Weekend racing starts on sad note

I start this week’s column on a sad note.

By now, most of you are likely aware that Jason Leffler was killed in a racing accident at Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway Wednesday night. Leffler was driving a 410 sprint car and many of our local drivers were competing in that event. With the benefit of talking to folks that were there and witnessed the accident I will share a few thoughts on the subject.

First, Bridgeport is a big 5/8-mile speedway that was plenty fast Wednesday evening. Something broke on Leffler’s car while exiting turn four on to the front stetch of the track. I’m told that it was likely his steering broke and the car veered hard into the wall and crashed extremely hard, and was sitting on its tail section. The rear end and axle were broken along with the steering.

Leffler was removed from the car and airlifted to Crozier Hospital in Chester, where he was pronounced dead. New Jersey State Police inspect race cars and run programs in that state. Police canceled the remainder of the show. An investigation will be performed and the car was initially impounded.

Leffler lived in Huntersville, N.C., and is survived by a son, Charlie Dean, who is 5 and just completed kindergarten. I’m told he was very close with his father and I urge us all to keep this little boy and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Leffler made 73 Sprint Cup starts along with 294 Nationwide races and 56 Camping World Truck events. He won two Nationwide races and drove for Joe Gibbs and Chip Ganassi Racing during his NASCAR career. His last start was Sunday, where he was the first car out of the Pocono event. Leffler also drove in the 2000 Indy 500, finishing 17th. He won four USAC national driving titles and was inducted into the National Midget Car Hall of Fame. Leffler competed in midgets, sprint cars, and dirt champ cars at one time or another. He has been coming into Central Pennsylvania this season competing at area speedways.

He made a positive impact on the racing world and will not be forgotten. Leffler was 37.

This brings me to another point – one that some of you will disagree with me on. Is it time to slow these guys down a bit?

Sprint cars hitting concrete walls are a bad deal and the cars are lighter and faster than ever. I don’t want to be a doomsday person but I have been saying all spring we are going to kill someone locally this year if we don’t start to do something to get these cars under control and some tracks up to modern standards. It would not hurt to add some weight to the frame in my opinion.

And for the second time this season you will see some drivers start calling for soft walls for dirt tracks. At some point the insurance companies may require them as well. A solution has to be found and it can’t be just here. Just something to think about.

On to the racing.

The All Star Circuit of Champions visits Lincoln Speedway tonight and will be joined by 358 sprint cars. Kids Big Wheel races also will be run.

Port Royal Speedway hosts a regular show of 410 sprint cars, late models and 305 sprints. It is fan appreciation night and adult general admission is just $10.

Selinsgrove Speedway presents the Joe Whitcomb Memorial for 358 sprint cars with added purse throughout the field.

At Susquehanna Speedway Sunday the 410 and 358 sprint cars compete.

Hesston Speedway hosts the UFO Late Model Series tomorrow night and most of the locals should be there.

Beaver Springs Dragway has a test and tune day today until 4 and a full slate of IHRA drag racing Sunday. The program is a daylight event.

NASCAR is at Michigan International Speedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the defending race champion. Jimmie Johnson won last week’s race at Pocono and enters action 51 points ahead of Carl Edwards. Johnson and Matt Kenseth are tied for the most wins in the race at Michigan. Greg Biffle won last year’s August race at the track. TNT has TV coverage starting at noon. Green flag is set for 1.

The Indy Cars race today at Milwaukee. NBC Sports Network has TV coverage. The first race took place at Milwaukee in 1903 and is at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds. The infield was used to play some Green Bay Packers NFL football games in the 1930s and was the site of the 1939 NFL Championship in which the Packers defeated the New York Giants. This mile track has more history than just racing and is one of the oldest facilities in the country.

Locally reports indicate Lucas Wolfe has left the Buffalo Wild Wings sprint car team on the World of Outlaws circuit. His likely replacement is Jason Solwood. Mark Smith was the mystery driver in the second Heffner Racing no. 27 at Bridgeport Wednesday night. Smith will run a limited number of events. Lance Dewease continues to drive the main Heffner car.

Until next week, please drive safely!

Craig Rutherford writes about motorsports for The Sentinel.