Jason Laffler, who has been a regular competitor in all three of NASCAR's three national-level series over the past decade, has died following an accident in a heat race at the 0.625-mile Bridgeport Speedway high-banked dirt track oval on Wednesday night.

The 37-year-old from California crashed into the wall while running second during the event, and his car flipped several times. He was extricated from the wreck and air-lifted to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania but he was pronounced dead shortly after 9pm around half an hour after the original accident.

He is survived by his 5-year-old son, Charlie Dean.

Leffler was a three-time USAC National Midget champion in the late 1990s before being picked up by the Treadway Racing team for a short-lived career in the open-wheel Indy Racing League, which included a start in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 that saw him start and finish in 17th position.

Rather than sticking with IndyCar, Leffler instead opted for a career in NASCAR stock race racing beginning with four starts in the Nationwide (then known as Busch) Series for Joe Gibbs Racing and later competing with Chip Ganassi's Cup team in 2001.

Over the course of the next dozen years Leffler recorded a total of 73 Sprint Cup races, two wins in 294 Nationwide Series races and one from 56 Camping World Truck Series starts. His best championship result was third place in the 2007 Nationwide Series and he also claimed fourth place in the 2002 Truck Series.

Leffler did not have a full-time seat in stock cars this season, but his most recent NASCAR participation was just on Sunday at Pocono for Humphrey Smith Racing, although his race only lasted eight laps before he was sidelined with transmission problems.

The racing world was shocked to learn of the news of Leffler's untimely death.

"NASCAR extends its thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies to the family of Jason Leffler who passed away earlier this evening," said NASCAR in a statement. "For more than a decade, Jason was a fierce competitor in our sport and he will be missed."

"Really sad for Jason Leffler and his family," said current Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski on Twitter. "Thinking about his little boy."

"Thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of Jason Leffler," posted Tony Stewart, an early mentor for Leffler in both IndyCar and NASCAR. "A good man; a good racer. Godspeed friend."

"So sad to hear about Jason Leffler," added Clint Bowyer. "Was a wheel man and a fun fun person to be around."

"I'm completely devastated to hear about Jason Leffler," contributed Trevor Bayne. "It doesn't seem real. Pray for his family tonight."

"Sitting here in disbelief," agreed Elliott Sadler. "All I can think about is Charlie. Prayers to his little boy."

"Such sad news tonight," wrote Nationwide rookie Kyle Larson. "Leffler was a great person and even better dad. I am glad I got to know him. Rest in peace."

"We are very saddened at the passing of Jason Leffler," said Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chief Operating Officer J. Douglas Boles in a statement. "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."

The IZOD IndyCar Series also said said that it "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."

IndyCar star and former Formula 1 driver Justin Wilson tweeted: "Another reminder of how this sport we love can be so cruel. Thoughts with his family."

"Praying for all of Jason Leffler family, especially his little guy Charlie," added IndyCar team owner/driver Ed Carpenter.

Bridgeport Speedway immediately suspended racing for the remainder of Wednesday night after Leffler's accident, which sadly is far from being the first fatal dirt track incident in recent months.

Just two weeks ago, 22-year-old driver Josh Burton died of the injuries that he sustained in a crash at Bloomington Speedway in Indiana, while two drivers were killed in a race in Nevada. In March, two died on pit road after a car spun off the track in California.


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