Jason and Charlie Leffler. (Photo courtesy of Jason Leffler's Instagram account)

Remembering Jason Leffler, one year after his tragic death

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It’s hard to believe but Thursday marks one year since the racing world lost Jason Leffler.

The former NASCAR driver – he raced across all three series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks – was killed June 12, 2013 in a horrific crash during a sprint car race at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey.

Leffler was 37 at the time of his death and left behind a young son, Charlie, who idolized his dad, his hero, his best friend.

Nicknamed “LefTurn,” Leffler had gone back to his first love of sprint car racing when he couldn’t secure a full-time ride on any of the NASCAR’s premier series. Sure, he probably could have gotten a ride in a so-called “start-and-park” Cup or NNS or Truck team, but that wasn’t Leffler’s style. He would either be in competitive equipment or he would go find another series where he would.

That’s how he wound up back where he began his racing career in, sprint cars. Sure, he knew the danger and risks of the open-wheel rides: their propensity to flip over, the ease in which cars broke apart mechanically, and how any race had the potential to end in either victory or injury – or worse.

Sadly, all those figured in Leffler’s death. And as much of a cliché as it sounds, Leffler was a man who loved what he did and he went out in just that fashion.

Sure, it was a violent, horrible way to die, but if Leffler had a choice of how he’d leave this world, being behind the wheel would most likely be the way he would have wanted.

If he had his druthers, he likely also would have chosen to remain in NASCAR, with its outstanding achievements in safety that have resulted in no drivers being killed since Dale Earnhardt in the February 2001 Daytona 500.

But Leffler was a pragmatist, as well. He knew sprint cars were often described as rolling death traps, not having near as much in terms of safety features as in NASCAR. But he had to do what he had to do to support himself and Charlie.

Standing just 5-foot 3 inches, Leffler was a little guy in stature but was one of the most competitive drivers you’d ever want to meet. Likewise, he had a big heart, always willing to help a fellow racer.

He also loved interacting with fans, not because he had to due to sponsor mandates, but rather because – even though he was shy at times – he still liked to describe himself as a “people person.”

During one of the many times I interviewed him over the years, Leffler said he learned early on that when he met someone for the first time as a stranger, he made sure they parted as newly-made friends.

He loved to be around people so much. And Leffler also had a sense of humor that bordered on the mischievous. He loved a good joke and was known for sometimes playing practical jokes on friends, teammates, crew members and even fans – not with malice, but solely for the fun of it so that even the victim of his joke would come away busting a gut laughing at what had just transpired.

Leffler was not above making fun of himself, either. When he first debuted a Mohawk-style haircut – most likely the first NASCAR driver to ever wear that kind of ‘do – he knew it would draw and call attention to him.

But Leffler took it in stride. I can’t recall where I first saw him with the Mohawk, but when I asked him about it, he joked that his hair stylist made a bad cut on one side of his head, and tried fix it by replicating the job on the other side.

“Well, one thing kinda led to another – and here I am, the finished product, the last of the Mohawkins,” I remember him saying with a huge grin on his face.

Talk about taking lemons and turning them into lemonade, the Mohawk became Leffler’s calling card, the identifier that so many remembered him by and as.

Even fans that didn’t know or remember Leffler’s name would immediately recognize him as “the guy with the Mohawk.”

And while he eventually let his hair grow out, he started wearing what could be described as a hybrid Mohawk with a slight dash of Mullet thrown in.

Or as Leffler called it, “a FauxHawk.”

Leffler was a character, no doubt, in a sport that too often features overly-homogenized, overly-PC drivers. NASCAR needs less of the latter and more like Leffler.

And while he may not have been the greatest driver out there, he had talent that crossed over borders: not only could he drive midgets, Silver Crown and sprint cars, he also had a decade of NASCAR racing on his resume, not to mention three appearances on the IndyCar circuit, including competing in the legendary Indianapolis 500 in 2000.

He finished 17th in his one-and-only Indy 500, a race won ironically enough by future NASCAR (now back in IndyCar) driver Juan Pablo Montoya.


