and Goodyear.
But Nascar and its exclusive tire supplier trusted Friesen, an established dirt racer, to test the Next Gen car on a dirt-covered surface prior to the Cup Series’ return to the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway in April. Not only did Friesen help Nascar fine tune its Next Gen car, but he also worked with different teams to finalize the Goodyear tire combination that the series will utilize.
“We did that at Lancaster, South Carolina in December,” Friesen said. “It was cool to work with Nascar and Goodyear to give feedback about tire stuff and car handling specifics. I worked with all of the crew members and engineers from different organizations that were there. That was a cool part that I wasn’t expecting.”
The experience of testing the Next Gen car is one quite uncommon for a driver who doesn’t compete in the Cup Series. Friesen only has one Cup start to his name, which came in the inaugural Bristol dirt race in 2021, finishing 23rd for Spire Motorsports.
“It was a really cool experience,” Friesen said about his debut. “It all started with the dirt at Eldora with Halmar and Chris Larsen (CEO of Halmar International). We teamed up with Spire and it was something I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do. It was a really special day, and it’s something I’ll always remember.”
The 2021 spectacle at Bristol was Nascar’s first event on dirt since 1970. As of print time, Friesen hasn’t finalized plans to run in the 2022 dirt race at Bristol.
“I did the best I could and gave the most amount of feedback I could, both good and bad,” Friesen said of the test. “When the day was over, I made a list of all the stuff I went through and presented that to the guys at Nascar.
“Hopefully, the race [at Bristol] is better because of that. The tire is 100% better than it was last year. The fact the race is at night will help, too, because it’ll keep the dust down. I’m proud to be part of all of that.”
But Friesen’s Cup debut didn’t happen overnight. Originally competing in the Truck Series in just six races in 2016, Halmar Friesen Racing began competing full time a year later. By 2018, Friesen became a recognizable name in Nascar’s third-tier division.
Friesen elevated his game on asphalt tracks in 2018, jumping from two top fives a year prior to nine, with 16 top 10s. Finally, in 2019, he drove his way into the winner’s circle, winning on dirt at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway and later at Phoenix Raceway, clinching a spot into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he would finish fourth in points..
But Friesen hasn’t won a Nascar race since then. The No. 52 team switched from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2020, and then faced setbacks because of the Covid-19 pandemic. By the middle of 2021, Friesen started regaining the consistency that elevated him into the Championship 4 in 2019.
“It was a good building year,” Friesen, who finished sixth in the Truck Series standings in 2021, said. “We moved Jonathan Leonard to a crew chief role and Trip Bruce to the general manager role, and that’s when things started getting good.”
As part of Friesen’s overall growth, he’s adjusted his driving style to go from being a dirt ace to a pavement enthusiast. The two forms of racing are completely different, but his skillset is one that makes him stand out from a pack of younger racers, many of who started racing on local short tracks.
Now 38, Friesen understands he’s one of the oldest drivers in the Truck Series. But with age comes maturity, and he believes he can compete for a championship in 2022.
“We’re building a couple of new trucks over the offseason and refining the trucks we do have,” he said. “We have a couple of new faces who will be on the road with us this year. Hopefully, we have some more partners and teammates join us to help us grow.”
To top it off, Halmar Friesen Racing will expand in 2022 with a second part-time entry. Two-time Truck Series champion Todd Bodine will make his return to the series after Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis created a social media challenge to help him reach 800 starts.
As part of the deal, Bodine had to have 800 reasons from fans as to why Lemonis should sponsor him for six races. Bodine, a Nascar on FOX analyst, hit the milestone and will now compete as Friesen’s teammate in 2022.
“Obviously, he’s going to have speed right away,” Friesen said of Bodine. “It’ll be a positive for the No. 52 as well. We’re going back to having practice and we can tweak the trucks. We’re going to put our heads together and have some ideas.”
Moving forward, Friesen will continue to shine a light for dirt racers across America, giving them hope that they, too, can make it to the show.