Neck injury caused death of racer Jason Leffler jutter@charlotteobserver.comJune 13, 2013 

— Race car driver Jason Leffler’s death was caused by a blunt force neck injury, a spokesperson for the Delaware (Pa.) County Medical Examiner’s office said Thursday.

Leffler, 37, died Wednesday night in an accident at Bridgeport Speedway, a dirt short track in New Jersey, about 15 miles from Philadelphia.

Sgt. Adam Grossman, a spokesman for the New Jersey State Police, said an investigation continues into the accident, which occurred during a sprint car heat race at the five-eighths-mile high-banked oval track. All racing-related accidents in New Jersey are investigated by state police.

Leffler was driving in a non-sanctioned race featuring “410” sprint cars, winged machines used in the World of Outlaw series. A 410 sprint car weighs about 1,300 pounds, has 900 horsepower and is capable of speeds faster than 135 mph. Leffler’s easily reached that range, according to track promoter Dave Adams.

“This is a fast track. There’s no track like it,” Adams said.

Leffler was wearing some form of a head-and-neck safety device, according to Adams, although they are not required at the track.

Grossman said Leffler’s car veered right as it came out of the fourth turn, hit the wall about a quarter of the way down the frontstretch, then rolled several times. The track, which is not sanctioned by NASCAR, is not equipped with SAFER barriers, which are mandated on the outside walls of tracks on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

Ralph Richards, a track photographer, was near the start-finish line as Leffler’s mangled car finally came to a stop.

“It had really taken a couple of good shots,” said Richards, who didn’t see the first part of the wreck.

Condolences continued to pour in Thursday from across the motorsports spectrum, illustrative of his wide-ranging and successful career from the open-wheel ranks to NASCAR, where he competed in the Sprint Cup’s Pocono race last week in Pennsylvania.

“Jason Leffler was a great racer and an even better friend,” said three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who faced off against Leffler in many forms of auto racing. “We raced together a lot, and our career paths were very similar.

“He loved racing, especially open-wheel racing, and that’s a passion we both share. To not have him around to talk about whatever race one of us had just run, or were going to run, will be hard.”

During recent years, Leffler had become most known as a doting father, helping to expose his 5-year-old son, Charlie, to the sport Leffler chose as his career.

Leffler’s Instagram account is filled with photos of the two sharing time at the track and off.

Leffler got his biggest break in NASCAR in 2005 with a fulltime ride in the Cup series with a new team at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“We feel fortunate to have had him as part of both our Nationwide Series program and of course in the Cup Series where he helped us launch the No. 11 team with (sponsor) FedEx,” said Joe Gibbs.

“NASCAR is unique in that it really is one large family and Jason was well liked by all that knew him. His loss will be felt across the entire sport.”

While Leffler’s tenure in the Cup ride was short, he became a title contender in what has become the Nationwide Series, finishing as high as third in the standings in 2007.

Since 1990, at least 390 drivers have died in U.S. auto racing accidents, according to a Charlotte Observer analysis of track deaths. Staff researcher Marion Paynter contributed

Scott: 704-359-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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