OCALA, Fla. (Feb. 14) — Frank Heckenast Jr. refused to be denied again.
The second-year national traveler nearly saw another chance at his breakthrough World of Outlaws Late Model Series victory slip through his fingers Saturday night at Bubba Raceway Park when Shane Clanton snuck by him late in the 3/8-mile oval's 50-lap race. But instead of settling for another near-miss, Heckenast, 26, of Frankfort, Ill., dug deep and willed himself back to the lead one lap later.
The 2014 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year held off both Zebulon, Ga.’s Clanton and hard-charging Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., through the race's final eight laps to earn $10,550 for his first career WoO victory during the second round of the Bubba Army Winternationals.
"When Shane passed me, reality started to set in and I told myself I wasn't letting another one get taken from me," said Heckenast, who joined Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., as the second first-time WoO LMS winner this season. "That next lap I just got up on the wheel and settled down and didn't get all flustered. I got beside him and drag-raced him off the corner and got ahead of him. I just did my best to drive a straight race the rest of the way."
Heckenast's Club 29 Race Car crossed the finish line 0.766 seconds ahead of Clanton's Capital Race Cars house car. Richards was third after catching the top two cars late in the race only for his Rocket Chassis house car to slip over the cushion just after edging ahead of Clanton for second on lap 48.
Defending series champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., recovered from an early spin in his Club 29 house car to finish fourth, while the Longhorn Chassis of early leader Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., rounded out the top five in a dramatic race that featured five lead changes and side-by-side racing near the front throughout its entirety.
For Heckenast, the hard-fought victory cements his status as a bonafide WoO contender. After a seventh-place points finish on last year's tour, Saturday's strong performance now has Heckenast aiming much higher during his sophomore season.
"I feel like we belong here now," said Heckenast. "Last year the rookie thing was beating me up pretty bad and I didn't have a whole lot of confidence. But in the second half of the year we were getting better and better and really just started putting everything together.
"I knew we could win a race this year, but I didn't want to have to wait until November to see if we could do it. Now that we've got it out of the way, I feel like we can win even more and have a really good chance at a good points finish this year."
The race was intense from the very beginning for Heckenast, who quickly charged forward from his fifth starting spot to challenge teammates Frank and Boom Briggs of Bear Lake, Pa., in a tight three-car battle through the race's early laps. Heckenast first edged into the lead at the completion of lap six, but he couldn't quite clear the veteran Frank, who was looking to end his nearly six-year WoO winless streak.
Frank roared back ahead on lap eight and only narrowly held command with Heckenast and Briggs on his heels before a lap-11 caution slowed the lead battle. Heckenast took advantage of the restart, pulling alongside Frank through turns one and two on lap 12 before finally clearing him for the lead on lap 13.
Heckenast maintained a slight advantage through the race's middle portions while Clanton and Richards made their way forward. Richards took the second spot from Frank on lap 27 with Clanton following into third on the next lap. After overtaking Richards for second on lap 36, Clanton began to cut away at Heckenast's nearly straightaway advantage.
With Heckenast struggling in traffic, Clanton began to challenge for the lead by lap 40 and pulled ahead with a low-side pass in turns one and two on lap 41. A slight misstep by Clanton in turns three and four on the same lap allowed Heckenast to pull back alongside. He completed the winning move with a bottom-line pass of his own on lap 42.
Heckenast's bold recovery denied Clanton his second straight WoO victory after he snapped his 66-race winless streak with a dramatic triumph of his own during the tour's Feb. 7 event at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga. The runner-up performance continues Clanton's return to form following a dismal 2014 campaign that saw the WoO veteran go winless on the tour for the first time since the series was restarted in 2004.
"I thought I was going to (win)," said Clanton, who took over the series points lead and is the only driver to finish among the top five in all three of this season's A-Mains. "I just messed up in three and four and Frankie's car was good enough to take advantage of my misfortune. But overall a good night. We started seventh, and to get to second was pretty good.
"We got our ducks in a row right now. Hopefully we can keep them in a row and get a good points lead here. We're optimistic for a good year."
Polesitter Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., was never a factor after jumping the cushion on the race's opening lap. But he recovered to score a sixth-place finish, continuing his solid start to the season that saw the regional standout finish among the top three of both WoO LMS A-Mains at Screven.
Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas, advanced from his 18th starting spot to finish seventh, while Briggs faded back to eighth after running among the top three through the race's first 20 laps. Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., finished ninth and rookie competitor Jordan Yaggy of Rochester, Minn., notched his first career WoO LMS top-10 finish in the 10th position.
The race was slowed by two cautions with the first appearing for Lanigan's spin on lap four. Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., slowed to cause the final caution with 11 laps complete.
The fourth annual Bubba Army Winter Nationals conclude on Sunday with another $10,000-to-win WoO LMS program. Action gets underway with hot laps at 5 p.m. followed by a complete slate of time trials, heat races, B-mains and another 50-lap A-Main.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Tim McCreadie, Rodney Sanders, Bob Gardner, Tyler Clem, Eric Wells, Josh Knoll, Mike Hammerle, Dave Fieber (DNS) Austin Smith, Scott Groves.
Brandon Overton drew the pole position for the feature and Chub Frank will take the green flag from the second starting. … Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky., was felled by terminal engine trouble at the end of his heat race, forcing him to unload his backup car. He decided to race around the back of the B-Main and take a provisional to start the feature; he actually almost ended up qualifying outright when he passed Tyler Clem of St. Petersburg, Fla., for fourth place late in the consolation, but Wells slid high on the final lap to cede the transfer spot back to the 12-year-old Clem, who made his first-ever WoO A-main. … Scott Groves and Austin Smith scratched from the B-Main following heat-race problems. ... Mike Hammerle of St. Charles, Mo., received the second provisional starting spot for the A-Main, assuring him a $700 payoff to celebrate his 67th birthday.
(12 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Tyler Clem, Tim McCreadie
Row 2: Eric Wells, Austin Smith
Row 3: Bob Gardner, Dave Fieber
Row 4: Mike Hammerle, Rodney Sanders
Row 5: Josh Knoll, Scott Groves
Frank Heckenast Jr. slipped underneath Brandon Overton to gain command on lap six and marched on to capture the 10-lap prelim. Overton settled for second place, 0.877 of a second behind Heckenast. Josh Ricahrds finished several car lengths behind Overton in third, with Steve Casebolt, Rick Eckert and Morgan Bagley completing the top five in the non-stop event.
Finish (top 6 transfer): Frank Heckenast Jr., Brandon Overton, Josh Richards, Steve Casebolt, Rick Eckert, Morgan Bagley, Eric Wells, Dave Fieber, Josh Knoll.
Boom Briggs dominated the action, leading all the way to win by 4.469 seconds over Jordan Yaggy, who came out on top of a titanic battle for second. Austin Kirkpatrick nosed out Ivedent Lloyd Jr. for third at the finish line, while Mason Zeigler took fifth and Dennis Franklin was sixth. Tim McCreadie briefly slipped by Franklin for sixth on lap seven but settled for seventh and did not transfer; T-Mac drove up alongside Zeigler after the checkered flag to express his thoughts on an early scrape. Rodney Sanders brought out the caution flag on lap one after he got into the back of Dennis Franklin and spun around in turn four; he pulled off on lap five.
Finish (top 6 transfer): Boom Briggs, Jordan Yaggy, Austin Kirkpatrick, Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Mason Zeigler, Dennis Franklin, Tim McCreadie, Bob Gardner, Rodney Sanders.
Chase Junghans roared off the outside pole to grab the lead from front-row mate Chub Frank on the opening and raced to a 1.803-second victory over the Pennsy driver. Shane Clanton finished third and Darrell Lanigan was fourth. The race's key moment came on the first lap when Lanigan spun in turns one and two after contact from Frank, who drove hard into the corners after Lanigan slid across his car's nose to grab second place exiting turn four; the two drivers exchanged angry hand gestures out their windows as they passed each other under caution. The first caution flag flew on the opening lap when Scott Groves smacked the backstretch wall and needed wrecker service.
Finish (top 6 transfer): Chase Junghans, Chub Frank, Shane Clanton, Darrell Lanigan, Mark Whitener, Billy Ogle Jr., Tyler Clem, Austin Smith, Mike Hammerle, Scott Groves.
The 28-car time-trials session was owned by the small town of Bear Lake, Pa. — teammates, cousins and Bear Lake residents Chub Frank and Boom Briggs timed one-two.
Frank's lap of 15.092 was 2/10 of a second fastest than Briggs's 15.299-second clocking, giving the 53-year-old veteran quick-time honors and the pole position start in the first of three 10-lap heats. Briggs will start from the pole in Heat 2 while third-quick Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., will go from the point in the third prelim.
