CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jason Leffler, like every other racer, understood the risks of his profession. It’s a conversation he had with his longtime girlfriend when his NASCAR prospects dried up and a return to the sprint car circuit was the only way he could compete on a regular basis.
It wasn’t a glamorous life, and it certainly wasn’t going to make him rich. But it was a chance to race and, man, did Leffler love racing.
“We’d talked a lot about these cars and the dangers involved, and Jason accepted it because he said all the time, ‘I’d rather my son see me live a happy life then see me sitting in a job I hate being miserable,’” Julianna Patterson told The Associated Press on Monday. “Jason was amazing. He was ornery. His life was Charlie, racing, family and friends. In that order. But Charlie was the most important. Charlie was his entire world.”
That was evident long before Leffler’s death in an accident at a dirt track in New Jersey last Wednesday. The 37-year-old divorced father’s Twitter feed and Instagram account were a loving tribute to 5-year-old Charlie Dean, his only child. There were photos of the first day of school, the two eating ice cream together, playing on the floor, hanging out at a race track, wearing matching sunglasses and, last month, Charlie’s kindergarten graduation.
On Monday, Leffler’s girlfriend, brother and representatives at Spire Sports discussed his financial situation to clear up growing misconceptions and rumors about the estate he left behind for Charlie.
His former sister-in-law told Sporting News on Friday that Leffler did not have life insurance when he died. But it’s not that simple and some believe that was a deliberate attempt to solicit donations to an account that had been established for both Charlie and Leffler’s ex-wife.
“It’s insane that someone would bring this up, would bring up life insurance, within a day of this happening. We haven’t even had the funeral yet,” Patterson said. “Jason would never have left Charlie with nothing. Never. To suggest otherwise is not true and it’s evil.
“I remember he went into Charlie’s room one night before bed and said to him, ‘Everything I do is for you,’ and Charlie hugged him and said, ‘You almost made me cry, Dad.’ Those two loved each other more than anything in the entire world.”
The reality is that disability and life insurance for race car drivers are expensive and difficult to get — usually issued only by Lloyds of London — and the premiums are substantial. Leffler’s last full Nationwide season was in 2011, and he’d run just 12 NASCAR races in 2012.
He didn’t have deep resources to buy insurance anymore; the night he was killed, the winner was guaranteed just $7,000. So perhaps Leffler didn’t think life insurance was the best investment for Charlie Dean’s future.
But Leffler still invested specifically with his son in mind, his loved ones say, and took steps to ensure his son would be cared for before his death and in the event of his death. He had disability insurance and other policies and funds established for Charlie.