Leffler's Death Reignites Debate About Racing Safety
- Safety measures at local short tracks are being debated in the aftermath of the June 12 death of driver Jason Leffler.
- Leffler was killed when the sprint car he was driving crashed at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey.
- Drivers and a safety expert had divergent opinions on what could be done to improve safety in a situation such as Leffler's fatal crash.
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Jason Leffler's death last week in the crash of a winged sprint car at Bridgeport, New Jersey, has focused attention of safety measures at local short tracks, but there is no consensus about what should be done at hundreds of speedways across the country.
Meanwhile, a celebration of the life of Leffler, 37, has been scheduled for Wednesday at Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius, North Carolina, and a trust fund has been established for Leffler's son, Charlie Dean Leffler, 5.
Leffler died from blunt force trauma to his neck when his car veered into the concrete retaining wall at Bridgeport Speedway, a 5/8-mile dirt oval, and began flipping violently. Leffler had to be removed from the wreckage of his car and was pronounced dead after transport to a nearby hospital.
The speedway is a long-established venue near the Delaware River on the southern edge of the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The track opened in 1972 and recently added a 1/4-mile oval inside the larger track to add races for less-powerful, slower racecars. It features races for a variety of open-wheel and full-bodied racecars.
At Michigan International Speedway for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 race, reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski criticized local short tracks and said he does not compete in races on those tracks "because they don't have SAFER barriers and they don't have the safety standards that we have here in NASCAR," according to media reports.
However, Dr. Dean Sicking, who headed the development of the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reducing) Barrier at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said he was "skeptical" about whether the innovative retaining wall system would have enhanced Leffler's chances of survival, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, a close friend of Leffler's and a regular competitor in races on local tracks, said safety standards at Bridgeport were not the problem and that Leffler's death was just an accident, according to Auto Racing Daily.
"Short track promoters are doing everything they can do to operate and just stay afloat," said Stewart, who owns the 1/2-mile dirt Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, and is part-owner of several other local tracks.
Eldora, one of the nation's best known dirt tracks, will be the site of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in July, the first dirt race for a NASCAR national touring series since 1971. It will be the only event for the Cup, Nationwide and Truck series on a track where there is no SAFER Barrier system in place.
Edmunds says: Major racing series have a glowing safety record over the past decade, but it's unrealistic to think all the danger can be engineered or legislated out of the sport.