Even with a bitter chill in the air, the Northeast’s faithful Dirt Modified fanbase packed the Orange County Fair Speedway from top to bottom Sunday afternoon to watch 46 Big-Block Modified drivers chase a record winner’s purse of $40,000 in the 200-lap finale to the 57th Eastern States Weekend. The rejuvenated “House of Power” has had quite the 2018 season since being taken over by new manager Chris Larsen, and the season came full circle with Larsen’s ace driver, Stewart Friesen scoring his second Eastern States 200 win.
Despite the Halmar Racing Team putting a 110% effort into their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series campaign with Friesen this year, it has not stopped them from doing the same in the Dirt Modified races they have been able to compete in.
“This is super special, just so proud of our race team and all our guys who worked so hard this week,” Friesen told Speed51.com. “We brought down every car we had in the shop going back to the Short Track Super Series race on Thursday, the Small-Block race, to the Big-Block race, to my wife’s car, it was a great team effort.”
After a slightly shaky start to the weekend in Friday time trials, Friesen and HRT managed to dig deep on Sunday. Starting 19th, Friesen made up some ground on early restarts. With progress made, Friesen brought the No. 44 to pit road on Lap 31 under yellow for the team’s one mandatory pit stop beyond Lap 30. A dynamite stop which included fuel and fresh rubber got him in front of most of the other cars who pitted, putting Friesen in position to save his stuff while waiting for the pit cycle to sort out.
Eventually with 85 laps to go, the cycle was complete, with Friesen holding off Danny Johnson over the final laps to claim the big check.
“This race is about strategy and execution, and we were able to do that,” Friesen stated. “We had a great race car. We were able to pick off a couple of guys in that first 30-lap run, we were able to beat some guys out of the pits and race by the other guys that pitted with us. We dug ourselves a hole in time trials, had to come through the heat race and started 19th. We had to be aggressive but know when to save our tires. Luckily it all paid off.”
While being able to end Larsen’s first season in charge of OCFS with one of his cars in Eastern States victory lane was a special moment, it was one of just many, including the lineage of the race and the century’s old “Hard Clay”.
“It’s great, but somebody asked me if it’s even more special with him as a manager here. It is, but this is our most historical race for Big-Block Modifieds after we lost “The Mile.” That in its own right is something to be excited about.”
Eastern States is also the final Dirt Modified race Friesen will run in 2018, as his NASCAR schedule will keep him away from the World of Outlaws World Finals at the Charlotte Dirt Track. Not only was he pleased to end the dirt part of his schedule with an exclamation point, he also believes the win could help boost morale for HRT to score their first Truck win before year’s end.
“Absolutely, we were close at Super DIRT Week, just proud of this race team, Tommy, Lauren, and all my guys. This is one of the toughest races and it takes a huge team effort to do it. It’s awesome.”
Danny Johnson kept Friesen honest on multiple restarts over the final 70 laps but was unable to keep up over the long runs, eventually finishing second ahead of Jimmy Phelps, Tim Fuller, and Mat Williamson who rounded the top five.
The next major Dirt Modified show is the Mid-Atlantic Championships at Delaware’s Georgetown Speedway at the end of this week. The event opens with a 358 Small-Block feature on Friday night, while the South Region of the Short Track Super Series concludes their 2018 campaign on Saturday. You can see Saturday’s STSS finale live by becoming a premium subscriber to the Speed51 Network.
Race fans can find on-demand coverage of Sunday’s Eastern States 200 by visiting Speed51.com’s Race Day Now.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos