MUSKEGON, MI – Right when he needs it the most, Frank Heckenast Jr. pulls through.
The Frankfort Flyer was facing a 150-point deficit coming into the Thursday night’s event at Thunderbird Raceway, hot on the tail of his first DIRTcar Summer Nationals championship. That gap has now shrunken to 135 after scoring his third Hell Tour Feature win of the season, leading all 40 laps for the $5,000 top prize.
This makes two Feature wins in Racing Electronics Champions Week for the Jim Weber Motorsports team after their dominating victory Tuesday night at Kankakee County Speedway, and three on the season thus far – a new season-high on the Summer Nationals circuit.
Heckenast told Summer Nationals announcer Ruben Mireles in Victory Lane that a big part of the team’s abundant recent success can be attributed to their recent personnel additions.
“We got a new crew chief, Cory [Fostveldt]. He didn’t come into our program until March, April… it wasn’t that we weren’t gelling, it’s just that his ideas were one way and mine were another. Now that we’re both on the same page, we can really do some damage,” Hecknast said.
Of his three victories this season, Thursday night’s may have been his most impressive. Heckenast immediately jumped to the lead from the outside pole and set a torrent pace, reaching lapped traffic in less than 10 laps.
Inside, outside, in the middle – Heckenast dodged and weaved his way through the first few waves of lapped traffic and eventually settled into a comfortable lead ahead of a terrific battle for second going on behind him.
DIRTcar Late Model East Region points leader Chad Finley, former Modified star Ryan Gustin and local Michigan Late Model standout Dona Marcoullier were locked in a fierce battle for the runner-up spot, right in the middle of lapped traffic as the race approached the halfway point. As Heckenast began to reach a thin spot in traffic, current Summer Nationals points leader Brian Shirley entered the picture and threw his name into the race for second.
Gustin emerged as the big winner in the battle, shooting to the extreme high side and snatching away the second spot from Marcoullier as he neared a clear spot in traffic and used it to rapidly close the gap on Heckenast. Just as Gustin was about to catch the rear of Heckenast, a caution flag was displayed, restacking the field and putting a clear track in front of the leaders.
Despite Gustin’s strength on the high side, Heckenast didn’t flinch. He gassed it up on the high side and sped away from The Reaper’s challenge, including one on an additional restart after a second caution was thrown with just three laps remaining to collect his fifth career Summer Nationals victory.
Heckenast continues his points chase with the rest of the Summer Nationals Late Model field, now heading into the final two rounds of competition – Friday, Aug. 21 in the tour debut at Tri-City Motor Speedway and Saturday, Aug. 22 at Merritt Speedway in Lake City, MI.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (click for full results)
Feature (40 Laps) 1. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr ; 2. 19R-Ryan Gustin ; 3. 6M-Dona Marcoullier ; 4. 3S-Brian Shirley ; 5. M14-Brandon Thirlby ; 6. 42-Chad Finley ; 7. 55-Jeep VanWormer ; 8. 44-Colten Burdette ; 9. 21N-Logan Nickerson ; 10. 21B-Rich Bell ; 11. 25-Jason Feger ; 12. 9R-Curtis Roberts ; 13. 4G-Bob Gardner ; 14. 4-Travis Stemler ; 15. 27-Eric Spangler ; 16. 41-Mike Vandermark ; 17. 16-Garrett Wiles ; 18. 94-Bill Bray ; 19. 1S-Andy Sprague ; 20. 23V-Ryan VanderVeen ; 21. 91-Rusty Schlenk ; 22. 21S-Tom Sprague ; 23. 7-Drake Troutman ; 24. 48-Tim Lance  Hard Charger: M14-Brandon Thirlby[+8]