CLERMONT – Two pages immediately brought back thoughts a meeting two years earlier.
Holding the program from the final NASCAR Nationwide Race at Lucas Oil Raceway, Wes Collier looks at the article on the driver won the same Kroger 200 back in 2007. It was an enjoyable experience for the General Manager considering the interview’s subject.
“Jason was definitely a fan favorite here at Lucas Oil Raceway,” said Collier of Jason Leffler-who died in a Sprint Car Accident on Wednesday.
His death has brought tributes from many around the racing world-including many whom he raced with in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series.
“Jason Leffler was a great racer and an even better friend,” said Columbus, Ind. native and former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart in a statement released through Stewart-Haas Racing. “We raced together a lot, and our career paths were very similar. He loved racing, especially open-wheel racing, and that’s a passion we both share.”
Throughout his career that passion led to success at one venue in particular, the one which Collier helps to run. There was a reason a feature was done in the program for the final Nationwide race at the venue-because Leffler has a major part in the history of Lucas Oil Raceway.
“His diversity and being such a good driver and being able to handle any car he drove out here,” said Collier of the reason Leffler was a popular driver among fans.
He showed his versatility by winning at a number of different levels on the short oval. Four times he won USAC Midget races at Lucas Oil Raceway and also captured two Silver Crown victories.
In stock cars he experienced some of the best success in his career. In the Nationwide Series he won the pole for the 2000 Kroger 200 and finished in the top five of that race three times. Then came the Nationwide race in 2007 at the raceway park, which delivered perhaps the best moment of Leffler’s stock car career.
Driving for Braun Racing, Leffler got around Greg Biffle with two laps to go and came home with one of his two Nationwide victories of his career. The victory was significant as it was the first for Toyota in NASCAR Nationwide competition and as Leffler climbed out of his No. 38 machine, he was honored with a standing ovation by the capacity crowd.
It snapped an 83-race win drought for the driver as the victory occured shortly before the birth of his son Charlie.
”Being part of that win in the NASCAR Nationwide series and again having all the Toyota guys in and giving them their first win it was just one of those memories I’ll probably never forget,” said Collier of the 2007 Kroger 200. “Just because of the excitement with Jason and all the folks from Toyota and all of the fans who stuck around.
“He signed autographs for hours after that win that night.”
Leffler’s final race at Lucas Oil Raceway was the weekend the program Collier was reading was handed out in July of 2011. He finished sixth in that race to continue his record of strong performances at the short track, one which was as close to home as any in NASCAR or USAC competition.
”He’d mentioned how great and how much fun he had at this track because it was short track racing at its finest,” said Collier of Leffler. “He just had a comfort level here that a lot of drivers don’t have evidently. That shows in the number of wins that he had out here.
“There’s something about this track that he felt very comfortable with he’s just loved coming out here.”
Proof of that is in the results-and in writing.