Doug Coby Reflects On The Death Of Mike Stefanik And Chasing His Records With The Whelen Modified Tour

Doug Coby celebrates his second consecutive Whelen Modified Tour championship – and third overall – in 2015 at Thompson Speedway (Photo: Billy Weiss/Getty Images for NASCAR)

In 34 years of competition since its inception in 1985 there have been 18 different drivers who have earned the right to be called series champion. 

But among that small group of men is an even more exclusive club. 

Of those 18 drivers only three have won more than two series titles.

Mike Stefanik, Tony Hirschman and Doug Coby are the only three drivers in 34 years who have been able to grab more than two series titles. Stefanik won a record seven while Hirschman and Coby each have five. 

Tragedy struck part of that exclusive group Sunday when the 61-year old Stefanik died following an Ultra-Light plane crash in Sterling. 

For Coby, Stefanik’s death meant the loss of an idol, a mentor and a friend. 

“Beyond shocked,” Coby said. “Saddened for [Stefanik’s wife] Julie and [his daughters] Nicole and Christine. I can’t help every time something like this happens, I always think about the crew guys that Mike worked with over years and just the relationships that you form in racing.

“He was a one of a kind person. [Sunday] I just thought about a whole bunch of different stuff. I thought about the things I learned from him just watching him. Specifically I remember watching him at Thompson just cruise around a couple guys on the outside after he cruised around me and I was like learning where he put his car to be able to do that. It was one of those things that just stuck with me. … Just the conversations. Nobody knows the conversations drivers have when qualifying is over and you’re sitting on pit road or you’re getting ready out back to strap into your car or you’re at an autograph session.”

Coby arrived on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2002, a point where Stefanik was the undisputed King of Modified racing. 

“The Stefanik’s – both Mike and Julie – were a huge help to me. From the time I got up to the Tour right up until today. Julie spotted with my sister Kelly my first couple years on the Tour and they kind of formed a little clique. … That’s kind of how I started talking to Mike more so because Julie and Kelly were friends through spotting.

“I felt whenever Mike was talking I was a sponge as much as I could be. And he was certainly a role model not only for me but for everybody. I told him on more than one occasion that he was the Richie Evans for our generation. You’ve got to remember that most of the guys that race on the Tour right now, we never got to see Richie Evans race, but we did get to see Mike Stefanik race. I know that that humbled Mike quite a bit that most of us guys that never got to see Richie looked at Mike as our version of Richie really. Somebody who pretty much helped all of us. He did whatever he had to do to beat us but did it in a way that all of us could certainly also learn from it. I’m just really upset for our series. Obviously I’m upset for his family and his crew, but for our series to lose somebody like Mike, it’s such a shame that he didn’t get inducted into the [NASCAR] Hall of Fame.” 

When Stefanik retired after the 2014 season Coby had just won his second series title. Stefanik’s seven championships hardly seemed like a record that was in any danger. And then Coby kept winning titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Suddenly Coby was right there. With three races remaining this season Coby holds a 19-point lead over Justin Bonsignore at the top of the series standings. At 40 years old Coby has given no indications that he plans on walking away anytime soon, meaning he very likely could become the guy that breaks the record so many saw as being unbreakable just five years ago. 

“I always said from the time I started running Tour Modifieds that Mike Stefanik and Tony Hirschman were the two guys that I always looked at as the drivers that I would try to be like,” Coby said. “I’m sure in many ways I’m not like the two of them. … Those are still guys that they’re my role models and they’re the guys that I looked at their accomplishments and said ‘If I could ever do half of what either of them did I would feel successful in my career.’ I’ve been obviously very lucky in the last six or seven years to have some great teams behind me and win the five championships and match [Hirschman]. Certainly my goal has always been to match Mike and then eventually beat Mike. I know a lot of people will say that it was a different era and a different accomplishment and I agree with that 100 percent. I don’t think if I ever do win seven championships I don’t think that my seven would be the same as Mike’s. If I’m fortunate enough to go on and even win more than seven I don’t necessarily equate that to anything other than my own accomplishment.

“My relationship with Mike was always very good. It’s tough to process. I don’t want to be selfish about it, but I want Mike here. I’d give everything back that I have to have Mike and Ted Christopher for that matter back here. But I can’t do that. All we can do is move forward and try our best. Everybody that has a record knows it’s meant to be broken and I feel like the most fortunate driver if I could be the one to do that someday.” 

To hear more from Coby on this weekend’s Musket 250 and the chase for his sixth Whelen Modified Tour championship listen to the latest edition of Unmuffled.

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  1. Love you Doug! Spoken right from your heart. The kids in the midgets and even on up the divisions could learn a lot from you. I’m sure someday someone will be speaking similar thoughts about you and what you’ve taught them. Thank you Doug for your insight.
    Rest in peace Champ Mike

  2. Love the insight. One major difference between Mike and Richie, Richie’s 7 National championship came at a time when you had to race 3-4 times a week, Mike only had to run 18-20 races to win the title. But I get what Doug was saying. Mike was the Best at that time, and had a big influence on modified racing, setting the bar high for those who followed. His death leaves a hole in the fabric if modified racing that will never be filled. R.I.P. Mike

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