The racing community is very tight knit and when a loss of anyone occurs, it hits everyone in some way, shape or form. Though Jason Leffler’s NASCAR career was where he made most of his living from 2001 onward, he was a rising open-wheel star from the late 1990s through 2000.
Leffler, from Long Beach, Calif., started out racing USAC midgets. He promptly won three consecutive USAC Midget championships from 1997 to 1999, and in 1999, also won two of short track racing’s biggest events: the Turkey Night Grand Prix and the Copper World Classic.
He met Roger Penske in 1998 at the Hut 100, and his progress also caught the eye of Joe Gibbs. Leffler made his IndyCar debut as the replacement for a fairly big name in the sport, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk, at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1999. A year later, in a car that had Penske support but was not Penske-entered, Leffler made his debut in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and finished 17th.
A statement from INDYCAR said the following: “INDYCAR extends its deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Jason Leffler for their tragic loss. Jason was a USAC champion who made three INDYCAR starts, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
This was from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and its COO Doug Boles: “We are very saddened at the passing of Jason Leffler. He was one of the most versatile race drivers in America, showing his talent by competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his career. He also displayed the skills that would help him reach the top levels of the sport by winning four USAC national series titles while winning on tracks throughout the Midwest. Jason was a terrific guy who always had time for everyone. Our deepest sympathies are extended to his entire family, team and fans.”
Lastly, Panther Racing fielded Leffler in several USAC Silver Crown races in 2004. From Panther’s managing partner/CEO John Barnes: “I was shocked to hear tonight about the passing of Jason Leffler. Jason was a friend and former driver of Panther Racing. He was one of the most versatile drivers I have ever met. He reminded me so much of Parnelli Jones. We will miss his fierce competitive spirit and his devilish attitude. He constitutes the old saying, ‘It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’ Jason was a small man with a huge right foot. Our prayers go out to his entire family, and especially his son Charlie. He will be forever missed.”
Few of the current IndyCar drivers had the chance to race Leffler directly, but they share the sadness and the memories nonetheless. A sampling of tweets from the IndyCar community, drivers and teams, are below:
So sad we lost Jason Leffler tonight. Can’t imagine what his family is going through. Thoughts & prayers go out to them. #PrayForCharlie
— Ryan Hunter-Reay (@RyanHunterReay) June 13, 2013
— AJ Allmendinger (@AJDinger) June 13, 2013
Man, so sad to hear about Jason Leffler. Obviously such a talented guy, thoughts are with his family and loved ones.
— JR Hildebrand (@JRHildebrand) June 13, 2013
Rest in peace Jason Leffler. A tough competition and a great guy. My thoughts are with his family and friends.
— Dario Franchitti (@dariofranchitti) June 13, 2013
— Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan) June 13, 2013
RIP @jasonleffler. Didn’t know him but incredibly sad to see a fellow driver pass away doing what we love.
— Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal) June 13, 2013
— Justin Wilson (@justin_wilson) June 13, 2013
Praying for all of @jasonleffler family, especially his little guy Charlie.
— Ed Carpenter (@edcarpenter20) June 13, 2013
Tough to hear news like that. Didn’t know him personally but a friend of racing is a friend of mine. Thoughts are with JL’s family. #LEFturn
— James Hinchcliffe (@Hinchtown) June 13, 2013
My heart goes out to Jason Leffler’s family, so sad Jason lost his life tonightRIP @jasonleffler
— Arie Luyendyk (@ArieLuyendyk) June 13, 2013
The fraternal commitment made to each other makes the loss of Jason Leffler hard to accept – his passion was universal.
— Mike Hull (@IndyMHull) June 13, 2013
Our prayers go out to @jasonleffler, his family,and friends.
— Penske Racing (@penskeracing) June 13, 2013