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Despite tragic news of Leffler's death, Langley drivers still eager to compete

Despite tragic news of Leffler's death, Langley drivers still eager to compete

When an auto-racing accident results in a fatality, emotions ripple through the sport at all levels. One that rarely surfaces is fear.

The death of longtime NASCAR driver Jason Leffler in a sprint-car race at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey this week has been a frequent topic of discussion in the local racing community. And while several area drivers used the term "tragic" to describe Leffler's death, they indicated they are still looking forward to their next turn behind the wheel.

"When I read that he left behind a 5-year-old son he used to take to the racetrack with him, it was painful," former Langley Speedway Legends champion Brad Hancock said. "I have a 4-year-old stepson (Landon) and a 16-month-old boy (Blake), and if I knew something like that was going to happen, I wouldn't want to race again.

"But it's almost worth the risk, because racing is so much fun and brings so much happiness to your life and to your family."

Greg Edwards, the defending Late Model champion at Langley, said, "It's tragic and terrible that something like that happened, but I kind of put it out of my mind. If you dwell on it, you might not get back in the car.

"You always think when you hear of something like that, 'It's never going to be me.' Maybe that's the wrong thing, but that's what a driver does."

Leffler was killed from blunt-force injuries to the neck when his car rolled multiple times on Wednesday after striking a wall during a heat race at the 0.625-mile dirt track in New Jersey. Several Langley drivers said they feel safer in the stock cars they drive because they are larger than the small sprint cars.

"The sprint cars are tighter, lighter and super-fast," Edwards said. "I want something to absorb the energy (of a collision) other than my body."

Said defending Langley Modified champion Shawn Balluzzo: "The sprint cars are so wide open, so fast and they have such big tires that make them flip over, that everything about them is pure danger to me.

"I think the cars we drive at Langley are very safe. Someone died in the 1950s or '60s, and we lost Dale Lemonds (in a Legends crash in 2004), but other than that, the accidents have been very minor."

Virginia Motor Speedway, which, like Bridgeport, is a dirt track, recently had its own sprint-car division for two seasons and hosted the famed World of Outlaws sprint cars for several seasons late last decade. Dave Seay, the track's marketing and public-relations director, said racing sprint cars on the half-mile track near Saluda posed no problem.

"Overall it's a safe car," he said. "Yes, it's more dangerous than a stock car because it's an open-wheel car with no fenders, but we never had a problem.

"I love sprint-car racing."

C.E. Falk is the only area driver to have raced against Leffler recently. Both were entered in Camping World Truck Series races in 2012 at Kentucky and Chicagoland.

"He was a star," Falk said. "He was somebody who you followed in practice and whose line you had to watch to be competitive."

Ironically, what many Langley fans remember about Leffler is that Denny Hamlin succeeded him in the seat of a Sprint Cup car for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin began his stock-car racing career by winning the 1997 Mini-Stock title at Langley.

Falk and the aforementioned drivers each spoke about the risks inherent in high-speed racing. The latest reminder of that, Leffler's death, does not make them want to stop.

"For me, I can't even think about another driver's death before getting in the car or I'd never want to drive again," Balluzzo said.

Said Falk: "This has hit us all pretty hard. It's a big deal when you lose someone so young.

"Drivers understand that racing is going to be bumping and grinding, but we all have to remember we've got to take care of each other out there on the track."

Article Credit: Daily Press