FERGUS FALLS, Minn. (July 17) — After going more than six years between scoring his first and second World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series victories, Frank Heckenast Jr.’s wait for his third series win didn’t last nearly as along. In fact, it barely lasted more than a week.
Earning his second WoO victory in nine days, Heckenast of Frankfort, Ill., led every lap of Saturday’s 50-lap feature at I-94 Sure Step Speedway to earn $10,000 in the tour’s first ever visit to the high-banked 3/8-mile oval. The dominant performance followed Heckenast’s victory in the tour’s July 9 event at Jackson (Minn.) Motorplex.
After climbing from his No. 99 Rocket Chassis in I-94’s victory lane, Heckenast was quick to give credit for his recent success to new crew chief Taylon Center, who joined Heckeast’s team in late May.
“I just got to thank T.C.,” Heckenast said of the Center who was previously the head wrench for SSI Motorsports and driver Ricky Thornton Jr. “He came along with us a couple months ago and changed our program around. Todd’s always been there for me and he’s been doing a great job … T.C. came in and taught me how to race. I’ve been racing a long time, but he’s teaching me things I just looked past. All this is to him. I can’t thank him enough.”
Starting from the outside pole of Saturday’s 50-lapper, Heckenast got the jump on polesitter Tyler Bruening of Decorah, Iowa, and never looked back. He took the checkers 2.024 seconds ahead of WoO points leader Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., while Bruening took third. Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., was fourth with Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa, rounding out the top five.
With the race’s only caution coming with one lap competed, Heckenast faced heavy traffic for much of the distance, but he handled it without issue thanks largely to signals he received from Center.
“T.C. was pretty much driving me every lap,” Heckenast said. “He was telling me where to go, where they were at and where they were messing up. He couldn’t see everything. I seen a couple times down there lapped cars were pulling away from me down through the middle, so I was just trying to watch that.”
Center wasn’t the only team member who played a part in Heckenast’s victory. He also received some crucial coaching from his father Frank Heckenast Sr. that helped him get the jump on the race’s initial start, a move that proved pivotal.
“My dad told me the if I don’t learn how to start races we won’t win,” Heckenast said. “We won that race on the start. Hopefully he’s proud of that.”
Sheppard padded his points lead with his 11th straight top-five finish. While the three-time series champion ran among the top five for the entire race, it wasn’t until he found the top groove during the race’s closing stages that he really picked up speed and made his way by both Bruening and Madden.
“I thought I had a pretty good car, but I didn’t think the top was that good all the way around,” said Sheppard, whose Rocket Chassis house car had heavy rear damage after he got into the wall late in the race. “Then we got to slicing and dicing with Madden and Bruening there a little bit and I finally started hustling the top pretty hard there and just found another lane and it was working.
“It was one of them deals, if you’re gonna run that line you’re gonna get the deck knocked out. I pushed one time and really cleaned it off. If we would’ve had many more laps than that it wasn’t gonna last that’s for sure because I got free once I knocked the deck out.”
Bruening, a Rookie of the Year contender on this year's WoO tour, fell short of his coveted first series victory, but he was happy with his podium performance.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster when you get a podium against this competition. You’re definitely doing something, so we’re really pleased,” said Bruening, who earned his seventh top-five finish in 30 WoO races this season. “Our team’s hitting on all cylinders right now. We’re right there for that win. I know everybody keeps telling me that we’re right there, we’re right there. We almost put a whole night together tonight. We were real close.”