Wednesday, June 12, 2013

NASCAR driver Jason Leffler killed in sprint car race

    NASCAR veteran Jason Leffler, who made his first start in the Sprint Cup Series last weekend at Pocono Raceway, was killed after a crash in a winged sprint car race in New Jersey on Wednesday night, New Jersey State Police officials confirmed.  

   Leffler was racing at Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, N.J., a 5/8-mile, high-banked dirt oval.

   The NJSP have launched an investigation into the accident, which is required by state law. The only information available on the accident itself was that it involved “a malfunction of the car,” police said.

   Leffler was extracted from his winged sprint car and airlifted to Crozer Chester Hospital in Chester, Pa., where he was pronounced dead at 9:02 p.m. ET.

   Leffler, 37, ran eight laps in last Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. It was his first start of the season in any of NASCAR three national series.

   “NASCAR extends its thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies to the family of Jason Leffler who passed away earlier this evening,” said a statement from NASCAR released Wednesday night.

   “For more than a decade, Jason was a fierce competitor in our sport and he will be missed.”

   From 1990 to 2010 at least 382 drivers have died while racing, according to an Observer analysis of track deaths. Those include 196 deaths on small ovals and 95 deaths on drag strips.

   At least seven drivers have died on New Jersey tracks since 1999, including two on small ovals, data show.

   According to the Observer’s records, the most recent small oval death in New Jersey took place in 2002 at Wall Township Speedway in Wall Township, N.J.

   Leffler spent most of his decade-plus career in the Nationwide Series, running full schedules from 2006 to 2011. He had two wins, 42 top-five and 107 top-10 finishes.

   His biggest break in NASCAR came in 2005, when Joe Gibbs Racing hired him to drive fulltime in the Cup series with a newly-created team. Leffler, however, struggled from the start and was released after 19 starts.

   Leffler began his career racing midget cars and was just the third driver to win three consecutive midget car championships.

   Leffler made his first, and only, start in the Indianapolis 500 in 2000 with Treadway Racing with backing from Roger Penske’s United Auto group. Leffler qualified  and finished 17th.


NASCAR battles expectations of what's possible with what's expected

   Less than 24 hours after the third-largest blowout in NBA Finals history and there is nary a peep from any fan demanding changes to the way professional basketball is played.

   There shouldn’t be, of course.

   But I promise you this, if Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race had ended with Jimmie Johnson winning by the third largest margin in series history, a large contingent of the motorsports media, as well as the fans, would be clamoring for rules changes.

   Why is that? Everyone is at least a little bit to blame.

   The biggest problem appears to be that what is possible each week in a NASCAR event – a down-to-the-wire finish complete with lots of side-by-side racing in the process – has become expected rather than appreciated when it just happens to occur.

   Fewer people will not tune in to watch the next game in the NBA Finals because they fear another blowout. In fact, some may tune in just in hopes of seeing one (San Antonio fans for instance).

   A down-to-the-wire, last-second game-winning shot outcome is possible in each NBA Finals game but fans don’t come to expect it.

   NASCAR fans – at least the vocal ones – have come to expect such nonstop action and believe something needs to be “fixed” when it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. There is a contingent of media who follow the same path.

   It is, of course, an unreasonable expectation and most fans probably understand that not every race can be a barn-burner.

   Whether fans today want to hear it or not, NASCAR racing is far more competitive than 10 years ago and enormously more competitive than back “in the good old days” (whenever they were).

   NASCAR, the tracks and even the TV networks – and probably the media, too – share in the blame of some fans’ unreasonable expectations.

   If all of your advertising – whether it’s from NASCAR, networks or tracks – focus on big wrecks, photo finishes and pit road fights, you can’t be surprised when fans leave disappointed when they see none of the above.

   The fight in the 1979 Daytona 500 may be a defining moment in the sport’s history but it cannot define the sport and how it’s portrayed in perpetuity.

   If it does, everyone will leave disappointed.
   A little more appreciation of good racing, rather than just "good drama" by all involved would help balance expectations.