CONCORD, N.C. -- A former Nationwide Series winner who now advocates for safer race car seats believes the proper seat might have saved driver Jason Leffler's life.
Leffler died June 12 at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey after a mechanical failure caused him to lose steering during a dirt track race.
Leffler's sprint car -- a small, short car that looks like a roll cage on wheels -- spun around and hit the racetrack wall sideways. He died of a broken neck.
Randy LaJoie believes a more secure seat with better head protection might have helped Leffler survive the crash.
LaJoie is a former Nationwide Series winner with nearly four decades of race experience who now designs and builds seats, and advocates for driver safety.
He said Saturday that research done after Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash at Daytona in 2001 helped improve driver safety in NASCAR.
However, safety regulations and car safety systems vary widely in smaller races that don't require NASCAR's stricter safety regulations.
Leffler's final race was one of those.
"In a front-impact crash, the seat belt holds you," said LaJoie. "In a side-impact crash, the seat holds you."
LaJoie designs and builds seats with side-impact protection at his shop in Concord, and tries to educate drivers about the importance of good head protection at smaller races that don't require it.
"Contain the driver," he said. "The driver needs to be contained. The driver doesn't need to move as far as Jason did. That's what we have learned in NASCAR since Dale Earnhardt, to limit the movement of the driver."
He admits he often raced cars with less protection than he knew he needed, and sees many young drivers do the same as he did.
Even Leffler had a sprint car with a proper seat that he wasn't using in the Bridgeport race, said LaJoie.
A more thorough report on Leffler's fatal accident is due out this week.