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According to both police reports and video of the wreck, Leffler was running second in the first heat race on the night he died, was closing in on the leader when his car suddenly jerked, went out of control, made a 180-degree turn and hit the outside retaining wall on its left side (the driver’s side), and then flipped over several times in front of the packed grandstands on the front straightaway.

Authorities estimate Leffler was doing about 135 mph when the accident occurred. He died before he the ambulance got to the hospital of blunt force trauma from his head and helmet slamming into the wall, according to an autopsy.

A subsequent investigation by New Jersey State Police found that a mechanical failure in the front suspension of Leffler’s race car was the likely cause of the crash that led to his death.

“As a result of this mechanical failure, Leffler’s front suspension failed and his steering became locked,” the State Police report concluded.

The wreck came just three days after Leffler’s last NASCAR race, at Pocono Raceway, where he finished last in the Sprint Cup event there won by Jimmie Johnson.

Leffler managed to take just eight laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval before his transmission failed, ending his day.

No one knew that would be the last time we would see Leffler in person or on TV.


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As I said in the beginning of this column, it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we lost Jason. The little guy made a big impact on thousands of lives, and even though he’s no longer with us, that impact will stay with us for the rest of our own lives.

For one of the best recollections of Leffler the man, racer, father and all-around good guy, I encourage you to read a column that my good friend Dave Moody from SiriusXM NASCAR Radio wrote the day after Leffler died.

Click here to read Moody’s wonderful tribute.

Also, check out the touching tribute video to Leffler by NASCAR.com below.

We miss you, Jason. The world of racing just isn’t the same without you. R.I.P.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski


Barcelona to host 2017 F1 pre-season tests, Bahrain gets in-season running

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 23:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during day two of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 23, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain will host two tests ahead of the 2017 Formula 1 season as originally planned despite a push to move part of the running to Bahrain.

Barcelona has traditionally hosted F1’s pre-season running, with two tests provisionally scheduled for the end of February and beginning of March before the start of the season in Australia.

However, with Pirelli set to introduce a radically different tire specification for next season, a number of F1 team bosses believed it would be better to hold the running in Bahrain where conditions would be stable and warmer.

Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe said in Japan that F1 risked a repeat of the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if caution was not taken with the new tires.

However, the counter-argument was that holding testing outside of Europe would significantly bump up costs for all teams, having a particular impact on the grid’s smaller operations.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone met with officials from all 11 teams on Friday in Austin ahead of this weekend’s race to make a decision on pre-season testing.

Despite over half the grid wishing to have at least one test in Bahrain, the lack of unanimity means that both pre-season tests will remain in Barcelona.

Bahrain will however now host one of the in-season tests, as confirmed by Red Bull’s Christian Horner on Friday.

“We have had numerous debates about this and we had a meeting earlier today with Bernie about this,” Horner said.

“There was even a vote with the FIA earlier this week and with the way the regulations are currently written, to test outside of Europe, we would require the unanimous consent of all the teams and that doesn’t exist.

“It has been agreed that we will test in Barcelona pre-season and in order to find a compromise for assisting Pirelli after the Bahrain race, the first of the in-season tests will be in Bahrain.”

Possible 2017 Formula 1 Test Calendar


1. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – February 27 – March 2 2017
2. Circuit de Barcelona-Cataluny – March 7-10 2017


1. Bahrain International Circuit – April 18-19 2017
2. Silverstone – July 11-12 2017

Free agent Conor Daly looking for more successful IndyCar situation in ’17

Conor Daly visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway's infamous 'Snake Pit' prior to Sunday's Indianapolis 500. Photo: IndyCar
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IndyCar driver Conor Daly is looking for a new racing home in the IndyCar ranks for 2017.

But that didn’t stop Daly from attending the opening day of practice for the Formula One United States Grand Prix Friday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

NBCSN’s Will Buxton had a chance to sit down with Daly, who despite being a free agent for 2017, has a very optimistic outlook that he’ll soon find a new home.

