Nationwide drivers raise funds for Leffler’s son
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org June 17, 2013 9:28PM
NASCAR drivers Regan Smith (left) and Travis Pastrana sell ice cream Monday on Michigan Avenue. | Tina Akouris~Sun-Times Media
Nationwide points leaders
1. Regan Smith, 495.
2. Sam Hornish Jr., 437.
3. Justin Allgaier, 436.
4. Austin Dillon, 428.
5. Elliott Sadler, 424.
Updated: July 19, 2013 6:25AM
Like any catastrophic news, NASCAR Nationwide driver Regan Smith first heard of Jason Leffler’s death on social media.
Leffler was killed Wednesday when the sprint car he was racing slammed into a wall during a race at a dirt track in Swedesboro, N.J. Leffler was 37.
“I was in Colorado at the time and, like a lot of folks, I caught wind of it on Twitter,” Smith said. “I didn’t know how it happened, but I knew it sounded like a bad situation.
“Jason was doing what he loved. We know the risks that come with that, now we have to pull together and support his family. I didn’t know Jason as well as some others did.”
Smith and Travis Pastrana were in Chicago on Monday promoting the STP 300 Nationwide race July 21 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. Pastrana and Smith were selling ice cream on Michigan Avenue, raising $2,000 for a trust fund set up for Leffler’s 5-year-old son.
“My wife is pregnant, and having a daughter on the way people ask me if I still want to keep doing this,” Pastrana said. “(Leffler’s death) is unfortunate, and we came out (Monday) for the track and we wanted to help a friend out. This is a small contribution, but it’s something we can do.”
Neither driver has raced the type of car Leffler was driving when he died. And Smith doesn’t think team owners will start clamping down on where their drivers race outside of Nationwide and Sprint Cup races.
“I don’t see the owners doing anything differently,” Smith said.
Smith is leading the Nationwide series in points, 58 ahead of Sam Hornish Jr. and 59 ahead of Riverton, Ill., native Justin Allgaier. Smith won his second race of the season Saturday at Michigan.
Smith said he is not going to race in the Sprint Cup series this season, opting to concentrate on winning a title in the Nationwide series for his team JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I didn’t know where we would be when the season started, but I thought we would be a championship contender,” Smith said. “I thought four or five teams stood out that teams we would be battling with, week in and week out. And I have a lot of confidence in my team and their ability.”
Pastrana has raced on the Speedway’s 11/2-mile track just once and said he’s still learning the track — and the sport. He is racing his first full-time Nationwide schedule this year after winning 11 gold medals in the X Games in supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross and rally racing.
Pastrana thinks that racing at Joliet in July and then again in the Dollar General 300 on Sept. 14 may help him learn more about handling a stock car.
“With this track, you can go anywhere and go high and low and make passes,” Pastrana said. “The easier a track is, the faster everyone else goes. But (Chicagoland) was my best mile-and-a-half (track) last year.
“And I love driving everything — just like Jason did.”