NASCAR champion and Hall of Fame nominee Mike Stefanik dies in plane crash

Mike Stefanik, who won nine NASCAR Modified Tour championships died in a plane crash near the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut on Sunday. He was 61.

He won his first Modified Tour championship in 1989 and won his ninth in 2006 at the age of 48. Stefanik was on the list of nominees for the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.

“Mike Stefanik was one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, but even more so, he was a true representative of our sport,” NASCAR CEO Jim France said in a statement. “His tough, competitive nature and excellence on the racetrack won him the respect and admiration of fans and competitors alike. His career stretched more than 30 years, bridging the generations between Jerry Cook and Richie Evans to our current drivers. He recorded achievements in this sport that are likely untouchable, and his legacy as a champion will endure. We will keep his wife Julie and his family and friends in our prayers.”

Stefanik began racing full-time in the Modified Tour in 1987, where he finished seventh in points with thirteen top ten finishes. Two years later, he scored his first of nine series championships, followed by titles in 1991, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2006. He ran his final races in the Tour in 2014, with his last start ending in a tenth-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His seventy-fourth and final victory came at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2013.

Overall, he won 74 races in 453 career modified starts and had 301 top-10 finishes across those 453 starts and 223 top-five finishes.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, he also raced in the Busch North Tour (now known as the K&N Pro Series East), where he won twelve races and the 1997 and 1998 titles. Although he didn’t race often in NASCAR’s national series, he finished thirteenth in the 1999 Truck Series standings with nine top 10 finishes and a best run of second at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Greg Engle