Report: Jason Leffler may have survived fatal wreck with different headrest

1 Comment

Several safety experts believe Jason Leffler’s chance of survival from last week’s fatal crash may have been enhanced if he used a full containment headrest similar to those mandated by NASCAR.

Citing longtime safety pioneer Bill Simpson and race car seat maker and former two-time Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie, reported that both men believe a 180-degree surround-style headrest may have saved Leffler’s life.

Leffler, 37, whose funeral service was this past Wednesday in Cornelius, N.C., was killed in a winged sprint car crash at Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway on June 12. His car went out of control, hit a retaining wall and flipped over several times.

New Jersey state police are still investigating the cause of the wreck, but it’s believed a part in the front end of Leffler’s race car broke.

Even though Leffler was wearing a protective helmet and a head and neck restraint device to protect against front impacts, an autopsy performed on Leffler’s body by medical examiner Dr. Fredric Hellman found that the cause of death was from a blunt-force neck injury caused by a whipping motion of his head.

What Leffler did not have was a headrest that would keep his head aligned with the rest of his body in a lateral impact.

After talking with a number of witnesses, Simpson concluded, “My findings showed everything with the head and neck restraint is fine when you have a forward impact as long as it doesn’t go past 30 degrees, from one side to the other. There is no lateral protection with the head and neck restraint. Nothing.

“Your head can flop from side to side,” Simpson added. “There is nothing to stop it from doing that. That car that Leffler was driving, it did not have a 180-degree head surround like a [Sprint] Cup car has. When he crashed and landed on his side and stopped, his head kept going.”

LaJoie, who operates one of the leading seating companies in the sport, agreed: “(Leffler) wasn’t contained. That’s why we haven’t killed anyone in NASCAR, because we learned not to let the body and head move. Your head, chest and pelvis need to stay in line as close as possible.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
Leave a comment

John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski