A weakness can become a strength. Frank Heckenast Jr. proved that Saturday night at I-94 Sure Step Speedway.
For the Frankfort, IL driver, that weakness was starting a race. The green flag dropped and sometimes so would he. Not Saturday, though. He finally turned that weakness into a strength by powering around the outside of Tyler Bruening on Lap 1 and holding off the field for all 40 laps to claim the $10,000 prize.
“My Dad’s been on me for years about starts, I’m one of the worst people in the world at starting a race,” Heckenast said. “With [crew member] T.C. being here and taking over the setups, I’ve been focusing on my driving and starts, and I felt like the race was won at the start.
“If Tyler [Bruening] got the lead on the first lap, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten around him.”
Despite dominating the race, he still had to deal with an assortment of slower traffic. Heckenast further demonstrated his ability as a driver to learn and adapt with how he taught himself to handle the situation.
“We ran second in a [DIRTcar Summer Nationals] race to Bobby [Pierce] and he just made all the difference in the world being aggressive in lap traffic,” Heckenast said. “[Saturday] I said every shot I get I’m going for it because it could make a difference in the race.”
The win is Heckenast’s second World of Outlaws win of the season, and third of his career.
Three-time and defending Series champion Brandon Sheppard finished second—his 14th podium finish of 2021.
The New Berlin, IL driver was involved in a three-way dance for second place, along with Tyler Bruening and Chris Madden. He made his move with a few laps to go, throwing a slide-job on Bruening to grab the runner-up spot.
“Madden snuck in there on us, and we were slicing and dicing and doing crazy stuff, and I finally got to where I could slide Bruening and then I could really go,” Sheppard said. “By the time I got to second, [Heckenast] had already drove off.”
The result helped Sheppard again extend his lead in the Series standings—82 points ahead of Chris Madden, who finished fourth.
Madden and Bruening waged a war for third that saw their body panels meet by the finish line with Bruening narrowly grabbing the final podium spot.
After the race, Madden showed displeasure toward Bruening in the infield, stopping his car in front of him, getting out, and yelling at the Rookie driver.
Bruening, of Decorah, IA, just saw the incident as hard racing.
“We never touched until we came to the start-finish line,” Bruening said. “[Madden] can say whatever he wants to say. It’s bull crap. We’re coming to the checkered flag for a podium finish for a top-three, and we’re both in the fuel wide-open and we’re banging off each other and whatever for a good, solid third-place finish.
“So, if he’s upset with that, I don’t know what really to say, because I thought we had a damn good race. I thought we raced each other aggressively, but respectfully and obviously he thinks differently.”
We reached out to Madden after the race about the finish, but he declined to comment.
Even though Bruening hoped Saturday would be his first trip to Victory Lane, he stated he’s happy with the direction his team is going.
“The car’s been really good, we’re making good adjustments on it, and we’re clicking as a team good,” Bruening said. “We’re just building off of this each night.”
Ryan Gustin finished fifth, his second top-five of the weekend.
The Upper Midwest swing has been one to remember for Heckenast Jr., with two wins in five races. Potentially even more important, he’s continued to learn how to turn his weaknesses into strength. A good sign for him. Maybe not for his competition.
UP NEXT: The Most Powerful Late Models on the Planet travel to Red Cedar Speedway in Menomonie, WI for the Rumble at the Red Cedar on Sunday, July 18.
Morton Buildings Feature (40 Laps)-1. 99JR-Frank Heckenast [$10,000]; 2. 1-Brandon Sheppard [$6,000]; 3. 16-Tyler Bruening [$3,500]; 4. 44-Chris Madden [$2,800]; 5. 19R-Ryan Gustin [$2,500]; 6. 97-Cade Dillard [$2,300]; 7. 28M-Jimmy Mars [$2,200]; 8. 7-Ricky Weiss [$2,100]; 9. 55C-Chad Mahder [$2,050]; 10. 11-Pat Doar [$2,000]; 11. 1-2′-Bryce Sward [$1,600]; 12. 2-Dave Mass [$1,400]; 13. 45-Kyle Hammer [$1,200]; 14. 6M-Jeff Massingill [$1,100]; 15. B1-Brent Larson [$1,050]; 16. 76-Blair Nothdurft [$1,000]; 17. 44S-Cole Schill [$1,000]; 18. 99B-Boom Briggs [$1,000]; 19. 77-Jordan Yaggy [$1,000]; 20. 90-Lance Matthees [$1,000]; 21. 28-Dennis Erb [$1,000]; 22. 10K-Shawn Kirwin [$1,000]; 23. 10-Paul Parker [$1,000]; 24. 50-Ben Wolden [$1,000] Hard Charger Award: 11-Pat Doar[+11]
Qualifying –1. 16-Tyler Bruening, 17.27; 2. 44-Chris Madden, 17.554; 3. 55C-Chad Mahder, 17.56; 4. 10-Paul Parker, 17.58; 5. 99B-Boom Briggs, 17.625; 6. 1-Brandon Sheppard, 17.638; 7. 99JR-Frank Heckenast, 17.67; 8. 28-Dennis Erb, 17.775; 9. 77-Jordan Yaggy, 17.794; 10. 97-Cade Dillard, 17.81; 11. 19R-Ryan Gustin, 17.82; 12. 7-Ricky Weiss, 17.841; 13. 28M-Jimmy Mars, 17.874; 14. B1-Brent Larson, 17.895; 15. 11-Pat Doar, 17.968; 16. 45-Kyle Hammer, 17.996; 17. 44S-Cole Schill, 18.003; 18. 1-2′-Bryce Sward, 18.024; 19. 2-Dave Mass, 18.053; 20. 90-Lance Matthees, 18.376; 21. 6M-Jeff Massingill, 18.426; 22. 18X-Shawn Meyer, 18.507; 23. 50-Ben Wolden, 18.746; 24. 71X-Cory Tammen, 18.76; 25. 76-Blair Nothdurft, 18.938; 26. 10K-Shawn Kirwin, 19.229; 27. 5E-Shane Edginton, NT