On His Terms: Mike Stefanik Readies To End Remarkable NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Career

LOUDON, N.H. – Throughout his career on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Mike Stefanik has always taken things year by year.

Mike Stefanik celebrates victory at Bristol Motor Speedway last month (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Mike Stefanik celebrates victory at Bristol Motor Speedway last month (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Now the question for the Coventry, R.I. driver is, will there be a next year?

Whether there is or not, Stefanik has decided that the time has come to call it a career behind the wheel of a Modified.

The seven-time Whelen Modified Tour champion and the division’s all-time winningest driver said he will decide at the end of the season exactly what the future holds, but he’s confident there won’t be a 2015 for him in the division.

“I’m going to focus on [the last three events in 2013] and we’ll sit down as a team and talk about it and go from there,” Stefanik said. “That’s all I really know. I haven’t made up my mind or anything. It’s always one year at a time and then at the end of the year you sit down and figure out if everybody wants to do it again or somebody wants to make a change. Either at the end of the year we talk about it and enough’s enough or we do another year, but it wouldn’t be any more than that. It would be this year or next. I don’t see it going any further than that.”

The 55-year old Stefanik won his first series title in 1989. He also had titles in 1991, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2006. He has 74 victories in 446 career starts. Reggie Ruggiero has the second most all-time in series history with 44.

“He’s had an amazing career and any one of us can only hope to do about half as much as what he’s done or even a quarter as much as he’s done,” reigning Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby said. “He’s seen everything, done everything and won everything.”

Stefanik has two victories this season, winning in the season opening event at Thompson International Speedway in April and the division’s annual event at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last month. He said he doesn’t want to be a driver who hangs on too long.

“We had a little casual conversation, [crew chief Brad Lafontaine] and I did a couple months back,” Stefanik said. “We want to run at a level we’re both happy with and if you’re struggling it’s a tough game to struggle at for very long.”

Said Coby: “Everybody’s got to retire at some point and I’m sure Mike knows that and I think Mike wants to be one of those guys that retires competitively and having won races. He won two races this year. I think if he does go out this year, I’m not going to say it’s the right time, only he and his wife know that, but it will be a shame to not have him here.

“I always joke with him that he used to hand me my Quarter Midget trophies when I was racing at the Little T in Thompson when I was like eight. He doesn’t like when I say that, but it’s one of those deals where we all get older and if it’s his right time he’ll know it.”

Ron Silk, the division’s 2011 champion, said losing Stefanik will prove a major blow to the series.

“He’s pretty much the most successful guy ever on the Tour, it sucks to lose him,” Silk said. “We’ve lost a lot of teams now we’re probably going to start losing some drivers. They can’t do it forever, Mike can’t do it forever. But it’s going to suck to see him go. I like racing with him. I’ve always raced well with him. Racing will keep going, the world keeps going, but it will definitely take away something from our series.

“You see a lot in other sports where people stick around for a long time and it kind of tarnishes their image. Mike is still winning races and he could probably go another 10 years and still be competitive and win races. But if he’s ready to be done, that’s a good move for him if that’s what he really wants.”

Todd Szegedy, the 2003 Whelen Modified Tour champion, called losing a Stefanik “a shame.”

“I still think he can win races and I think he’s still just as good as any of the top guys on the Tour,” Szegedy said. “He is one of the top guys. He’s someone that’s a good quality driver and we’re losing a lot of drivers. The Tour is not as strong as it was. It will suck to see him go. He’s fun to race with. I think he’s a fair racer and he’s always been good with me.

“I’ve always said if I get to the point where I’m not performing any more, I want people to tell me. I don’t want to just ride around and run around in the back. I want to go to the track knowing that I’m always going to be competitive. I guess he wants to leave knowing that he was still on top and not someone that lost his touch and was just flopping around in the back. For his peace of mind I think it probably is a good idea for him to retire while he’s on top.”

Szegedy said Stefanik’s departure will prove another dooming bell toll for the division as a whole.

“We need new faces to help fill the voids and there’s just nobody coming in,” Szegedy said.

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  1. cliff potter says

    I have followed the mods for many many years. the reg, teddy bear pools,the fuller brothers, the number 8 mod, tc, and the list goes on. I will miss Mike. He is a class act. he won a spring sizzler once and told me his winnings would her buy his daughter medical supplies she needed.

  2. Sad news for the tour, but I am not surprised after hearing his post race comments following Bristol. I really enjoy following the WMT, and will attend 10 races this season (I skip the two at Riverhead, Mad dog, and Bristol), but does anyone see how the WMT can last more than 5 years? Mike is talking retiring, and several other regulars (TC, Flemke, Tomanio, Wade Cole, Brian Schofield, Gary McDonald) are all 55+.

  3. Paul,
    Mike is my favorite driver and has been for a long time. The only way the tour won’t last is because of NASCAR itself making it too expensive to race the division. As far as your regulars like Teddy (same age as Mike) and Eddie, Jamie, Wade who are 55+, don’t forget about the drivers like Bonsignore (25 years old) Pennink (28) Emerling (21) Powell (21) Lia (33) Coby (34) Pitkat (34) Berndt (34) Santos (28) Preece (23) Goodale (28). That’s a pretty good core group that is here now that when they get to Stefanik’s age would have the chance to be on the tour for 20+ years. Yes Preece will probably move on but the other guys and no offense to them are too old already at 28 to be going somewhere in the world of NASCAR with the way it is now a days. I see that there is a good group of young drivers but with NASCAR’s only consistency they have (Raising Costs) is the only thing I see making the tour dwindle!

  4. Josh paradis says

    I think it’s because the mrs tour is cheaper to run and they do heat races instead of time trials.

  5. His retirement will be a huge loss to the WMT.Stefanik has always been a class act on and off the track. I have watched and loved the mods for 40+ years but can see the end coming unless changes are made. Costs vs Purses is way out of hand.as they reduce purses and eliminate events. At NHIS the mods usually have the best race. Despite this the cup winner receives more the entire WMT purse. The Bristol event although prestigious also has a poor purse. Events could and should be added to Richmond along with a realistic purse structure. Twenty years ago the purses and major events were both much higher in number and the costs of running a car were much less.NASCAR should to do a better job with purses, events, and stable rules for this division or it will gone in 5 years. I have loved this division and the many memories of great drivers and events for over 40 years and am very upset that NASCAR has let this happen.

  6. William (Bill) Goulet says

    Still remember the first time you drove the Simons #9 at Riverside Park. It was fun to work with you back then. Wish I could be there now Good luck in what ever you do now

  7. Tony Geinzer says

    I am just as floored, but. not thrilled, because NASCAR would have to have the Modifieds National, but, having more options just to have em is not good.

  8. Jon Blanchette says

    The NASCAR Modified Tour is the best racing around for my dollar. Loudon race and any race at Thompson is always a good show. I have seen some great ones call it quits, Hirschman, The Reg, Fuller Brothers, Steve Park and others. Mike Stefanik runs up front and runs clean. He would be sorely missed in any racing series. His 74 wins and seven Championships will likely stand for a long, long time. At the World Series this year I counted 13 cars that I thought had a real honest chance to win. Not many racing series where you can say that.

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