Mike Stefanik Found Passion In Flying After Quietly Walking Away From Racing

Mike Stefanik (Photo: NASCAR)

On September 20, 2014 Mike Stefanik finished 10th in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour F.W. Webb 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

Few knew it would be his last race ever with the series where he had won a record seven championships and all-time leading 74 races. 

Even he wasn’t sure. But he knew it was time and he also knew that he wanted to walk away from racing quietly. There were no retirement celebrations or goodbye speeches. 

In an October 2018 interview for the RaceDayCT Unmuffled podcast Stefanik was asked about his decision to quietly retire from a sport where he was a legend.

“[NASCAR Modified Tour title sponsor] Whelen kind of wanted me to do a farewell tour and I’m not that guy,” Stefanik  said. “I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I think people knew that my seasons were winding down and I kind of let it be known that I wasn’t going to be doing this for too much longer. I didn’t know exactly when it was going to happen but I knew it was getting close, it was getting to be that time. And I didn’t want to be that guy riding around just taking up space and people saying ‘Well jeez, Stefanik should have gave it up a couple years ago, look at him now.’ I didn’t want to be that guy so I made sure that I bailed out while we were still competitive and getting poles and winning some races and being a contender. I kind of went out on my terms.” 

The 61-year old Stefanik died Sunday after a plane crash in Sterling, CT. Stefanik was flying a single engine, single seat Ultra-Light plane.

Asked last October if he missed racing Stefanik laughed. 

“God no,” Stefanik said. “Not at all. I actually laugh about it. … I always said that when I stepped away or retired, whatever word you want to use, I wasn’t going to be the type that would come back and race again.” 

When racing was gone though he craved a new excitement and he found it in flying. 

He talked about the excitement he found in the air last October on Unmuffled. 

“Racing, what I miss most about the racing is the excitement that it puts in your life. Whether it’s excitement or chaos or whatever you want to call it, there’s a lot of excitement around racing. Whether you’re struggling or you’re going at it with another competitor, or you had a tough race or whatever. There’s just a lot of excitement that racing adds to more or less of a boring life without it is the way I saw it.

“I needed something that was exciting and I wanted a challenge and I wanted to work with my hands. And so I decided to just get this small plane and learn how to fly and get my pilot’s license and just fly around my backyard in this kind of like an Ultra-Light plane, which most people think it’s crazy. But, you know, I’m not one to sit on the porch and I do like a little bit of a thrill. I’m a little thrill seeker so you know whether it’s a motorcycle, dirt bike, street bike, Modified, whatever, indoor Midget, whatever it was, it’s exciting. 

“And flying around in this little airplane – it’s not a very fast plane – but it was challenging to get my license and I just basically wanted a plane that I could take off out of a field in our backyard and I keep it up at RICONN Aiport on the Rhode Island/Connecticut line. And I’ll tell you, I can’t wipe the smile off my face every time I go fly that thing. I call it a flying lawn chair, but it’s actually a pretty cool little airplane.” 

Below is a story from NBC News10 in Rhode Island from 2017 on Stefanik giving a special flight to a close friend

WWII veteran returns to sky for memorable flight 

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  1. donald super says

    sad news,mike was truely a great racer and person

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