Updated: June 13, 2013 12:43AM
Jason Leffler, a versatile driver who won championships in open-wheel divisions and attempted at least one full season in each of NASCAR’s three national series, died Wednesday night after a crash in a 410 sprint car race at Bridgeport Speedway.
NASCAR confirmed the death in a statement that said, “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.”
Leffler, 37, was running in second place in the first heat race of the program at the 0.625-mile, high-banked dirt oval when his car flipped several times on the front straightaway, according to eyewitness Chris Taitt, 40, of West Deptford, N.J.
He was transported to Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 9p.m., the New Jersey State Police said. Sgt. Adam Grossman said Leffler had to be extricated from the car after striking a wall at about 8:30 p.m.
After state police arrived on the scene, the track announced the rest of the races had been canceled.
Leffler made 73 Sprint Cup starts, finishing last in his final event after completing eight laps Sunday at Pocono Raceway. He won twice in the Nationwide Series and once in the Camping World Truck Series.
The Long Beach native, who was affectionately known as “LefTurn” and had the nickname stenciled above his driver’s side window, leaves behind a 5-year-old son, Charlie.
Leffler started his career as an open-wheel star who won three consecutive USAC Midget championships from 1997 to ‘99. Following the path of former USAC star Tony Stewart, he signed with Joe Gibbs Racing for the Nationwide Series in 2000.
After finishing 20th in points with four top-10s in his rookie season, Leffler moved into the Cup series with Chip Ganassi Racing. He lasted one year after failing to qualify for five of 36 races in 2001.
Leffler moved to the truck series for two years, scoring his first NASCAR national series victory at Dover International Speedway in 2003. In 2004, he earned his first Nationwide Series win and scored 17 top-10s in 27 starts with Haas CNC Racing.
Leffler raced full time in Nationwide from 2006-11, earning his final national series win at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2007 when he finished a career-high third in points.
He made 11 starts in Sprint Cup over the past four seasons.