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

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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, ESPN.com 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.”

Hartley says debut F1 point would be ‘a dream’ from last on grid

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Brendon Hartley says scoring a point on his Formula 1 debut would be “a dream” after being resigned to last place on the grid for the United States Grand Prix following an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso to replace Pierre Gasly for the USGP when the Frenchman was ruled out due to clashing commitments in Super Formula.

Despite having not driven an F1 car since 2012, Hartley came within one-tenth of a second of making it through to Q2 on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas, ultimately qualifying 18th.

“Obviously I’d love to be quicker but we knew we were starting at the back, so we put a lot of focus on long runs, getting the peak performance out of this Pirelli tire I didn’t get today,” Hartley told NBCSN after the race.

“In FP3 I had a good feeling. There’s a lot of quirky things to manage with these tires. Honestly I should be happy with how the weekend’s gone so far.”

The New Zealander will start last due to a 25-place grid penalty for changes made to his power unit ahead of practice on Friday, and is daring to dream of making the top 10 in his first race out of a sports car for more than five years.

“I don’t do the 24 hours completely alone!” Hartley joked. “It’s quick. It’s physical to drive. I’ll be happy to be done after an hour and a half.

“A point would be a dream starting from the back. If I can move forward and put a race together, I’ll be happy.”

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2pm ET on Sunday.