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Less than two days before a weekend that will showcase stock car racing at Michigan International Speedway, the auto racing world was shocked and saddened by the death of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler.
The New Jersey State Police said Wednesday night that Leffler, 37, died as a result of injuries suffered during a sprint-car accident during a race in Swedesboro, N.J.
Leffler was not entered in either the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, or ARCA races scheduled for this weekend at MIS but drove in the Pure Michigan 400 in August. He completed 14 laps before leaving the race because of mechanical issues.
NASCAR teams and drivers plan to commemorate Leffler this weekend at MIS. An MIS spokesman said the track will hold a moment of silence for Leffler prior to Saturday’s Nationwide race and Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, and there will be a remembrance of Leffler during invocations at the track this weekend. Nationwide drivers will have a decal on their cars in honor of Leffler.
“The MIS team is thinking of Jason Leffler, his family, fans, and those close to him. Let’s have a weekend of great memories for #LEFturn,” MIS posted in a statement on its Facebook and Twitter accounts Thursday morning.
In an email to the Blade, ARCA representatives said that Leffler had two series starts, neither at Toledo Speedway.
Drivers from the professional to amateur levels expressed their sadness and sympathy for Leffler’s family and his 5-year-old son, Charlie Dean.
“Jason Leffler was a great racer and an even better friend,” Tony Stewart said in a statement posted on his Web site, TonyStewart.com. “We raced together a lot, and our career paths were very similar. He loved racing, especially open-wheel racing, and that’s a passion we both share. To not have him around to talk about whatever race one of us had just run, or were going to run, will be hard. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, especially his son, Charlie, who Jason loved more than anything.”
NJ.com and NBC-10 Philadelphia reported that Leffler was on turn four of a qualifying race at Bridgeport Speedway when his sprint car flipped several times down the front straightaway before hitting a wall. He was unconscious after the crash with major injuries and after he was extricated from the vehicle, he was transported to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pa., where he was pronounced dead at 9 p.m. Wednesday. The New Jersey State Police said in a statement that the accident is under investigation.
Leffler started his career in the USAC driving open-wheel cars, drove in all three NASCAR series from 2000 to 2011 and drove in the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Leffler drove Sunday in his first Sprint Cup race in 2013, running eight laps in the Party in the Poconos 400, but he had not been a full-time NASCAR driver since 2011, when he finished sixth in the Nationwide Series.
“NASCAR extends its thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies to the family of Jason Leffler who passed away earlier this evening,” the racing organization said Wednesday night in a statement. “For more than a decade, Jason was a fierce competitor in our sport and he will be missed.”
Bridgeport Speedway, which hosted the race Leffler was killed in, also posted a statement on its Web site.
“On behalf of the Bridgeport Speedway management team and employees, our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and fans of Jason Leffler.”