Many individuals have been involved in area auto racing over many years, serving the sport in several capacities. Of those only a select few have made a large scale positive difference that gives them a distinctive legacy. The late Stan Friesen was one of those special individuals.
Friesen, 78, owner of the Ransomville Speedway since 1972, died Dec. 23 in his home in St. Catharines, Ont., after a long battle with cancer. In his long career he wore many hats including driver, race track owner, promoter and, perhaps most important of all, patriarch and mentor for his family, those who now will have to carry on in the sport.
A few seasons ago, Friesen turned over most of the promotional reigns to Ransomville to sons Jamie, Joel and other family members and officials. But he kept up on what was happening and was still very much involved with the track even during his illness.
Tana Robinson is Ransomville’s Marketing and Public Relations Director. She worked alongside Stan in the track office for many years.
“I’ll miss our daily chats and the thought that every day he never failed to make me laugh,” said Robinson as she fought back tears. “He was a mentor that I learned so much from and that helped me to succeed in this business and will continue to help me succeed. One thing is for sure, when Stan said something he stuck by his word no matter what. It was final. Yes, I’ll miss him a lot.”
Friesen enjoyed a relatively brief driving career, mostly in dirt track Modified racing. He won the 1972 Weedsport Speedway track championship in that division. But Friesen wanted more from the sport than just being behind the wheel. He had a desire to be a promotional leader in the sport.
In 1970, Friesen, along with business partner Kurt Uhl, purchased Merrittville Speedway in Thorold, Ont., and added Ransomville to the partners’ promotional mix in 1972.
The duo would operate both facilities through 1981 before selling Merrittville as Friesen concentrated his efforts on managing Ransomville.
Friesen’s career was tied up with family. Stan and his wife Diane ran Ransomville but through the years sons Jamie, Joel and the late Alex, and daughters-in-law Yvonne and Trish would work hard to keep Ransomville running and successful.
Jamie and Joel have been serving as copromoter at Ransomville but Stan has been there encouraging, advising and guiding these family members to whom he entrusted Ransomville. Also helping on race nights are grandchildren Russell and Heather.
A few years ago the Friesen Family was honored by the Friends of Auto Racing Fan Club (FOAR Score) with their Family in Racing Award. In 2003, DIRT Motorsports honored the family with the Leonard J. Sammons Outstanding Contribution to Motorsports Award.
Stan’s life changed in a dramatic way on Dec. 5, 1996, when Alex, who was in the early stages of a promising career as a motorsports promoter, died in a snowmobile accident at age 33. The loss shattered the whole family as well as an entire racing community. Alex’s death caused Stan tremendous grief, yet he carried on.
In 1989, Alex and Stan bought Lancaster Raceway Park (now Dunn Tire Raceway Park), operating it as well as a few other tracks.
Following Alex’s death, Stan sold Lancaster and the Utica-Rome, Mahoning Valley and Fulton speedways, and once again made Ransomville the family’s sole race endeavor.
In his later years, Stan enjoyed the Friday night races at Ransomville both from his private box as well as on a wooden bench on the track’s hospitality deck, taking his place among the people. He cherished entertaining many people and saying hello to everyone he saw.
Harry Macy, a veteran local TQ Midget owner, was very close friends with Stan for many years.
“I really didn’t know Stan when he was a driver but I got to know him when he and the family came to Lancaster in 1989,” recalled Macy. “Stan loved the TQ Midgets. Stan realized that it was tough to race on Lancaster’s inner one-quarter mile track due to the lack of outside groove traction.
“Out of his own pocket he would pay for this special drag racing traction compound and spray it on the outside groove each week to make the racing better. Stan and I later traveled to races together across the country and we had long talks. We also had a lot of laughs too.
“I believe he tried to help everybody. He always said hello to everyone. He was a promoter and his job was to make money but he always tried to get along with everybody no matter what. He was dealt a tough deal when Alex died but he went on with much courage. Stan was a gentleman and friend.”
Stan also was found at many race tracks over the last few years, enthusiastically supporting the driving efforts of grandsons Stewart, James-Michael and Curtis. They all helped at Ransomville in their youth before launching their own race driving careers.
One afternoon about 10 years ago, while racing TQ Midgets at Wyoming County International Speedway, both Stewart, the son of Jamie and Yvonne, and James-Michael, the son of Joel and Trish, were involved in the same scary accident. Neither was injured. Both Jamie and Joel were there but their wives were not at the races that day.
Although very concerned Stan took it all in stride. When ask what he thought about the situation, Stan in very humorous fashion simply said, “I‘m glad I’m not the one who gets to call home and tell their mothers what happened. I guess Jamie and Joel get that job.”
While all his grandsons have won races, Stewart has become a major star in the northeast DIRT Modified scene. He has won numerous races and championships, including back-to-back victories in 2010 and 2011 in the marquee event of Super DIRT Week, the VP Small Engine Fuels 200, run each October at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
For many years, the DIRT Motorsports sanctioning organization flourished under former DIRT Motorsports owner/promoter Glenn Donnelly.
Stan was instrumental in helping Donnelly succeed, serving for several years as DIRT Motorsports Western Region President. Ransomville has been sanctioned throughout most of its history by DIRT Motortsports, now known as DIRT.car Northeast.
On Jan. 1 Ransomville ran its annual Hangover enduro event. It was the first competition at the track since Stan’s passing. For those gathered it was emotional not to see him there. It will continue to seem strange for a long time.
What should be remembered more then anything is that racing will continue at Ransomville because of the love, care, concern and just plain old hard work that Stan and his family have put into the track over many years. Stan Friesen made a difference, one the racing community has benefited from and will continue to benefit from for years to come.