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IndyCar community reflects on Leffler, an open-wheel star in the 1990s

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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:






NHRA: Alexis DeJoria brings free mammograms to Texas, Las Vegas races

DeJoria pink race car for breast cancer awareness month
(Photo courtesy Alexis DeJoria Racing)
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Some drivers see red when they’re behind the wheel of a 300-mph Funny Car.

But NHRA Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is seeing pink in the month of October – and she’s proud of it.

DeJoria, who owns Alexis DeJoria Racing and drives the Tequila Patron Toyota for Kalitta Racing, is using the color pink to call attention to breast cancer awareness month in October.

DeJoria has partnered with Baylor Healthcare Systems to offer free mammograms to race fans attending this weekend’s AAA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex (Friday and Saturday) in Ennis, Texas.

She’ll reprise that role, partnering with Nevada Health Centers for the Toyota Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas Oct. 30-31.

According to a media release, ‘”Mammovans’ (mobile mammography units) will be parked in the nitro pits of the racetracks, and free mammograms will be available on-site during both weekends to female ticketholders over the age of 40, regardless of whether or not they have health insurance.”

Those who seek to be screened do not need an appointment or referral. If you have health insurance, bring your insurance information to the race. Test results will be sent via mail approximately ten days after the event.

This year’s initiative continues a program DeJoria began three years ago when she launched the “Free Mammograms for the Fans” program.

Also, DeJoria will drive a hot pink race car in both events.

“I really want to thank the Patrón Spirits Company and Toyota for their support, as well as Kalitta Motorsports, everyone who bought items on our eBay fundraising page, purchased our pink Fight Like a Girl bracelets and made donations,” said DeJoria. “It all goes toward this very wonderful life-saving cause and we would not be able to provide this service to our fans without their support.”

Added Ed Laukes, vice president of marketing, performance and guest experience for Toyota Motor Sales USA, “If we are able to save the life of so much as one mother, daughter, sister, wife or friend, it will be well worth our additional investment in our partners at DeJoria (Alexis DeJoria Racing). It truly is rewarding to be able to assist one of our race teams on a program that is so meaningful to so many people.”

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Sir Stirling Moss: Enclosed cockpits in open-wheel racing ‘ridiculous’

Sir Stirling Moss Getty
(Getty Images)
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While IndyCar mulls some type of enclosed cockpits or canopies in their race cars as early as 2017 to enhance driver safety, one racing legend scoffs at the notion that open-wheel racing should go down that path.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Sir Stirling Moss told Road and Track at the recent Lime Rock Historic Festival. “Motor racing is dangerous. And one does it – some of us do it – because it is dangerous. I was one of those. And I think to go and put forward things like that is absolutely ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.”

MORE: IndyCar CEO: No safety changes for 2016 car, despite Wilson death

It’s the opinion of the 85-year-old Moss that safety elements in one form of open-wheel racing – namely, Formula 1 – are as good as they can be at the moment.

“I think quite honestly, most events have good flag marshaling, which is very important,” Moss said. “The drivers know what they can do and they usually stick within their realistic limits.

“But of course, obviously, the sort of racing and etiquette you have on a circuit like this, or, a club circuit, is necessarily pretty different when you start talking Formula One.

“But, I think (danger) is part of the sport. I don’t think anybody wants to get hurt, but they’re all going to push themselves up to their limit, and that’s pretty good.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski