Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

June 21, 2013

Recent tragedies in racing world hit hard

Young shoe Larson getting really good, really fast.


Kokomo Tribune

---- — Just a few thoughts from the goings on in the racing the world the last three weeks.

First and foremost is the sting that losing first Josh Burton, then Jason Leffler inflicted upon hearing the news of both drivers losing their lives in sprint car races.

Burton competed at both Kokomo and Gas City on occasion and was an extremely likeable young man. Although he only raced a sprint car for a couple years, he was one of those young guns who most expected to be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

Leffler tragically lost his life in a winged sprint car last week. He burst onto the racing scene as a multiple-time USAC Honda National Midget Series champion. A longtime friend of Tony Stewart, he followed Stewart, competing in the Indy Racing League and then to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In an interview prior to his tragic accident, Leffler noted how he was excited to compete in the winged sprint car world at tracks out east.

It seems like everything is cyclical, just about the time that we as fans and members of the media begin to feel that the cars are more safe now than they’ve ever been, incidents like both of the above-mentioned occur that bring the stark reality that every time a driver straps into his or her race car the possibility is there that they could very well got seriously hurt if not worse.

Seeing Kokomo’s Josh Spencer’s violent flip in turn one Sunday night quickly sapped all the excitement I had after watching one of the best features I’ve seen in quite some time as part of the USAC Honda National Midget Series Indiana Midget Week.

Spencer’s accident happened on the fourth lap of the feature while he was battling for the third position in a stellar field of sprint cars. Fortunately, he was released from the hospital after being diagnosed with a concussion, but after viewing replays over and over of the crash, it could just as easily been a lot worse.

On a lighter note, in all the years I’ve been covering races I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better all-around racer than Kyle Larson.

My first recollection of the California sensation was seeing him flipping Jeff Walker’s No. 11W into the turn four fence at Kokomo a couple of seasons ago. At the time I would never have dreamt that a couple years later he would be mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Tony Stewart among others.

To be totally honest, having watched Stewart work his way through the ranks of USAC all the way to NASCAR and everything in between and now Larson I’d say that Larson is the better driver at the same stage of their careers. The kid is simply amazing in whatever he drives.

As an example, Larson raced the latter part of last week in both a sprint car and a midget. Then on Saturday he climbed into his NASCAR Nationwide Series car at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway and went out and finished second in his first season competing in the bigger, heavier cars. A night later he showed up at Kokomo and finished second in his midget ride, then came back a few minutes later aboard a strange sprint car, started in the fifth row, then worked his way to the front to defeat defending USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series champion Bryan Clauson, who was driving the Tony Stewart Racing Chevy Performance No. 20.

Just 10 days earlier he was at the track competing in the STP World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series against the best of the best winged drivers and had the race pretty well in hand until he got tangled up with a lapped car late in the race. Also in the field that night was Stewart, however about the closest the veteran got to Larson was when the talented youngster was weaving his way through lapped traffic.

In closing, I heard through the grapevine about many folks being unhappy with Stewart for not hanging around and signing autographs during the night and after the race. Personally, I don’t see why those folks were unhappy with him. It wasn’t advertised he was going to be there, there was no promise that he would sign autographs upon arriving. All it would have took was for him to sign one autograph and then it would be like the running of the bulls and the poor guy would have never pleased everyone. Why start something you can’t finish when inevitably there would have been folks getting mad anyway?

Rather than complain that he didn’t shake hands and kiss babies like a vote-hungry politician, why can’t folks just be appreciative that he took time out of his hectic schedule to show up at the local track and help put on a show?

Brett Bowman may be reached by email at brettbowman29@aol.com or through the sports department.