Burton said Jason Leffler’s death Wednesday night could trigger action in Sprint Cup
Burton has been an outspoken advocate of safety advances during his NASCAR career
“People don’t go watch this hoping someone is going to get hurt or be killed,” Burton said
(PhatzRadio / USA Today) — Jason Leffler wasn’t killed in a NASCAR-sanctioned event, but Jeff Burton said the versatile driver’s death in a sprint car race Wednesday night could trigger action in Sprint Cup.
“NASCAR is the leader in motorsports safety, there’s no doubt about that,” the Richard Childress Racing veteran said Thursday on The Morning Drive program on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. “We have huge advantages with softer walls and technology with the cars, and we have to find a way to make it so local racers have access to that.”
Burton has been an outspoken advocate of safety advances while competing in NASCAR’s premier series since 1993. Working with racing seatmaker Brian Butler, he helped design a head-surround system to cushion a driver in crashes. Burton said “one of the proudest things in my career” is that the innovation has trickled down into the Bandolero series that is considered the primary entry-level racing circuit for kids.
“That’s a technology that works at our level and at that level,” said Burton, who also credited two-time Nationwide champion Randy LaJoie with spreading the word on the grassroots level through his Joie of Seating company. “Those are things we have to make sure we get throughout all of motor sports. That’s one of the responsibilities at this level. I’m not saying Jason didn’t have the best possible safety equipment. We just have to make sure everyone has that opportunity. All the money and energy and technology at (the Cup) level, we have to make sure that finds its way to the lower level.”
Burton said if there was another lesson to be gleaned from Leffler’s death, it was the perception that racing needed to be dangerous in order to be popular.
“One of the things that’s infuriated me over the last several years is we have some members of our community that have made the comment that racing has become too safe,” he said. “These people are idiots. We accept the risk. It’s part of what we do. But it doesn’t have to be more dangerous than it has to be. People don’t go watch this hoping someone is going to get hurt or be killed. They watch it because it’s competitive and it’s fun.
“There is an element of danger, no question. But I don’t know a single fan who wants to watch someone get hurt or killed. When I hear someone say the sport has become too safe and that’s why people don’t want to watch it, as far as I’m concerned, those people need to get the hell out of the sport. We’re human beings who accept the challenge, but we’re not idiots. Those comments are insulting to every driver, every driver’s wife and family, and I think they’re insulting to the fans. When people say that, they’re making a comment that fans want to see someone get hurt.”
Burton said drivers aren’t “wired like the normal person,” and that will allow him to block out the lingering emotions from Leffler’s death while racing at Michigan International Speedway this weekend.
“These tragedies remind everybody that this is a dangerous sport,” he said. “At the same time, no one forces us to do this. We raise our hands and we say we’re going to do it because we love it, and it’s a passion. The fans are rewarded by people willing to do it. But the drivers at least get the benefit of it being as safe as it possibly can be.”
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