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Popular NASCAR driver Leffler dies during accident on dirt track

Jason Leffler was known around the racing world as a driver who could drive on any surface. On Wednesday, the popular NASCAR driver died after slamming into the wall on a dirt track in New Jersey.

Jason Leffler was known around the racing world as a driver who could drive on any surface. On Wednesday, the popular NASCAR driver died after slamming into the wall on a dirt track in New Jersey.

Fellow competitors and race fans alike will remember Jason Leffler as a fierce competitor and as one of the most versatile talents in the garage, any garage.

They'll also remember the moniker "LefTurn" painted above the driver's window on his race cars. That and the haircut that defied simple description -- most called it a faux hawk -- were his calling cards.

Leffler died Wednesday night at age 37, fatally injured in a wreck during a 410 Sprint Car heat race at Bridgeport Speedway in Bridgeport, N.J.

The record shows that Leffler posted three victories in 423 starts combined in NASCAR top three national touring series. His breakthrough Nationwide Series victory at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2007 was the first for Toyota in the top two divisions of NASCAR racing.

But Leffler could drive anything -- and on any surface. His resume includes four USAC championships and three starts in the IndyCar Series, including a 17th-place finish in his only attempt at the Indianapolis 500 (in 2000), driving for owner Fred Treadway.

His last NASCAR start -- and his only 2013 Sprint Cup event -- came last Sunday at Pocono, where Leffler dropped out after eight laps. That truncated race, however, does nothing to suggest the intensity and passion with which Leffler drove a race car.

On learning of Leffler's death, NASCAR issued a statement:

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

Off the track, Leffler's competitive fire gave way to humor and good will. Leffler was an excellent ambassador for NASCAR racing, something I discovered during a 2008 trip to Montreal to promote the Nationwide race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

French Canadian radio stations embraced Leffler, pronouncing his name "Lafleur," as in hockey great Guy Lafleur. "No, it's Leffler -- Leffler. It's German," Leffler would say with typical good humor.

My lasting image of Jason Leffler, however, is a photograph taken in the John Lennon bedroom in the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Leffler and Joe Balash, then Nationwide Series director, lay side-by-side on the bed, reenacting John Lennon's Yoko Ono's 1969 eight-day "Bed-in for Peace."

In fact, Lennon and Ono recorded the song "Give Peace a Chance" in that bedroom.

I feel confident that Leffler has found peace. I only hope that his family -- and particularly his son Charlie, who was the joy of Jason's life -- can do the same.