Racing's Future Drivers Face Harsh Reality...Being Taken Away Before Their Time
A driver does a walk around their vehicle, then climbs into the seat. The helmet goes over the head, and buckled under the chin. HANS device locked in, then the belts locked together, and pulled tight.
It's a scene that is common from the small local dirt tracks to the grid at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The same format at the 1/2 mile paved speedway down the road, and while on pit road for the Daytona 500.
It's a risk that is taken by every man, woman, and sometimes child, that decides to pursue a racing career.
Unfortunately, the reward is grand, but the possibility of something going disastrously wrong outweighs any possible victory. The racing community as a whole knows this, whether it's the driver or the crew. The hardest part is putting that other aspect out of one's mind, but still having the respect for it to happen.
In the last 20 years, NASCAR alone has lost five drivers long before reaching the peak of their careers. Of those five, three happened on the track. The devastation of losing Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison in 1993 still stings to this day.
In 2000, the loss of Adam Petty at the tender age of 19, hurt the entire racing community long beyond the NASCAR name plate.
Months later, while still recovering from that loss, Kenny Irwin was snatched away from us, at the same track, at nearly the exact same spot of the Petty accident.
The loss of racers goes beyond circle track, as NHRA lost Eric Medlen before it was known how good he would be. The open wheel circuit is still mourning the loss of Dan Wheldon, taken away the same year he took victory at the Brickyard.
And now, away from NASCAR, the racing community loses another young face, who had gotten his big break thanks to another successful young driver.
Jason Leffler, who was given a chance last year by Kyle Busch to drive the No. 18 Tundra in the Truck Series, was taken away doing something he enjoyed. His wreck in Bridgeport, New Jersey, looked bad, felt bad, and ultimately was worse. Yet another driver taken away before reaching the highest peak in the sport.
Every one of these drivers had two things in common: they were just getting ready to show how good they could be, and sadly were taken away before anyone could see how good they could be.
It's a risk that is always taken into consideration every time any driver, in any series, puts on the helmet and pulls those belts tight. Unfortunately, it's also something no person involved in racing wants a reminder of.
On the day the Indy Car world lost it's Indy 500 champion, commentator Marty Reed put everything into perspective, explaining why he ends broadcasts with a certain line.
"Many people ask me why I always sign off 'till we meet again.' Because good-bye is always so final."
Good-bye, Jason Leffler.