“I’m driving for Red Bull in Formula One next year. They’re going to run a third car,” Daly quipped, somewhat stunning Buxton at first before revealing he was joking.

“No, I’m just focusing on IndyCar,” Daly said. “There’s a couple teams with a lot of open seats. We’re talking to everyone in the business.

“I would have loved to come back with Coyne (Dale Coyne Racing), but there seems to be some different stuff happening there.

“Either way, I love IndyCar, want to be in IndyCar, that’s where my heart is. So whether it’s Foyt, ECR (Ed Carpenter Racing), Andretti, you never know what’s going to happen, so we’ll see.”

But Daly wouldn’t let the F1 angle die altogether. When Buxton asked Daly about having previously tested for Force India, Daly said it’s an unlikely possibility, but still an intriguing one.

“I love Bob (deputy team principal Bob Fernley) and everyone at Force India,” Daly said. “They made my European career happen.

“I actually told them earlier: ‘Hey, Bob, I’m available. I’m ready.’ But I think there’s a few other fish in the sea.”

Daly came in second to Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi as the IndyCar circuit rookie of the year, but he took pride in being named the top overtaking driver of the year in IndyCar in 2016.

“Yeah, I passed 87 cars this year, which was fun because I like racing, so that was quite enjoyable,” Daly said. “We came home with one award this year, so there you go.”

Perhaps the most important question – and Daly reply – was when he was asked if he feels ready to step up in class in IndyCar to a more consistently successful team.

“I think so,” Daly said. “I was really happy with this year. We had a lot of ups and downs and I made some mistakes, but we also had more positives than negatives.

“I’m excited about the future and continue making IndyCar great again and I’m excited about how we can go about doing that.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

FP2: View from the ground in Austin, 2016 edition

during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.
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AUSTIN, Texas – One of the joys of coming to the United States Grand Prix on an annual basis is the opportunity to have a session to sample the view from trackside, and attempt to gauge quite what the feel on the ground is.

I must say though, with this being my third crack at a “View from the ground: FP2” trackside occasion, this one was a bit like most movie three-quels (2013, 2014 editions linked here).

It had its moments of greatness but was not quite the measure of the original, nor the first sequel.

This was a truncated walk, I’ll admit. I got to see the outside of Turn 1, the two bridges covering the Esses and before the Turn 18 Carousel, and the respective crowds from there. I didn’t get to the hairpin at Turn 11 to see that crowd figure. I didn’t get to soak up as much time as I would have liked, having come from another event just previous following FP1 this morning.

The hillside out of Turn 1 really stands out in terms of not being as packed as it has been in the past. It used to be standing room only or close; now, I’m afraid, there was plenty of room to walk and move around. Similarly, the Esses were only about two or three rows deep of folks from the top, rather than four to five; the best grandstand packing seemed to be the one exiting Turn 17 in the stadium section just near the Austin 360 Ampitheater and COTA Tower.

The crowd here is good, but not great, and this is with nearly perfect weather for the onlookers, with highs in the low 70 degree Fahrenheit ambient range.

If the circuit releases a crowd number today, be wary of it if it’s listed in the 60,000 or 70,000 range – there are simply not that many fans here today. A more conservative estimate would be 10-20,000 less than that, at least.

So the hope now is that Saturday’s Taylor Swift concert to go along with qualifying will produce a crowd bigger than today’s, and the race itself plus the Usher/The Roots concert on Sunday does the same, to achieve COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein’s goal of this being the second highest attended USGP weekend of the five here on site.

The upside, of course, is that there’s been an inevitable and expected bounce back in attendees today following last year’s dreary, rainy Friday – when only FP1 ran and FP2 was scrubbed owing to the miserable conditions. But it’s not a massive surge in numbers.

Some other notes from the ground:

Still missing that ear-piercing sound

I want to like the 1.6L V6 turbo power units. I really do.

But, I also want to come to an F1 race and have my ears damn near ready to fall off from shrill, piercing shrieks that I can’t get anywhere else.

