NASCAR driver Jason Leffler died Wednesday evening after a crash during a sprint car race at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey.
The New Jersey State Police department confirmed the news:
Logan Township, Bridgeport Speedway fatal accident victim i'd as Jason Leffler, 37, of Huntersville, N.C. Accident under investigation.— NJSP - State Police (@NJSP) June 13, 2013
Leffler was 37.
Upon hearing of Leffler's passing, many in the NASCAR community passed along their condolences:
Thoughts & prayers w/ @JasonLeffler & his family tonight. He always had a smile on his face when we worked together. So sad...— Rutledge Wood (@RutledgeWood) June 13, 2013
Extremely sad to hear about @JasonLeffler. spent a lot of time racing with him. Gone way too soon. Prayers to his entire family.— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) June 13, 2013
Competing in Bridgeport's "Night of Wings" event, Leffler was involved in an accident while competing in a heat race—the precursor qualifier to the main event races. While details about the crash are still coming forward, Leffler's car reportedly flipped on the track's front stretch, leaving extensive damage to the roof of his car, per Yahoo! Sports' Jay Busbee.
Leffler was unable to get out of his car by his own volition, so safety crews on hand had to extricate him from the vehicle. NBC Philadelphia reported that he was taken to Cooper Trauma Center for his injuries, where he was pronounced dead.
An ESPN.com report provided more details on the crash on Thursday, and stated that police are trying to figure out what happened to cause the fatal collision.
A spectator, Chris Taitt, said he was at the race but looking the other way when the crash occurred. He says Leffler had been in second place, apart from other cars when his car slammed into a wall at the track's fourth turn.
Taitt, 40, of West Deptford, said the wing on the car was "flattened like a pancake," and the seat appeared to be displaced.
Leffler's representatives, Spire Sports, expressed their condolences, according to the same report.
"Despite his many accomplishments, Jason still followed in the same footsteps of his heroes that would race anything, anytime. All Jason wanted to do was race. He was the life of every party and a true racer," Leffler's representative, Spire Sports, said in a statement. "We will miss Jason dearly and know that his family appreciates all the thoughts and prayers."
John Barnes, the owner of Panther Racing, one of Leffler's former teams, expressed sadness at his passing, according to the ESPN report.
Panther Racing owner John Barnes, for whom Leffler raced in 2004 and 2005, said Leffler had a "fierce competitive spirit and a devilish attitude. Jason was a small man with a huge right foot."
A longtime dominant fixture on the midget car tracks as a youth, Leffler became one of the more promising young names in racing in the late '90s. He won three straight USAC Midget championships from 1997 to 1999, a feat that had not been accomplished for nearly four decades.
After the third championship, he joined NASCAR's Busch (now the Nationwide) series, and later made his Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) series debut under Chip Ganassi Racing's umbrella in 2001.
While that Sprint Cup showing was short-lived—Leffler made a total of 72 starts in NASCAR's top circuit, the most recent being a 43rd-place finish at Pocono last week—he showed a proficiency at handling any form of racing at NASCAR's lower levels for the next decade-plus.
Spending most of his career in the Nationwide Series, Leffler amassed two wins and 107 top-10 finishes over his career in the sport's second circuit. He won his first race at the Federated Auto Parts 300 in 2004 and was a fixture on the circuit until parting ways with Great Clips Toyota in 2011.
Leffler then spent a short stint in NASCAR's Camping World Truck series for a short time with Kyle Busch Motorsports, where he had won the MBNA America 200 in 2003. He amassed six top-10 finishes in 10 races with Busch Motorsports before leaving to pursue other opportunities.
Last week's 43rd-place finish was his only appearance on NASCAR's major circuits during the 2013 season.
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