Frank Heckenast Jr: “My deal was, the seat actually ripped out of the car.”
Back in October, Frank Heckenast Jr was involved in a crash at the DTWC. He impacted the Portsmouth Raceway Park retaining wall at speed. From the specatators point of view, the crash didn’t look too violent or scary. However, the inside of the cockpit tells a different story.
The seat was torn from the chassis. The rear clip snapped directly behind the seat and the right side wheels were compressed by 2 inches. All that shows just how hard of an impact it actually was. Paramedics then woke Heckenast Jr when they arrived at the scene.
Over the previous few months, Heckenast has been in and out of hospitals, chasing multiple injuries. The official results were a concussion and torn nerves in his neck. A possible side affect might or might not have been appendix failure.
They have the medical issues worked out. Now, he’s on the road to recovery.
Did the results of that impact surprise you? I was standing 15 feet from it. It didn’t look like you clobbered the wall. But, maybe it was the angle? I don’t really know? It just didn’t look like that impact would bring those results. Were you surprised?
“You know, I’ve wrecked hard in a car before, where it looked bad and it wasn’t. I’ve seen a lot of wrecks that looked bad and guys walked away, raced the next night.”
“I go back to Jared Landers. He flipped over at Tri-City then raced the next night and won a Lucas Oil race at Wheatland. He thought he was fine. Come to find out, he had a lot of issues down the road.”
“My deal was, the seat actually ripped out of the car.”
“Yeah and the back of the seat was ripped apart. The paramedics shaking me and all that is what woke me up. The seat being tore up and ripped out of the car. All these new rules came in place, because of my wreck.”
“The way it hit, it ripped the whole back of the clip off the car, right behind the seat. There’s no video that showed the wreck was hard. But, what happened was, I never lifted when I got the green. I was turning into the corner full speed and when I got hit I didn’t go airborne but it was enough to where there was nothing slowing the speed down.”
“What I’m trying to say, is all the other wrecks, I was decelerating when I hit the wall. That one, I actually picked up speed, right before I hit the wall. That’s what made it so horrible. I mean, I pancaked the wheels from a 15 inch wheel to a 13 inch wheel.”
I think your right front or left front was actually broken, before you hit the wall. I saw the left front turned all the way to the left, but you were still going straight.
“Yeah, that’s what I was saying. When I got hit, it sent me airborne, not completely. But, just enough. I don’t remember anything. But, I do remember that I never lifted until I hit the wall.
“I went right over the cushion like it wasn’t even there. I didn’t hit the brakes or nothing. He literally hit me at the exact second I was turned to make the corner. I was still in the fuel.”
“The worst part is, I actually backed out and drove home and I don’t remember any of it. I remember stopping at McDonalds, me and my crew chief. I remember going there, but that was like 20 miles away from Portsmouth.”
You were the one driving? Or you just don’t remember getting the ride?
“Yeah, I drove but I don’t remember that. I got to the shop and I told them my head was hurtin’ and I was going to go to the hospital. Then, I drove myself to the hospital.”
“It was so bad for awhile. I seen a million doctors, nobody could fix me. I remember waiting in rooms, I had to turn the lights off in rooms until they got in there. The light was just so brutal. It was giving me the worst migraine I could ever imagine. It was a lot.”
Yeah, Dale Earnhardt Jr said that same thing about the lights. Part of his recovery in the end was to actually go out and do things, adjusting to lights, people and conversation.
“Yeah, I couldn’t even drive at night, for a long time. I couldn’t tell the difference between the headlights and the stop lights. Every light, at night, was just so blurry to me. When I was at home, the best I felt was laying in a dark room. Looking at my phone, would get me dizzy.”
“It wasn’t the seat manufactures fault. It wasn’t the chassis manufactures fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. I’m very thankful that Lucas Oil, World of Outlaws and everyone came out with a Hans Device rule and the seats we had. I don’t know if I would have walked away from that if I didn’t have the full containment seat, the neck restraints and all the stuff I did have.”
“As bad as that wreck was… If I would have hit the wall at those speeds, five years prior, before all that stuff came out, it would have been a lot worse than it was. I am thankful for all the stuff we did have.”
“I think my wreck showed a lot of people that we need to start paying attention to seat mountings and beefin’ it up. I think that’s why they came out with this new rule on the thickness of the seats.”
What is this new rule? I haven’t heard anything about it. Is it new since your incident?
“Yeah, I don’t know if it was 100% because of me. I just know there was a lot of pictures taken of my seat. You gotta have a certified seat now that’s way thicker for mounting.”
“My problem was, the bolts ripped out of the seat because the seat wasn’t thick enough. It wasn’t my seat manufactures fault. They had bolt holes in there that I should have used.”
“But, we didn’t use them because in a dirt late model we don’t have all this open room in the back like NASCAR. Where the whole back of the cockpit’s open. They got all the room in the world to mount a seat. We don’t have that.”
“Basically, that rule has got us one step safer. We were already pretty safe. The new rules just make it even safer.”
“I know a lot of people are complaining about the costs and stuff. But, all the money I lost, not being able to work. All the money I lost, who knows how I would have done in that race. All the money I lost by not being able to go to Charlotte. Then, I messed four months of my life up. All the things I lost — It’s nothing compared to a fuckin’ $2,000 seat.”
“I’m not saying it’s $2,000 for a seat. But, everybody’s complaining about fire systems and this and that. They say the more rules you make, the the more money you spend. Well, that person’s obviously never had a bad wreck or went through what I did, going to hospitals and stuff. It’s terrible.”
“Everyone just wants to get so safe on the cars, which is good. I mean, there’s guys out there that have aluminum seat brackets. That’s just stupid. Mine was steel and it pulled it up, like it was nothing. It went from ten inches long, to two, it shattered it.”
“I can’t imagine these guys that have it mounted out of aluminum. I mean, I’ve done it before. I know there’s a lot of guys out there that have it. I don’t think anyone paid attention to it until they saw my seat tipped all the way over, against the cockpit.”
“That kinda opened everyone’s eyes.”
“It wasn’t any manufactures fault. It was just, I hit really hard. I could have mounted it better, I did it myself. I could have definitely had the holes spread apart on the top. They were only four inches, center to center. It made my seat really weak on the ends. The middle mounting wasn’t spaced out enough.”
“I think they’ve gone to like an eight inch rule or a ten inch rule. My wreck opened up a lot of eyes, ‘Hey, we need to look at some of these seat mountings inside these cars. They shouldn’t be able to race if it’s pop riveted in.’ And some people don’t even have their seat belts bolted in right.”
So, they mandated the spacing of the bolts too this year?
“I’m not 100% sure. I haven’t got into the racing stuff, like I would normally. But, I’m pretty sure everyone built new seat brackets. That was my suggestion. That’s what went wrong with mine, I mounted it and only had 4 1/2 inches between the bolts.”
Well, some good came out of it. Let’s put it that way.
“Yeah. And I’ll have a lot more fun this year, hopefully.”
He had plans to tour with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in 2018. Unfortunately, he wasn’t cleared by the doctors in time for Speedweeks. Heckenast Jr is scheduled to return to the track in March with a pick and choose schedule.
Related: Initial report of the DTWC crash
Related: NASCAR concussion protocol extended