Mike Stefanik knew the door was open, but he was still surprised to learn he was being welcomed in.
In December, NASCAR officials announced that they were loosening eligibility rules for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Previously a driver had to have been retired for three years before being eligible for nomination. In December NASCAR said drivers 55 years or older with 30 years of NASCAR participation would be eligible.
“I found out that I fit the criteria,” Stefanik said. “My daughter kind of filled me on that or I wouldn’t have known.”
Friday NASCAR announced that Stefanik is one of 20 nominees for the Hall of Fame.
“I’m humbled,” Stefanik said. “I’m not in, but it’s quite an honor. I never really thought much about it. I didn’t get into racing to get into a Hall of Fame. But it’s humbling for sure.”
The 55-year old Stefanik, of Coventry, R.I. won seven NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour titles and also won two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (formerly Busch North Series) titles. He is the only NASCAR driver in history to win two series titles in the same season, remarkably, accomplishing the feat in both 1997 and 1998.
Stefanik, who won his first Whelen Modified Tour title in 1989 and his last 2006, is the Whelen Modified Tour’s all-time winningest driver with 74 career victories. Reggie Ruggiero is a distant second on the all-time wins list with 44 victories. He has 12 K&N Pro Series East wins in 164 starts.
He also has 26 career NASCAR Nationwide Series starts and 26 career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts. He also had Whelen Modified Tour titles in 1991, 2001 and 2002.
After finishing fifth in the Whelen Modified Tour standings with two victories for team owner Chris Our in 2013, Stefanik was offered a part-time ride with Our for the 2014 season. Our replaced Stefanik full-time on his team with 18-year old Tommy Barrett Jr., a standout the last two seasons on the Valenti Modified Racing Series. Stefanik opted to step away from the driver’s seat, though has not termed himself as retired.
“I’m not saying I’m never going to drive anything again and that’s the reason I’m not saying [retirement],” Stefanik said. “I probably still might drive something somewhere and I don’t want to have to listen to people say ‘Well, I thought you retired.’”
From the 20 nominees, five inductees will be chosen by NASAR Hall of Fame Voting panel, which includes a fan vote through NASCAR.com. Voting for the class will take place on May 21.