Montgomery County

‘It’s always chaos’: Sprakers’ Friesens embrace life of husband-and-wife racers, regulars at Fonda, elsewhere

Left: Stewart Friesen and his son, Parker, at Fonda Speedway in June 2020. Right: Jessica Friesen with son Parker in victory lane at Fonda July 10 after Jessica won the night's Sunoco Modified feature. (Photos courtesy Jeff Karabin)
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Left: Stewart Friesen and his son, Parker, at Fonda Speedway in June 2020. Right: Jessica Friesen with son Parker in victory lane at Fonda July 10 after Jessica won the night's Sunoco Modified feature. (Photos courtesy Jeff Karabin)

SPRAKERS — A typical week for Jessica and Stewart Friesen?

There’s no such thing.

“Our typical,” Stewart Friesen said, “is very not typical.”

That’s no surprise for the husband-and-wife auto racing duo. Any given week during the racing season sees the couple traveling across the Northeast to one track or another, before Stewart typically has to fly out Thursday for what is usually a Friday night ride in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series — the same night Jessica races her modified car at Utica-Rome Speedway. 

Then, it’s a red eye flight back to Albany for Stewart, with the couple both taking the track close to home on Saturday nights in Fonda Speedway’s Sunoco Modified division.

In the few days they get at their Sprakers home, it’s a race to get their other work done — Jessica with her t-shirt printing operation, One Zee Tees, and Stewart just up the road in his race shop getting the modified cars ready for another week’s racing.

“We don’t work a regular 9-to-5,” Stewart said. “It’s pretty much the opposite of that. We’re on the go a lot. . . . It’s a lot of fun. It’s everything we ever dreamed of doing.”

Oh, and they’re raising 5-year-old son Parker, who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum shortly after his first birthday.

“We have Parker, his school, his activities to fit in,” Jessica Friesen said. “It’s always chaos. It’s never typical, never the same. It keeps it interesting.”

Through all that, the Friesens managed to make a little history. Earlier this month, when the NASCAR Truck Series raced on the dirt track at Knoxville Speedway in Iowa, Jessica joined Stewart on the starting grid, making the two the first spouses to compete in a NASCAR event together since Elton Sawyer and Patty Moise ran together in the Busch Series in 1998.

It almost happened for the Friesens when the series visited the dirt track at Bristol Motor Speedway in late March, but rain wiped out qualifying heat races, leaving Jessica without a spot.

The couple finally got to race together on July 9 at the Corn Belt 150, though it wasn’t a banner night as far as results went, with Jessica finishing 26th and Stewart 27th. Despite the finish not being what either had hoped for, the history-making race was still a “cool experience,” Jessica said.

The real celebration came about 24 hours later, after the couple drove their motorhome through the night back to Montgomery County, arriving at Fonda Speedway just 30 minutes before practice laps began.

Six weeks earlier, Jessica picked up her first win behind the wheel of a modified when she became the first woman to win a modified race at Utica-Rome — “My first win since becoming a mom” —  but on July 10 at Fonda, the Sprakers native — whose father, Ray Zemken, had an accomplished driving career of his own in the family’s No. 1Z car — became the first woman to pilot a modified to victory at the venerable “Track of Champions.”

She’d won at the track twice before in a 360 sprint car, but the modified win meant something more — not least considering who came across the finish line just after she’d taken the checkered flag.

Finishing second? That would be Stewart, whose resume at Fonda is none too shabby with 77 feature wins — including nine this season — since debuting at the circuit in 2010, ranking fourth all-time in the track’s signature modified division.

“We’ve been trying to get Jess a win in the modified division for four or five years now, ever since she got back to racing,” Stewart said. “Finally getting it done was a special night for us, and our whole team.”

In tow with Jessica for the victory lane celebration — as he often is for both of his parents — was little Parker.

“Parker’s doing very well, and not having to have so much therapy. He’s able to travel with us more,” Jessica said. “For me to be able to race more just depends on his schedule. He loves doing it. It’s like a social gathering for him. When we go to the races on Friday night, he knows which kids are going to be there, what his schedule for the rest of the night is going to be, and on Saturday as well. He looks forward to it as much as we do now. We know he’s happy.”

The Friesens’ experience raising Parker has also spurred the couple into charity work for autism awareness. They’re in the process of starting a public charity, Aim Autism, in conjunction with their main racing sponsor, Halmar International, and much of this week’s non-racing work was preparation for a massive fundraising chicken barbecue prior to Saturday’s racing action at Fonda Speedway.

The Friesens first hosted the event in 2019, raising nearly $15,000 for Schenectady’s Crossroads Center for Children. Though restrictions brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic forced the fundraiser to be put on hold in 2020, the plans were to try and top the donation total with this year’s event.

It made Wednesday afternoon a very busy one in the One Zee Tees shop, where Jessica and her crew had to get 500 t-shirts ready for the event, while Stewart was up the road at the race shop with a couple of crew members from his North Carolina-based Halmar Friesen Racing Truck Series team getting work done on some of their dirt track cars while NASCAR is on its two-week hiatus for the Summer Olympics.

“No truck race just means more modified races,” Jessica said.

Getting everything done is a concerted team effort.

“We have a lot of very good people that help with everything,” Jessica said. “It’s not like it’s just all me.”

“My very good person is her,” Stewart interjected.

It’s a wild life, but being busy is just how the Friesens like it. They stay centered with a couple days a month with Parker and their dog Charlotte at the family’s camp on Caroga Lake, but the hustle and bustle of the racing grind is everything they signed up for.

“This is sane for us,” Stewart said. “It’s all we know.”

“When we’re not going,” Jessica added, “we don’t know what to do. We’re always going.”

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