Coming from traditionally IndyCar weekends, where the series run 2.2L V6 twin-turbos, to now F1 weekends, you expect a little bit of a change in pitch.

The pitch is similar – and it is still sonorous, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s quite nice actually.

But there’s something about coming to a Grand Prix where you’re not wanting to be able to have a solid conversation while cars are on track. It’s good that you can get that now in some respects. But man, I want some screams.

Good merchandise displays on offer

Whether behind the main grandstands or throughout the main fan corridors, the fans have a good lot of options when it comes to finding team gear. It did not seem as though one or more teams was slighted; admittedly, though, there was not as much Haas F1 Team regalia on display as I might have figured.

Respectable fan offerings in Guest Services and food options

Between the track food at concessions and a number of food trucks – an Austin staple – there seemed a good lot of options for fans to eat today. How reasonable they were priced, however, depended on how much you got and where you looked.

Guest Services having free sunscreen on offer was good to see, if perhaps you were not properly prepared and hadn’t put any on. One of the things about attending a race at Circuit of The Americas is that you will get sun-drenched if you sit anywhere besides the primary frontstraight grandstand, or are lucky enough to have suite access somewhere covered and perhaps, air conditioned.

Red storm of colors

Because I was walking more rapidly than normal on this track walk occasion, I didn’t get a great look at the percentage of attire team-to-team. I will say, though, that plenty of Ferrari kits caught my eye, and it was no surprise to see. I didn’t see as much in the way of fans wearing Mercedes gear or others to match. It is fun to see older kit – Renault’s old blue and yellow from the Mild Seven tobacco days was present.

Welcome back, Danny

The 1985 Indianapolis 500 champion and one time Benetton-sponsored Tyrrell F1 driver, Danny Sullivan, has made his first visit back to Circuit of The Americas since the inaugural running here in 2012. Sullivan emceed a Quint Events-hosted fan event in the Legends Club outside of Turn 1 earlier in the day, taking fan questions about the state of play in F1 and other forms of racing today. He shared a memorable Paul Newman story, where their competitive juices flowed even when it got to rental cars. Sullivan has been an F1 driver steward on a number of occasions over the last five to six seasons, including most recently at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Tower time, if you want

The iconic COTA Tower remained packed today, particularly for FP2. Fans can access the tower for $30 for a standard tour, or for an additional $15 ($45 total), they can go to the tower in an expedited VIP line – and get champagne in the process.

More thoughts from today at Circuit of The Americas will follow in MotorSportsTalk’s Friday Paddock Notebook.

Rosberg quickest as Ricciardo, Red Bull rally in second USGP practice

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Formula 1 championship leader Nico Rosberg stamped his authority on proceedings in Austin, Texas ahead of the United States Grand Prix by topping the second free practice session on Friday afternoon.

Following his ninth victory of the 2016 season in Japan two weeks ago, Rosberg arrived in Austin leading the drivers’ standings by 33 points from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The German driver has started on pole for the past two years at the Circuit of The Americas, only to finish second to Hamilton on both occasions.

After seeing Hamilton lead FP1, Rosberg hit back in second practice to top the timesheets with a lap of 1:37.358, enjoying an advantage over the field of almost two-tenths of a second.

However, it was not Hamilton who played second-fiddle this time around. Instead, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shot up to P2, suggesting that the sizeable advantage Mercedes enjoyed in FP1 was exaggerated. Hamilton was left to settle for third in the final standings.

Second practice featured one short red flag period after debris was left on-track at the esses, appearing to come off the back of one of the Haas cars as the American team continued to struggle at the start of its home grand prix weekend.

Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari in the mix at the front of the field in second practice, finishing within a second of Rosberg at the front in fourth place, while Max Verstappen ended the session fifth in the second Red Bull.

Force India continued its impressive start to the weekend as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished sixth and seventh, with the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso following in P8 and P9. Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top 10 in the second Ferrari as he struggled with front-end grip.