NEW RICHMOND, Wis. — Frankie Heckenast Jr. and Darrell Lanigan earned front-row starting spots in the 25 th annual USA Nationals with their performances on Friday night at Cedar Lake Speedway.
Even the possibility of racing for another $25,000 to win Saturday evening’s 100-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main wasn’t enough to shake them from their prime positions.
After Heckenast won Friday night’s 15-lap dash and Lanigan finished second to put them at the head of Saturday’s USA Nationals field, both drivers were given the opportunity to forfeit their spots and start from the last row as part of the ‘Tail-Start Challenge’ in celebration of the event’s 25th anniversary. Accepting the challenge would make them eligible to claim a $25G bonus — on top of the race’s already huge $50,000 first-place prize — if they could drive through the pack to win.
But even with the qualifying night’s big crowd urging them on during the Victory Lane ceremony following the dash, neither Heckenast nor Lanigan took the potentially lucrative gamble.
“No deal,” the 24-year-old Heckenast said when offered the challenge by WoO LMS announcer Rick Eshelman.
“I’m a gambler, but there are too many variables out there with this race track,” Lanigan said when Eshelman posed the question. “I hate to let the fans down. Any other time I would’ve done it, but we gotta look at the big picture. I got my favorite car here tonight and I’m gonna play it safe.”
Both drivers will be given a chance to reconsider their decisions overnight. Cedar Lake Speedway officials plan to offer them one more shot to accept the challenge during Saturday evening’s opening ceremonies.
A competitor in the dirt Late Model division for eight years, Heckenast earned his berth in the 10-car dash by finishing second in Friday’s second heat. He drew the pole position and dominated the event, racing virtually unchallenged for the entire distance in his Rocket machine.
Heckenast will make his second career start in the USA Nationals 100. He finished 11th in last year’s 100-lapper.
“I’m just tickled to death,” said Heckenast. “My goal today was just to make the race – you gotta make it before you can win it. We’re in the race and we start in the front, so we’ll take that.”
Lanigan was the biggest heat-race winner of the evening, capturing the third prelim by a convincing 4.977-second margin. He started third in the dash, which featured the top-two finishers in each heat in a battle for USA Nationals starting position, and stayed in the spot until finally overtaking defending WoO LMS champion Rick Eckert for second place with a inside move through turns three and four on the final lap.
Eckert settled for third in the dash, Don O’Neal was fourth and 10th-starter Jimmy Owens climbed forward to place fifth.
With Saturday’s USA Nationals offering only WoO LMS show-up points, Lanigan will have no worries about ceding any of his commanding 152-point lead over Eckert in the tour’s standings. He will be laser-focused on adding a first-ever USA Nationals triumph to his resume — and, in the process, pushing his 2012 earnings on the WoO LMS over the $250,000 mark.
Lanigan will make his fifth career start in a USA Nationals A-Main. His finishes include a personal-best fifth in 2011, plus 10th in 1995, 11 th in ’10 and 13th in ’05.
Lanigan has been a serious contender in each of the last two USA Nationals, but overheating issues have plagued his efforts. In 2010 he started from the pole position and led lap one and laps 20-31 before his hot powerplant seized up on lap 75 while he was running third, and last year he advanced from the 18th starting spot to place fifth despite nursing his car late in the distance due to a hole in its radiator.
Chad Simpson topped the event’s 53-car field in Ohlins Shocks Time Trials, turning a lap of 13.270 seconds for his third career WoO LMS fast-time honor.