Jason Leffler: Between one breath and the next

Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
Jason Leffler, born September 16, 1975 in Long Beach, California, lost his life Wednesday night from injuries sustained in a crash while racing a 410 Sprint Car in at Bridgeport Speedway in Logan Township, New Jersey.

He leaves to cherish his memory a five-year-old son, Charlie Dean, and a host of friends from across various racing series.

Word of the accident spread quickly through the motorsports community Wednesday night, and when New Jersey State Police confirmed the worst, fans, friends and competitors flooded social networks with reactions. Racers all the way from local dirt tracks to Formula 1 expressed shock and grief at the loss of one of their own.

The diminutive driver with the shock of bright red hair and fiercely competitive spirit touched many lives throughout his career.

Within a short time, NASCAR, INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway released official statements, despite the late hour.
“NASCAR extends its thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies to the family of Jason Leffler who passed away earlier this evening. For more than a decade, Jason was a fierce competitor in our sport and he will be missed.” 
"INDYCAR extends its deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Jason Leffler for their tragic loss. Jason was a USAC champion who made three INDYCAR starts, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.
"We are very saddened at the passing of Jason Leffler, He was one of the most versatile race drivers in America, showing his talent by competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his career. 
He also displayed the skills that would help him reach the top levels of the sport by winning four USAC national series titles while winning on tracks throughout the Midwest. Jason was a terrific guy who always had time for everyone. Our deepest sympathies are extended to his entire family, team and fans."
There are plenty of articles that list Jason's accomplishments, that tell his life story. This isn't one of them. This piece is about emotion.

I didn't know Jason Leffler. Though I saw him at the track, I never interacted with him, and before I started writing he was never "my" driver, so I won't pretend to be knowledgeable about him.

That's not why I'm writing.

I'm writing because his death touched people I have been face-to-face with at the track. People who have become very real to me in ways other athletes or celebrities have not.

I'm also writing because Jason's death touched me. His life ended abruptly and with no warning, delivering a gut shot with which I'm all too familiar.

The thought of his young son trying to understand that his daddy is gone forever cuts through my heart like a jagged piece of torn metal. Not with the clinical precision of a razor or scalpel, but ripping a serrated edge across a scar that still aches.

Fact: If you live long enough, someone whose life touched yours will die.

Fact: None of us are exempt from the pain that comes from the passing of someone for whom we care. Regardless of how they die - accident, illness or old age - the absence of the physical presence of the person we love hurts.

You can recite all the platitudes about them living forever in our memories, but that's small comfort when you realize you'll never hear, touch, or see them in the flesh again.

Fact: No one lives forever. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Racer or not, Jason wasn't going to get out of this world alive.

No matter how brightly the fire of life burns in someone, that flame can be extinguished between one breath and the next and the best that most of us can hope for is that the end is quick and as painless as possible. Cowboys call it dying with your boots on.

I'm grateful that if it was Jason Leffler's time to go, that he went quickly. I've watched someone die slowly and it's a helpless, horrible feeling. Days seem like years.

I've been on the other end of that spectrum, too.

On a night like any other, I kissed my husband good night. We told each other, "I love you." I went to sleep and when I woke up, he was gone.

Just like that.

I learned that night to never take that next day for granted.

It breaks my heart that little Charlie has that lesson in front of him at such a tender age. It breaks my heart that his family and friends have to experience the pain and emptiness that accompany such a loss.

We'll likely hear talk of improving safety for sprint cars. As we should. It won't bring Jason back, but if his death is to dirt racing what Senna's was to F1 and Earnhardt's was to NASCAR, all the better. If not, it won't mean any less.

The bottom line is that like all drivers, Jason Leffler knew the risks each time he climbed into a car and pulled those belts tight and he made that choice anyway. Just like Senna did. Just like Earnhardt did.

I respect that choice.

Jason "LefTurn" Leffler wasn't a victim. He didn't have a death wish. He was a racer.

Thursday on SPEED's Race Hub, Reed Sorenson shared about his friend and teammate.

"Him and I got into it on the track a little and I told him, I said, 'Hey, all you gotta do is lift and we would have made it through there without touching.' and he told me, he said 'I don't lift.' and that kind of stuck in my head, that's exactly his attitude off the track as well. He always gave everything 110% and didn't hold anything back."

Jason got into more than one scrape on the track because of that attitude. I didn't see the race that claimed Jason's life, but I'd wager that he didn't lift.

I'll leave you with the prescient words of the late Dale Earnhardt:
 “You ask me about tragic accidents? If I am on my tractor at my farm and it rolls over on me and kills me, that's a tragic accident. If I die in a race car, that's life. I died doing what I love.”

Janine, aka Lisa or LJ, Cloud, a fifth-generation Texan, lives in Houston and considers Texas Motor Speedway her home track.

She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorspo
Jason Leffler: Between one breath and the next Jason Leffler: Between one breath and the next Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Friday, June 14, 2013 Rating: 5