Thursday, June 13, 2013

Remembering Jason Leffler

Charlie Dean Leffler’s daddy died last night, torn from the world in a crash so stunning, so horrific that it once again causes us to question our devotion to a sport that all too often breaks our hearts

NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was pronounced dead shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, after a grinding crash at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Speedway. Witnesses said his 410 Sprint Car impacted the Turn Four wall during a qualifying heat race and flipped wildly down the front stretch of the 0.625-mile dirt oval.  Safety teams extricated the unconscious driver from his vehicle, with plans to transport him to Cooper University Hospital in Camden. His condition deteriorated rapidly while awaiting arrival of a medivac helicopter, however, and responders elected to transport him by ground ambulance to nearby Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
As word of the crash began to circulate, I did what I always do in situations like this. I told myself that the reports were untrue or exaggerated; the sad result of internet hysteria and a public raised on “reality” TV. When it became clear that a serious crash had indeed occurred, I prayed that Leffler’s injuries were not severe, assuring myself that he would back in the cockpit in a few weeks, or months.
Just before 10 p.m., however, a phone call from a colleague brought the horrible reality home. Jason Leffler was dead, leaving us to mourn – and remember --once again.
I have so many memories of the man we called “LefTurn.” He was a weekly guest on our Sirius XM Speedway radio program for years, sharing his life – both on and off the track – with a degree of candor that was both refreshing and rare. There were plenty of good days; wins in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, championship-contending rides with elite owners like Joe Gibbs and Chip Ganassi, and a trio of runs in the legendary Indianapolis 500.
There were also a few bad days; crushing race-day defeats, championship shortcomings and the loss of his Nationwide and Truck Series rides. When he and Alison decided to end their marriage a few years ago, Leffler made his weekly appearance as scheduled, despite a heavy heart.
“Leff, we don’t have to do this today,” I told him. “If you want to take a pass, we can catch up next week.”
“Nah, dude,” he replied. “It’s OK. I got no secrets.”
In the months that followed, Leffler spoke constantly of his desire to be a loving and involved father to Charlie, despite the demands of his racing career. Our weekly, 4 p.m. conversations often coincided with the end of Charlie’s afternoon nap, and the unpredictability of a newly-awakened two-year old made our visits an absolute joy.
A year ago, I crossed paths with Jason and Charlie, sharing a “Boys Day Out” lunch at a local restaurant. While Jason and I talked racing, Charlie demolished a massive salad, shoveling huge forkfuls of lettuce into his mouth while simultaneously carrying on a silent flirtation with my wife.
“Charlie, you ate the whole thing,” laughed Leffler at the end of our chat. “What am I supposed to eat?”
“Sorry Daddy,” replied Charlie, “I was very hungry!”
How do you tell a five-year old boy that daddy is not coming home tonight? How do you explain that his father, his best friend and his hero – all rolled into one – has been cut down by a sport that exacts such a horrible toll from its brightest lights?
The loss is unfathomable, unacceptable and unbelievable.
Today, I mourn the loss of a phenomenal talent; a man who could run an entire, 10-lap heat race at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals on three wheels, his left-front tire twitching in mid-air in an awe-inspiring display of chassis-bending bravado.
I mourn the loss of a friend whose zest for life, winning smile and goofy, faux-hawk hairdo never failed to make me smile.
I mourn the loss of a father who adored his son and deserved to see him grow up.
A quote attributed to the author Ernest Hemingway said, “There are but three true sports -- bullfighting, mountain climbing, and motor-racing. The rest are merely games.”
All sports include a varying degree of risk, but auto racing is especially adept at destroying its own. Racers have a special relationship with death. They brush shoulders with it daily, acknowledging its presence with a passing nod while clinging stubbornly to the belief that it’ll never happen to them.
“Last year, I did a part-time truck deal,” said Leffler to Motor Racing Network’s Winged Nation recently. “It was the least I had raced since I was 18 (and) mentally, it wasn’t good. I don’t like being home. I just like being in the race car at the race track.
“The (NASCAR) start-and-park deal is not for me,” he said. “I had a good run for over a decade, so it’s time to get back racing.”
Big-league NASCAR racing had not suffered a fatality since the great Dale Earnhardt crashed to his death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. In that time, SAFER barriers, HANS devices, improved helmet and seat technology and car construction have made the sport safer than at any point before. But make no mistake about it, auto racing is not safe, and it never will be.

As long as men and women strap themselves into objects capable of eclipsing 200 miles per hour, as long as they test the boundaries of human endurance at places like Daytona, Lemans, Winchester and Bridgeport, horrible things can – and will -- happen. Until the laws of physics are repealed, the immovable force will always trump the unstoppable object. And when it does, racers will die.
Jason Leffler knew that. We all knew that. But it doesn’t make what happened Wednesday evening any easier to accept.
Photos: Instagram/Jason Leffler

45 comments:

  1. Thanks Dave. No one can say it like you. I too remember listening to Jason on your show and always enjoyed him so much. Too too sad.

