Stewart Friesen is used to living at high speeds.
So, what’s it been like in a world that’s seemingly had the caution flag thrown on it for the last month-plus by the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Pretty boring, honestly,” Friesen said.
Friesen, a Sprakers resident and four-time track champion in the modified division at Fonda Speedway, was at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 13, making final preparations for his third race of the season in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series the next day when word came down from NASCAR that the Atlanta races — and the next weekend’s racing at Homestead Miami Speedway — had been postponed.
He hasn’t been back on the track since.
“We were in the pit area and told to go home,” Friesen said in a phone interview Wednesday. “That was it.”
Since then, it’s been five weeks back home with his wife, Jessica — an accomplished racer in her own right — and young son Parker.
He’s taken the time on his own to “putter in the shop a little bit,” getting some work done on his team’s hauler and some of its equipment. He’s also participated in a couple of virtual iRacing events.
Friesen pilots both the No. 52 Toyota for Halmar Friesen Racing in the NASCAR Truck Series and the No. 44 modified at dirt tracks throughout the Northeast.
A stalled season came at just the wrong time for the 36-year-old Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario native. Friesen was nine races into his 2020 season — two NASCAR Truck races, plus seven modified events in Florida and Delaware — and was coming off a breakout season at the national level.
Brought into the NASCAR Truck Series in 2016 when the series made its debut on the dirt track at Eldora Speedway in Ohio, Friesen became a full-timer in the series in 2017. After two years of improving finishes — including nine top-fives and a seventh-place in the overall points standings — Friesen broke through in 2019. He scored his first NASCAR win on the dirt surface at Eldora, qualified for the Truck Series playoffs and won the penultimate playoff race at Phoenix before ultimately finishing fourth in the season standings.
Locally, Friesen reeled off another six modified wins at Fonda Speedway, raising his career total to 60 feature wins — the sixth-highest total at the “Track of Champions.” Two of those wins came for Fonda’s biggest prizes of the season, the Firecracker 50 in July and the season-ending Fonda 200 in late September.
Friesen’s 2020 NASCAR season started with a 21st-place finish at Daytona and a ninth-place at Las Vegas before everything was paused by the pandemic.
“Things were just starting to get rolling,” Friesen said. “We were really preparing for the season to be busy and hectic. It was starting to get that way, and all of a sudden, we had to put the brakes on.”
After the last few years of crisscrossing the country, often running in both NASCAR Truck Series events and dirt modified races in the same weekend, having such an extended period away from the track during a time when the season would usually be swinging into full gear is a bit of an odd experience.
“I’ve said the last couple years, it would be nice to have a break,” Friesen said. “Now that we have this break, it’s like, ‘OK. Let’s get back to it here.’ I’m starting to go pretty stir-crazy. … [My schedule] kind of became the norm, and now to not have that crazy schedule and be on the go all the time is pretty different.”
On the local front, this past Saturday — weather permitting — would have been the 2020 season opener at Fonda Speedway. For now, the start of the racing season at Fonda and other local tracks remain on hold.
“There’s a lot of great stuff going on at Fonda, as far as the new surface,” Friesen said. “The facility itself had a great 2019 season with the change in promotional leadership there. There’s a lot of great stuff happening, and a lot of stuff that us racers were really looking forward to.”
While Friesen said he believes it will be a while longer before New York gets its racing season underway, his NASCAR season could get the green flag sooner rather than later. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is working with NASCAR to run events at Texas Motor Speedway, and Friesen said similar moves could soon be made in the Carolinas.
While there would likely be no fans in attendance, the races would still be televised by FOX and FS1, and it would get the drivers back out putting the pedal to the metal.
“If that’s what we can do,” Friesen said, “we’ll be all for that. It’ll get us back moving, back racing and back on the road again.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.