KERCHNER: The Heat Race
Jason Leffler was more than a “NASCAR” driver.
The 37-year-old driver was killed Wednesday night at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey was being remembered in headlines across the nation as a NASCAR driver, but he was a four-time USAC national champion, Indianapolis 500 starter, National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Famer and — most importantly — a dad.
While NASCAR fans will remember Leffler as the hard-nosed kid, who drove as hard as anyone en route to winning two NASCAR Nationwide Series races and a Camping World Truck Series event after 294 NASCAR Nationwide Series, 56 Camping World Truck Series and 73 Sprint Cup Series starts, open-wheel fans will remember his dominant run in a USAC midget from 1997 through 1999, which saw him earn three consecutive USAC National Midget Series championships. He also won the USAC Silver Crown title in 1998.
Leffler won 19 USAC midget races during his career, including many of midget racing’s most important events. He was so good that he was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Famer in 2003 when he was only 27 years old.
Leffler made several IndyCar Series starts, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500.
If you still don’t understand Leffler’s importance to short-track auto racing and you use social media, take a look at the Facebook and Twitter posts of some of the sport’s top stars including up-and-coming driver Kyle Larson, who posted photos of himself as a youngster getting Leffler’s autograph.
Leffler well known for taking time for fans, especially when he was racing his midget or sprint car at tracks across the nation and surely Larson wasn’t the only youngster to meet Leffler and go on to achieve greatness in his field.
Leffler’s impact on the sport will be seen in numerous racing series over the weekend as he’ll be remembered at events sanctioned by NASCAR, IndyCar, USAC and the World of Outlaws to name just a few.
He was more than a “NASCAR” driver and keep that in mind today when you remember him, and have some good thoughts for Leffler’s son Charlie during the days, weeks and months to come.