The second night of the Bubba Army Late Model Winternationals features a 50-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main paying $10,000 to win. It is the first of two consecutive evenings of WoO competition.
Saturday night’s program includes time trials, three heat races, a B-Main and the 50-lap headliner. The top-two finishers in each heat will redraw for the top six starting spots in the feature.
While still cool, temperatures have warmed up slightly for Saturday night’s action. The wind has picked up considerably, however, leading teams to expect drier track conditions than they faced in Friday night’s UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned Winternationals opener. … WoO rookie aspirant Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., is the lone new entrant in tonight’s 28-car field. Charles LaPlant of East Prairie, Mo., is the only Friday-night racer who has not returned. … Ocala’s own Ivedent Lloyd Jr. was plagued by fuel-pressure problems that knocked him out of both the heat and feature on Friday night. “New-car blues,” said Lloyd, who is debuting a Snow Brothers machine. … Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas, said he’s still driving the new Club 29 car that he readied for competition after flipping his primary mount last Friday night at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga. But the new car is sporting many of the body panels from the crashed vehicle, which he doesn’t think sustained any significant frame damage. … Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., a first-time BRP visitor this year who enters tonight’s event leading the WoO points standings, will look to improve upon his frustratingly subpar 20th-place outing in Friday night’s feature. “I raced liked a 7-year-old tonight,” Casebolt tweeted after Friday’s action. “These kinds of performances cannot continue.” … Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., will look to score his fifth top-five finish in as many Speedweeks starts. The 23-year-old finished fifth in Friday night’s feature with a car that he thinks he can make better tonight. “I couldn’t make it down for practice on Thursday night and I think that hurt us last night,” said Overton, his hands tucked into the top of his overalls as he worked on his MasterSbilt by Huey machine. “We started off slow the first night last week (at Screven) and then got better the next day (improving from sixth to second), so hopefully we’ll do that again.” ... Stacy Boles of Clinton, Tenn., reported that he'll likely leave Billy Ogle Jr. of Knoxville, Tenn., as his team's lone entrant at BRP for the remainder of the weekend. Boles is considering jumping into a second car for Volusia Speedway Park's action starting on Monday.
(10 laps; top 6 transfer)
Row 1: Chub Frank, Chase Junghans
Row 2: Darrell Lanigan, Shane Clanton
Row 3: Mark Whitener, Scott Groves
Row 4: Tyler Clem, Billy Ogle Jr.
Row 5: Austin Smith, Mike Hammerle
Row 1: Boom Briggs, Jordan Yaggy
Row 2: Austin Kirkpatrick, Ivedent Lloyd Jr.
Row 3: Mason Zeigler, Bob Gardner
Row 4: Dennis Franklin, Tim McCreadie
Row 5: Rodney Sanders
Row 1: Brandon Overton, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 2: Josh Richards, Steve Casebolt
Row 3: Josh Knoll, Dave Fieber
Row 4: Rick Eckert, Eric Wells
Row 5: Morgan Bagley
Time trials results
Chub Frank (1*), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.092
Boom Briggs (99b), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.299
Brandon Overton (76), Appling, Ga., 15.4
Chase Junghans (18c), Manhattan, Kan., 15.427
Jordan Yaggy (77), Rochester, Minn., 15.488
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., 15.525
Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 15.697
Austin Kirkpatrick (11K), Ocala, Fla., 15.701
Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 15.708
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 15.747
Ivedent Lloyd Jr. (21), Ocala, Fla., 15.762
Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., 15.779
Mark Whitener (58), Middleburg, Fla., 15.813
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 15.832
Josh Knoll (87), Lake, Mich., 15.868
Scott Groves (311), Canton, Ga., 15.915
Bob Gardner (4), Creve Couer, Ill., 15.927
Dave Fieber (1), Chippewa Falls, Wis., 15.931
Tyler Clem (14), St. Petersburgh, Fla., 16.012
Dennis Franklin (2), Gaffney, S.C., 16.02
Rick Eckert (7V), York, Pa., 16.07
Billy Ogle Jr. (201), Knoxville, Tenn., 16.091
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 16.131
Eric Wells (18), Hazard, Ky., 16.146
Austin Smith (11), Cedartown, Ga., 16.185
Rodney Sanders (20), Happy, Texas, 16.271
Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, 16.705
Mike Hammerle (16H), St. Charles, Mo., 17.701