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Report: Jason Leffler may have survived fatal wreck with different headrest

Jun 21, 2013, 5:32 PM EDT

Jason Leffler (top) is shown attending the pre-race driver's meeting at Bridgewater Speedway on June 12. He would die a short time later in a wreck while competing in a race at the track. Jason Leffler (top) is shown attending the pre-race driver's meeting at Bridgewater Speedway on June 12. He would die a short time later in a wreck while competing in a race at the track.

Several safety experts believe Jason Leffler‘s chance of survival from last week’s fatal crash may have been enhanced if he used a full containment headrest similar to those mandated by NASCAR.

Citing longtime safety pioneer Bill Simpson and race car seat maker and former two-time Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie, ESPN.com reported that both men believe a 180-degree surround-style headrest may have saved Leffler’s life.

Leffler, 37, whose funeral service was this past Wednesday in Cornelius, N.C., was killed in a winged sprint car crash at Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway on June 12. His car went out of control, hit a retaining wall and flipped over several times.

New Jersey state police are still investigating the cause of the wreck, but it’s believed a part in the front end of Leffler’s race car broke.

Even though Leffler was wearing a protective helmet and a head and neck restraint device to protect against front impacts, an autopsy performed on Leffler’s body by medical examiner Dr. Fredric Hellman found that the cause of death was from a blunt-force neck injury caused by a whipping motion of his head.

What Leffler did not have was a headrest that would keep his head aligned with the rest of his body in a lateral impact.

After talking with a number of witnesses, Simpson concluded, “My findings showed everything with the head and neck restraint is fine when you have a forward impact as long as it doesn’t go past 30 degrees, from one side to the other. There is no lateral protection with the head and neck restraint. Nothing.

“Your head can flop from side to side,” Simpson added. “There is nothing to stop it from doing that. That car that Leffler was driving, it did not have a 180-degree head surround like a [Sprint] Cup car has. When he crashed and landed on his side and stopped, his head kept going.”

LaJoie, who operates one of the leading seating companies in the sport, agreed: “(Leffler) wasn’t contained. That’s why we haven’t killed anyone in NASCAR, because we learned not to let the body and head move. Your head, chest and pelvis need to stay in line as close as possible.”

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