NASCAR loses driver in dirt-track disaster

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Once again we are reminded that this sport we love can also break our hearts. I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler on Wednesday night in a sprint car accident. He was a three-time USAC Midget champion, a Silver Crown champ, a winner in both NASCAR’s Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, and popular with both fans and his fellow competitors. He will be missed.

•••

No matter how safe we try to make the sport, there is still an element of danger and the threat of injury or death. A racing fatality these days is mercifully rare, unlike years past. When I first got involved in the sport some 40-plus years ago, losing a driver was much more common than it is today. And while the major sanctioning bodies (NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, NHRA) have made great strides in safety, the smaller tracks and racing organizations still have some catching up to do. Would a SAFER barrier have made a difference in Leffler’s accident? Probably, but the cost of installation would put many small tracks out of business. And drivers, for the most part, would rather spend money to go faster rather than spend it on expensive safety gear like the HANS device. It’s a balancing act that unfortunately can turn tragic.

•••

On a much happier note, I was able to talk to Mackena Bell last weekend. She was in town for her sister Kellcy’s high school graduation. She was in good spirits and excited about her season so far in the K&N Pro Series East, despite getting caught up in a late-race accident and finishing 22nd at Iowa the night before. I asked her about her plans for next year, thinking that she was “term limited” out at Revolution Racing and the Drive for Diversity program. She told me that the rules had changed, and she is eligible again next year, without having to go through the combine. Her Toyota sponsorship is probably a plus for getting renewed with Revolution, as is her performance this season. Her dad Kelly told me that she spends a lot of time in the shop working on the cars and learning about setup, which will help her in the long run.

•••

Last weekend, the points leaders in all the major racing series extended their leads by winning races. Sebastian Vettel, going for his fourth consecutive Formula 1 driving championship, dominated in Canada. Jimmie Johnson, on track for his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title, won convincingly at Pocono. And Helio Castroneves worked his way to the front and then drove away to victory in the Texas IndyCar round. To be completely accurate, Castroneves was tied for the points lead with Marco Andretti coming into the race, but leaves with sole possession of first place.

•••

Andretti is looking to re-take the points lead this weekend at Milwaukee, and was fastest in Friday practice. The race at the flat one-mile oval will air at 1 p.m. today on NBC Sports. You can watch NASCAR’s Nationwide race from Michigan on ESPN starting at 11:15 a.m., and most of the drivers will have “LEFTURN” painted above the driver’s door in honor of Leffler. The Sprint Cup Michigan round will be televised on TNT starting at 10 a.m. Sunday, with the Ford of Carl Edwards starting from the pole. Thirteen drivers qualified at over 200 mph yesterday, so it should be a fast-paced race.

•••

If you are out and about in Reno this weekend, be sure to check out the Rockabilly Riot event at the Grand Sierra Resort. The show features homebuilt cars and traditional hot rods, drag racing, burnout contests, live music, toilet seat racing (no kidding), and lots more. It is one of the Northern Nevada Motor Madness signature events.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment