Frank Heckenast Jr: “I finally have three motors and I have two cars. I have everything to do it, finally. But, now I’m not going to be able to do it.”
Frank Heckenast Jr nearly raced Speedweeks; Doctors convinced the dirt late model driver to sit out a few extra months
Frank Heckenast Jr was involved in a crash at Portsmouth Raceway Park on October 21st, 2017. It happened in the final Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event of the season, the famed Dirt Track World Championship.
Starting from the front row, he found himself on the bad end of a 3 wide scenario. Domino like contact eventually sent him up the banking. He never lifted, pancaking the right side of the car. Paramedics woke him up and Frank climbed from the car to the applause of the crowd.
That same night, Frank drove home from the race track. He doesn’t remember much of that. Understandably, many parts of that night paint blanks in his memory. After reaching the race shop, he then drove himself to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a concussion.
Over the past 3 months, Frank has been in and out of hospitals, chasing symptoms. Yet, he was still going to race Speedweeks. It’s hard to keep a racer out of the cockpit and our off-season is shorter than ever this year.
Recently, the 29-year-old had surgery to remove his appendix, a second injury which may or may not have been the result of the October crash. In a roundabout way, that was the final straw. Frank and the team pulled the plug on Speedweeks.
His new plans are to get his season rolling in March. Perfect attendance records are needed to receive the series regular bonus. In turn, that means he won’t run a national touring series in 2018.
I wanna know how you’re looking at this new season. Are you looking at it with disappointment? Or are you looking at this as a year that you get to go out and just have fun? You know, without the restrictions to a tour, you get to go out and run whatever races you want.
“Well, there’s always positives and negatives to everything,” Frank Heckenast Jr tells RacingNews.co. “But, part of me has been wanting to get off tour for awhile. When I say I’m going to do something, I usually do it. I’m pretty committed to stuff.”
“When I committed to it, I was trying to get better at it and just do it. But, we never really did it the right way, with working all the time. You know, I only had two motors until last year. I finally got three, in the middle of the year.”
“With the guys we race against on that deal, having two motors is nothing. I mean, they carry that for spares, in the trailer. I’m not making excuses. I wanted to keep doing it and I wanted to actually do Lucas this year.”
“When I got hurt, that didn’t really change it that much. Except, the doctors wouldn’t ever clear me. With my appendix going out, that pretty much put a nail on it. I finally have three motors and I have two cars. I have everything to do it, finally. But, now I’m not going to be able to do it.”
“That sucks in one way. But, in another way, at least now I can do the whole Summer Nationals. I’ll just treat that as a tour. The rest of the year, I’ll just do a hit n’ miss and have fun with it. Make it fun again.”
Are there any tracks or events that you’re excited about on your 2018 schedule? Specifically, one’s that you haven’t had the opportunity to run in the past because of conflicts while you were glued to a tour.
“Oh yeah. I went to Wheatland once and missed it by one spot, the Show-Me. I’ve been wanting to go back, the whole time. Every year, I get so upset that I can’t go to the North/South. There’s just a ton of races that I miss by doing a tour.”
“I sound wishy washy, part of me is really excited that I can do what I want. But, there is a lot of good things that come with a tour as far as pit passes, show up money and a points fund at the end of the year. All that stuff does help believe it or not.
“It is cool, at the same time, to be able to go where you want, have some fun with it and not have so much pressure. Whenever you don’t have as much pressure, you run a lot better. No matter who tells you something different. Whenever you just go out and have fun is probably when you run the best.”
“I’m excited to not have the pressure. I’ll miss the having to go to the shop to get ready, instead of working because I have a points race. I don’t really know how that’s going to play out.”
“That’s why I put out such a strict, high-level schedule — If I get it out there now and make myself want to do it then I’ll prepare myself for it. You know, I’m not going to go to a race that’s far away if weather’s over 50%.”
“But, we have a lot of those bigger races and crown jewels, that I wanted to do. There’s a lot of Lucas races that I wanted to do, that I never could do.”
“Where I live, there’s so many racing around here. They’ve been getting more and more, every year. I’ve been on the road missing them. I’m kinda excited for that too.”
