LOGAN TOWNSHIP — NASCAR driver Jason Leffler died after an accident Wednesday night at a dirt car event at Bridgeport Speedway in Gloucester County.
The 37-year-old Leffler, a two-time winner on the Nationwide Series, was pronounced dead shortly after 9 p.m., New Jersey State Police said.
“NASCAR extends its thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies to the family of Jason Leffler who passed away earlier this evening,” NASCAR said in statement. “For more than a decade, Jason was a fierce competitor in our sport and he will be missed.”
According to news reports, Leffler had to be extricated from his car and airlifted to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Chester, Pa., where he was pronounced dead at 9:02 p.m
Bridgeport Speedway immediately suspended racing for the rest of the night after the accident occurred.
“I’m completely devastated to hear about Jason Leffler. It doesn’t seem real. Pray for his family tonight,” Nationwide Series driver Trevor Bayne wrote on Twitter, echoing the sentiments of many who knew the well-liked former U.S. Auto Club champion.
Ocean City resident Bob Adams, 25, was at the race during the accident.
“I didn’t see the first part of the accident, but then I saw the car in the air and it lost the left side wheel and tire,” he said. “They were coming onto the front straightway, and I think he was in second. The car was kind of coming out of the air and it landed on the track facing the other direction.
“They stopped the race and took him to the hospital, and put a tractor in front and behind the car. They left the car on the track. When they leave a car on the track for a little bit, you know it’s pretty serious. We waited about an hour, and then they canceled the race.”
After losing his NASCAR ride, Leffler had been racing dirt-car events most of this year, including the 410 Sprint Car race Wednesday that promised a $7,000 prize to the winner at the 0.625-mile, high-banked dirt oval. On Sunday, Leffler finished last at Pocono in his lone NASCAR Sprint Cup start of the year.
From Long Beach, Calif., Leffler made 423 starts in NASCAR's three national series, but won just the two Nationwide races and one Truck Series event in a career that began in 1999. He also made three IndyCar Series starts, finishing 17th in the 2000 Indianapolis 500.
Leffler's last full NASCAR season was 2011, when he ran the entire Nationwide schedule for Turner Motorsports. He finished sixth in the standings that season and hadn't had a steady NASCAR ride since.
Although he never made it at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level, Leffler ran almost the entire 2001 season for Chip Ganassi Racing and ran 19 races in 2005 for Joe Gibbs Racing in the car now driven by Denny Hamlin.
Leffler is survived by 5-year-old son Charlie Dean. A single father, Leffler was devoted to his son and his Instagram account was full of photos of the two spending time together, including many at race tracks.
(Staff writer Guy Gargan contributed to this report.)