    Becki from NJ

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  2. Dave your the best at saying what needs to be said and heard.

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  3. Very well done Godfather very well done.

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  4. Anonymous10:21 AM

    Rest in Peace Jason, rest in peace.

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  5. Dwayne in Memphis10:26 AM

    He'll be greatly missed...and the first thing I thought was "it wasn't but 2 days ago that the called the show asked Moody about Jason Leffler..."

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  6. Michael in SoCal10:26 AM

    Great writeup. The pictures just kinda kick you in the stomach. RIP Jason.

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  7. Anonymous10:48 AM

    RIP Jason "LefTurn" Leffler.

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  8. Brandon in TN11:35 AM

    Very poignant article Dave. As a father of a 5 year old, I hate to know what Charlie will be facing in the coming days and years. All we can do is pray for him and the Leffler family. I spoke with Jason at a Busch race in Nashville a few years back. A great guy and great talent that was taken from us way too soon.

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  9. Anonymous12:00 PM

    a very beautiful and heartfelt tribute to Jason. Prayers for his son, family, & friends.

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  10. g55rumpy12:05 PM

    RIP Jason, and may Jesus hold Charlie

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  11. Very well written Dave, especially for an article that I'm sure was very hard to write.

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  12. Anonymous12:19 PM

    Good words Dave, good words.

    If you hear of a fund being set up for Charlie, can you let us know on the show?

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    1. Anonymous6:40 PM

      The USAC Benevolent Foundation has today announced a $10,000 grant in the memory of the late USAC racing champion Jason Leffler, who lost his life Wednesday night in a racing accident in New Jersey.

      The 501-3C-designated Foundation will also be accepting additional donations earmarked for usage by Jason’s son Charlie Dean and Charlie’s mother Allison.

      A designated cap amount to be announced by the Board of Directors of the Foundation will also result in additional dollar-for-dollar matching funds for this purpose.

      “We are devastated by Jason’s loss and recognize his long and loyal commitment to USAC racing and to the sport of auto racing in general,” says USAC CEO/President Kevin Miller. “We encourage everyone to participate in this worthwhile endeavor as we honor the memory of one of our most cherished champions and appreciate the Foundation Board for their efforts in making this all possible.”

      All contributions earmarked for the Leffler program, which may include the Charlie Dean Leffler Education Fund, may be directed to the USAC Benevolent Foundation, c/o Executive Director Bill Marvel, 4910 W. 16th Street Speedway, Speedway, Ind. 46224. Bill may be reached at 859-749-0646 or at billmarvel@gmail.com. Donations should be earmarked for this program.

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  13. I just got back from walking my 5 year old boy to his last day of kindergarten, and all I could think about, was how Charlie will never be able to hold his Daddy's hand again. I could really relate to Jason when he was on the show, and his adventures with Charlie. I was going through all the same things with my own.

    I met Jason in Phoenix, in 2000, when he drove the #18 MBNA for Gibbs. Great guy, easy to talk to, and fellow Californian. He was an underdog I always pulled for. I remember the humility he displayed after his wreck with Sadler in Phoenix.

    Another hero gone too soon. I pray for Charlie, and I hold my Son as tight as I can, thankful for another day.

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  14. Anonymous12:24 PM

    What a wonderful tribute to Jason. I to looked forward to the weekly chats with Jason on your show and to get the latest on Charlie. I will never forget meeting him at Irwindale and how kind he was to my nephew. RIP Jason!

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  15. Well written. RIP lef...

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  16. Doug M12:32 PM

    There are a few drivers that go out of their way to try and connect with their fans in an honest, down to earth way. Jason was one of those guys, and he will be missed all who knew him. Godspeed LEFturn.

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  17. Anonymous12:45 PM

    Really well done.

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  18. Schreib1:08 PM

    This morning I gave my son an extra long hug and kisses before I ventured to work. My thoughts and prayers to the family. My son asked me why I seemed so sad, and I tried to explain to him what had happened. He asked if Jason Leffler was my friend, and I said he was a part of our extended family of NASCAR. Today I am dealing with the same nausea felt before; Kulwicki,Allison,Petty,Irwin,Earnhardt, now Leffler. RIP, all our thoughts and prayers.

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  19. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Great article, thank you for putting our thoughts into words.

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  20. Anonymous2:12 PM

    amazing write up...

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  21. No one ever could express a story or a sentiment better than you... I listened to you exclusively when I had Sirius, I miss that especially at a time like this. Thank you! My sincerest sympathies to Jasons family and God bless Charlie Dean...

