OCALA, Fla. – 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 three-eighths-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 Clanton and hard-charging Josh Richards through the race’s final eight laps to earn $10,550 for his first career WoO LMS victory during the second round of the Bubba Army Winter Nationals.
“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 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 .766 of a second 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 recovered from an early spin in his Club 29 house car to finish fourth, while the Longhorn Chassis of early leader Chub Frank 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 LMS contender. After a seventh-place points finish on last year’s WoO LMS, Saturday’s strong performance now has Heckenast aiming much higher during his sophomore season.
“I feel like we belong here now,” said Heckenast, whose No. 99JR machine carries sponsorship from St. Louis U-Pic-A-Part and Storage Squares. “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.”