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


Sean Rayhall’s season of variety rolls on with Thunderhill drive in Radical SR3

Photo: Darkhorse Autosport
Photo: Darkhorse Autosport
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I guess at a certain point, it’s good to lose count of how many types of machinery a driver has driven in a calendar year?

Anyway, Sean Rayhall can add a Radical SR3 sports prototype to his diverse year of driving. Just off the top of my head, he’s driven a partial season in Indy Lights, where he won twice, he drove a few races in IMSA in the Prototype Challenge class, he tested an IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing at Sonoma, he tested the radical DeltaWing prototype last month at Daytona, and he’s had other GT and stock car machinery he’s been in.

In other words, give the 20-year-old Georgian four wheels and he’ll find a way to wheel it… quickly.

Rayhall joins John Falb, Todd Slusher and Jeff Shafer in the No. 67 ONE Motorsports Radical for this weekend’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill at the 2.86-mile, 15-turn road course. Rayhall finished on the podium in this race last year.

“I am delighted to take on the challenge of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill again this year with ONE Motorsports!” he said. “I think they will provide one of the best cars on the grid as usual, and I’m sure my teammates and I will keep it flat the entire time! Hopefully, we follow up last year’s podium with a win! That is always the target.

“This close to Thanksgiving, you have to count your blessings. Silver Arrow Technologies and Bass Egg are right towards the top of my list. They have, literally, kept the wheels on our programs this year. I’m looking forward to going out to Thunderhill and closing out the year on the best note we can for both of them.”

Rayhall is one of a number of ace sports car and open-wheel drivers set to tackle Thunderhill this weekend.

As for Rayhall’s 2016 plans, they remain a work in progress, with nothing confirmed as yet. Rayhall is targeting to do as many Indy Lights and sports car races as possible, with several team options in play.

Wehrlein, Ghiotto, Rosenqvist, Carlin trio headline new entries for GP2 testing

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Testing rolls on this week at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. However, following today’s one-day Pirelli tire test for the Formula 1 teams and drivers, action will shift to the GP2 Series for the next three days.

Mercedes reserve driver and past DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein (PREMA Racing), FIA Formula 3 European champion Felix Rosenqvist (Status Grand Prix, then PREMA), GP3 runner-up Luca Ghiotto (Trident) and Carlin’s trio of Dean Stoneman, Richie Stanaway and Antonio Giovinazzi are among the notable drivers added to the testing list this week.

Carlin team boss Trevor Carlin noted the desire for his team to improve following a mostly tough 2015:

“We’re keen to get strong preparations for 2016 underway after a somewhat disappointing season,” he said. “We know we have three very talented drivers with us this week and the aim is to work on the progress we’ve made in the last few races with Dean and continue that with the experienced feedback of Richie.

“We’re delighted to give Antonio this opportunity; he has been a great asset to the team over the last two seasons and we’re excited to see him in a GP2 car for the first time this week.”

The full list of drivers and teams testing for the first day can be found here, via the GP2 official website.

On #GivingTuesday, James Hinchcliffe asks to check out Trauma Pit Crew story

James Hinchcliffe
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The unsung heroes of this and any Verizon IndyCar Series season are, without question, the safety crews.

It’s rare to find anything within the INDYCAR paddock that enjoys near universal approval and a positive rating, but in the Holmatro Safety Team, the appreciation cannot be ignore.

The Holmatro Safety Team’s efforts on-site at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help save James Hinchcliffe’s life after his accident in practice for this year’s Indianapolis 500 were miraculous.

Hinchcliffe posted a video message on Instagram today (linked below) that asks viewers/readers to check out the story of the Trauma Pit Crew – the staff who took care of him after the Holmatro Safety Team’s efforts.

Hinchcliffe arrived at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, where IU Health Trauma Surgeon Tim Pohlman, MD and his team set to work – the Trauma Pit Crew site.

He didn’t remember the details of the accident (recorded at a staggering 126 G’s), which they consider a blessing.

The blog from the IU Methodist website quotes Hinchcliffe as saying, “I received world class care. But more important than that, every single person from nurses to surgeons to all other staff could not have been nicer. After my care, I considered faking an illness so I could go back to see them!”

The Trauma Pit Crew website itself, however, reveals even more details about the team.

We’d share elements of the Trauma Pit Crew page, but it’s probably going to be more powerful – and more meaningful – to read the story in full directly on that website. It’s well worth your time.

Report: Harvey seeking to get IndyCar program sorted by Christmas

Photo: Indy Lights
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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As noted on Monday, there hasn’t been much movement in the Verizon IndyCar Series driver market for 2016, and the available seats left out there are exactly the same ones (in theory, anyway) as they were this time 12 months ago.

And if Jack Harvey can get his program sorted, arguably the most intriguing of those remaining seats – the second seat alongside James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – could go away itself.

Harvey, who has been working to gather the necessary budget since the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September to graduate into IndyCar, has said he’s close for the better part of a month.

In early November, Harvey told The Linc in the U.K. there was an 80 percent chance he’d be in IndyCar next season.

He’s now expanded on those hopes in an interview with Autosport’s Marcus Simmons, renowned in U.K. circles as one of the leading journalists in discovering young open-wheel talent.

“The sooner the better,” Harvey told Simmons. “If we could be in before Christmas it would be better for me and the team, so we’re trying to work towards that.

“But we want to make the best deal, not just rush one – our foot’s in the door and it’s time to push the whole body through.”

He “graduates” from the Racing Steps Foundation this year; the RSF has been an instrumental part of Harvey’s upbringing.

Realistically, SPM makes the most sense for Harvey to graduate with. He’s been with SPM’s Indy Lights program the last two years, where he bagged seven wins, finished on the podium in 60 percent of his starts and finished second each of the last two years.

And frankly, he’s due for the opportunity. You can say “oh, he didn’t win a title” – but consider the list of Indy Lights non-champions in the current IndyCar field, a list that includes race winners Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz among others – and he’d be more than fine to fit in.

Plus, with Spencer Pigot already confirmed for at least a three-race program with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with hopes of more, it would be nice to see the two protagonists from this year’s Indy Lights battle continue their rivalry at the next level.