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  22. Prayers to Charlie & his mom as they carry on in the absence of LefTurn. The racing world is a bit sadder without him. God Bless them.

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  23. Jenna, OH3:08 PM

    Well done, as always, Dave. Never met Jason or Charlie but had tears in my eyes last night remembering those call-ins to your show! Those priceless memories. Hopefully some of these things will be available to Charlie for him to reflect on later in life.

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  24. Anonymous3:17 PM

    Bravo Godfather. Well done. RIP Jason.

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  25. Thank you Dave for such a well thought out tribute to a really amazing man in Jason Leffler. I come from a group that was raised with him and nurtured his career during his early day and then on through his USAC Championships. His zest for life and his total candor when asked a question was what separated Jason from most of the high caliber racers out there today. Jason was a "tell it like it is" kind of guy. Not the norm out there with scripted interviews and PR guys stalking behind their racers mending fences. Jason was just a guys guy. A true blue family man that was blessed with a wonderful son and a true talent behind the wheel. We all lost something last night that is truly rare in this sport right now. He remembered his friends. He remembered his family. He never scripted a single word. LEFturn was a treasure that has been sadly taken from our lives. God Speed Jason. We will do our best to live up to your memory.

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  26. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Nothing compares to a racer and his son....pictures do say a thousand words...my heart goes out to little Charlie and I'm sure there are plenty of racers out there that he will have a wonderful support system...RIP LefTurn...

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  27. As a fan I am mourning the loss of a great driver, as a human being I am mourning the loss of a kindred spirit, as a Mother I am having trouble breathing thinking about his son losing his Daddy. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, teammates and fans, but my heart is with Charlie.

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  28. Anonymous4:10 PM

    The first time I met Jason was in Victory Lane, Nashville TN. He was a class act my prayers are with his son and family.

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  29. Anonymous4:11 PM

    Moody, your article said it right! What a gut-wrenching loss -- even more so when you look at the photos of Jason and Charlie. I only saw Jason race once but I felt like I knew him after listening to him on your show. No pretense, no ego -- just a great guy speaking his mind with unusually heard candor.

    The entire racing community lost a talented driver but the world lost a great man and father!

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  30. TrishTruebloodTeele4:18 PM

    Sitting here at my desk in tears reading your article. Thanks Dave! Great story, as always! RIP #LEFturn... ='{

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  31. Anonymous4:28 PM

    So so sad ;( thought's and prayer's to the family

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  32. Anonymous5:09 PM

    Godfather, I just don't have any more to add to your Fine tribute to LefTurn, Charlie, Understand your Daddy and God will always be with you!
    God Speed Lef, RIP
    Tiny, Ron Butcher

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  33. Howard Kosofsky5:52 PM

    Jason has been dating my daughters best friend for last year. got to know him and had dinner last wed night at my daughters birthday party. We talked about this race coming up. really good guy. so so sad for his family and his girlfriend is taking it very very hard.
    RIP Jason

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  34. Anonymous6:29 PM

    God Bless You Dave. This is a very beautiful tribute to Jason, a great insight of his life with you. Thank you for making it so honest and heartfelt. Such a talent, gone way too soon :-(
    Rest In Peace Jason. Love to Charlie and your family xo
    Sprint Car Chick - Auckland New Zealand.

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  35. Anonymous6:55 PM

    Great summation Dave. Used to listen to him all the time when he was on your show on the drive home. He was so candid and full of life! He will be missed for those of us who remember him during his time in NASCAR.

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  36. Anonymous7:21 PM

    Thanks Dave. Well done. Heart goes out to Jason's family.

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  37. Anonymous7:43 PM

    Dave you wrote Jason's story beautifully. My thoughts anbd prayers go out especially to his son and the whole family.Jason may you R.I.P. at that racetrack in heaven, you will never be forgotten.

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  38. Anonymous7:53 PM

    Thanks Dave. I too have been very sad since I heard the news on twitter last night. I had met Jason a couple of times and listened on Sirius when he was with you and TMD. I felt like I was listening to an old friend when he was on. I have shed a couple of tears today, my co-workers just don't understand, WE are family, a NASCAR family. I am praying for Charlie, he needs all he can get.

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  39. Anonymous9:17 PM

    Dave, Thanks. How about a tee-shirt with "Lefturn" on it, as a benefit to take care of Charlie's future. Get Stewart involved he knows how to get it done.

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  40. Anonymous1:21 AM

    Nobody but the Godfather could put into words how NASCAR Nation mourns the loss of Jason.Sometimes we truly can hate this thing we love so much. Thank you -@soundguy829

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  41. Suck a great article.I got to meet him at a world of outlaws sprint car race in may and i have to say he was one heck of a nice guy.he will be missed by all.I am glad to have got to meet him.godspeed #LEFturn

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  42. You will beissed Jason. Forever live in our hearts LefTurn!!!

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