One thing that is common is that no matter what kind of motorsport a driver is in, they are part of a vast community. Whether it’s stock cars or open-wheel, dirt bikes or late models, road racing or desert racing, the racing community is one huge family.
When something tragic happens, every genre hurts because it means someone is lost that loved what he or she did.
That was the case leading into the NASCAR weekend at Michigan. On Wednesday night, at a short track in Bridgeport, New Jersey, NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was racing a winged sprint car in a heat race when he caught the outside wall and crashed, ferociously. At that point, everything stopped. He was taken to the hospital, and speculation began circulating on social media, mainly Twitter, of what was going on. I tried to stay away from that because I needed hard facts…and got them.
When they came in, everyone was hurt. The wreck on Wednesday night took away a racer that was nicknamed “LEFturn” and took away a father for a 5-year-old little boy.
Leffler was just 37 when he was taken away, and the entire racing community felt the pain. Anytime a driver, young or old, man or woman, decides to strap on the helmet and race for a living, the risk of not getting out of the car is there. It happened two years ago when then-Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was taken away at the final event of the year, so suddenly, so unexpectedly. The pain of seeing young drivers like Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty pass away on the track still hurts to this day because both were so young, with Petty only being 19 at the time.
No driver, crewman or fan will ever forget the pain when NASCAR lost its icon on Feb. 18, 2001, when Dale Earnhardt was taken from everyone.
This one stung hard because of it being Father’s Day weekend, and knowing Leffler’s son, Charlie Dean, would no longer have a dad in his life had to be tough. The entire garage area was hurting, but not one driver or crew member had a bad remark to say about him, because he did one thing in this era that is hard to do…earn the garage’s respect. He simply loved what he did, and that stood out to everyone.
Teams honored Leffler all weekend, and began making donations to help his son with anything he needs after finding out Leffler did not have life insurance. Hats, decals, anything that could be used to help raise money for the family was made, and a trust fund was created so if fans did not want merchandise, but still wanted to help, they could do so.
At the end of the weekend, Greg Biffle scored a historic win in NASCAR, the 1,000th victory for Ford Motor Company at the Cup level. But it did not feel the same when someone so well liked wasn’t there.
ESPN commentator Marty Reed said years ago after Indy Car lost Dan Wheldon, “People always ask me why I always sign off ‘until we meet again.’ It’s because ‘good bye’ is so final.”
Good bye, Jason Leffler.
RESULTS: 1-Biffle 2-Harvick 3-Truex Jr. 4-Kyle Busch 5-Stewart 6-Kenseth 7-Bowyer 8-Edwards 9-Logano 10-Burton
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Keselowski 13-Patrick 28-Johnson 30-Hamlin 37-Earnhardt Jr. 39-Gordon
CAUTIONS: 8 for 38 laps. Lap 7-10 (#24, 51 Accident-T2), 22-25 (Competition), 30-33 (#78 Accident-T2), 42-45 (Debris), 77-80 (Debris), 105-112 (#5 Accident-T2), 132-135 (Oil on track from #88), 168-173 (#1 Accident-T1).
LEAD CHANGES: 22 among 13 drivers. Edwards POLE, Kurt Busch 1-21, Yeley 22, Ragan 23, McDowell 24, Edwards 25, Logano 26-42, McMurray 43-63, Johnson 64-76, Earnhardt Jr. 77, Mears 78-79, Earnhardt Jr. 80-89, Kahne 90-103, Johnson 104, Earnhardt Jr 105-127, Johnson 128-131, Biffle 132, Kvapil 133-134, Logano 135, Edwards 136-150, Biffle 151-165, Logano 166-168, Biffle 169-200.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 52 Mins, 19 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 139.278 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 2.989 Seconds
POINTS: 1. Johnson, 538 points; 2. Edwards, -31; 3. Bowyer, -49; 4. Harvick, -62; 5. Kenseth, -82; 6. Kyle Busch, -86; 7. Earnhardt Jr, -91; 8. Biffle, -95; 9. Keselowski, -108; 10. Stewart, -121; 11. Menard, -123; 12. Kahne, -131