Frank Heckenast Jr is from the Chicago, Illinois area.
Was the appendix surgery related to the crash at the Dirt Track World Championship?
“When my appendix went out, I never told the doctor, ‘Hey, I’m a race car driver.’ And my seat was real tore up, where my ribs are at, where it’s kinda located. I never really brought that up. So, they didn’t have any way of really looking into it.”
“I would say no. I don’t really know. I know that rib support on my seat was torn up and bent all the way out. I didn’t really talk to a lot of people about my wreck because it’s not going to really change anything.”
“Looking at my seat, you think my ribs would kill. But, I told everyone, ‘I got no problem. Everything feels fine, that’s the only thing that’s not sore.’ Then, come to find out my appendix goes bad, later.”
“I had a lot of stomach problems. I was just fighting them off because I hate going to the doctor.”
Before the wreck or after?
“This is after the wreck. I just didn’t treat it. Then, when I went into the hospital they said it’s been infected for awhile. I don’t know how long it’s been going on. I’m just glad I got it taken care of.”
Then, when my appendix went out, I was still going to race.
-Frank Heckenast Jr
“My neurologist and my neck therapist, they didn’t clear me for Florida. They said they’ll see me again in March. I was just going to race anyway. Then, when my appendix went out, I was still going to race.”
“I went in for an appendix checkup after my surgery. He told me I was nuts, if I tried to race. They cut me like four times, right where my seatbelt was going to lay. He said there’s no possible way I could take the pain once I strap myself in. So, I just pulled the plug on the whole deal.”
Did you try to fight him at all? Like, look Doc I’m a race car driver and this is an important weekend. A weekend that sets the entire season.
“Oh of course, we all do that. He looked at me and asked, ‘Does it pay your bills? Is it what you do for a living?’ I said, no. But, I take it pretty serious. I got a lot of fans and people that support me who are going to be expecting me to go to Speedweeks.”
“He said, ‘If you can pay your bills and it’s not going to affect your life financially, to not go. Then, I wouldn’t go. I think you’re nuts for even trying to go.’ ”
“If I got in a wreck. I mean, I wasn’t even suppose to drive, days after the surgery. If I got into a wreck, the steering wheel would hit me right where I got my surgery. There’s a big possibility of serious damage.”
“He says, ‘You might as well have told me you’re a professional hockey player if you’re going to put your body through this much.’ I’m not even suppose to lift over 10 lbs, for another week.”
“You know how racing is. You get there, you get in the moment. You get a flat, the rear end or motor blows up. The crew guys are rushing to get something changed. I’ll probably pick something up that I shouldn’t.”
Yeah, you definitely made the right decision.
“Yeah, for once in my life I’m putting my health first. Something told me not to race Speedweeks after my concussion. The doctors hadn’t cleared me and I was still going to do it.”
Was that your first concussion?
“Yeah. I was hardcore into sports when I was younger. You know with football, baseball. I tore my body up pretty good. I broke everything there is, a couple times. I never had a concussion, that I knew of.”
“It was more than a concussion though. We just kept treating it as a concussion and I wasn’t getting any better. I was so dizzy that I’d fall over in the shower. Blurred vision, just wouldn’t go away. I still have the dizziness and blurred vision, mild. I’m down to about 20% right now.”
“We found out about a month and a half ago that it was more the nerves in my neck are all torn and messed up. That’s where the bigger problems came in. Once we got a hold of that and they got me on a strict diet with my concussion, is when I started feeling tremendously better.”
“I was getting worse, early on. The doctors weren’t seeing any progress. Then, about 7 weeks ago, we found it was the nerves in my neck. Then, I found out that sugar, pop and sports drinks were upsetting my brain. I went to a strict no sugar and water diet.”
“That’s when everything kinda came together.”
Currently, Frank Heckenast Jr has plans to get his season fired in Ohio on March 16th. His 2018 campaign will begin at Atomic Speedway. The event is hosted by the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
Related: Initial report of the DTWC crash
Related: NASCAR concussion protocol extended