Nine-Time NASCAR Champion, Modified Racing Legend Mike Stefanik Killed In Plane Crash

Mike Stefanik celebrates victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2013, his final victory on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Seven-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and short track racing legend Mike Stefanik died Sunday following a plane crash in Sterling, CT.

Stefanik was 61 years old. 

Stefanik, of Coventry, R.I., crashed while piloting a single engine, single seat Aero Ultra-Light plane. The crash took place near the Rhode Island border. The plane had taken off from RICONN Airport in Coventry, R.I.

“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 chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement. “His tough, competitive nature and excellence on the race track 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 last ran on the Whelen Modified Tour in 2014. He is the division’s all-time winningest driver with 74 career victories in 453 starts from 1985 to 2014. In addition to his seven Whelen Modified Tour titles (1989, ’91, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’02, ’06), Stefanik also won championships on the former Busch North Series (now K&N Pro Series East) in 1997 and 1998. 

He ran one full-time season in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 1999. 

Stefanik was a 2018 inductee to the NEAR New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. He was first nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.

Stefanik, a Wilbraham, Mass. native, got his start in racing at the former Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass.

Stefanik’s death comes nearly two years to the day since the death of one of his fiercest competitors in Modified racing, Ted Christopher, who was also killed in plane crash. Christopher was killed in a crash flying to Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway for a Whelen Modified Tour event on Sept. 16, 2017.

After walking away from racing Stefanik found a passion for flying and often flew his own Ultra-Light. Multiple sources have told RaceDayCT that the plane Stefanik was flying Sunday was not owned by him.

In October 2018 on a RaceDayCT Unmuffled Podcast, Stefanik talked about his passion for flying his Ultra-Light.

“I’m not one to sit on the porch and I do like a little bit of thrill,” Stefanik said. “I’m a little thrill seeker. … 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.”

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

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  1. I remember watching him in the sportsman division at stafford when i was a kid, One of the best I ever seen. R.I.P. ‘Mighty Mike’ Should have made NASCAR Hall of Fame!!!!

  2. Steff LaFlash says

    Sincere condolences to the family. The racing world has lost one Hell of a driver.

  3. William H Long says

    Julie I am sorry for your loss Mike was a Great guy he would all ways make the time if you needed advice on your race car he once told me to hang in there we all have bad days your friend Driver of The 29 Mini modified Bill Long RIP

  4. So sad, my sympathy to Julie and the girls and the entire Stefanik/Koszela Families,
    def deserves to be in the NASCAR HALL OF FAME!!

  5. Sad in J-town says

    Thanks for memories at Jennerstown & Central. Our area was blessed to get to see him and all the other touring greats. His reach was as large as his competitiveness.

  6. Remember when Mike first started racing modified cars. His first ride what the white and red #64 owned by a guy named Meet, at Stafford. Who would have known, watching him struggle that first year, that he would go on to be a 9 time champion. The sport has lost another great, long before his time. Not only could Mike drive the wheels off a car, but he also built them, and set them up. He will be sadly missed. My condolences to Julie, and the rest of his family and friends.

  7. Bruce Thayer says

    Our condolences to the family and friends! The racing community has lost one of the best. May you

  8. Maureen St Jean says

    He was the best. Me and my family watched him always. Oh yes he should have been in the Hall of Fame. Thank you Mike for all our memories. Thoughts and prayers to your family and friends and your fans😥😥😥🙏🏻🙏🏻😘😇

  9. Maureen St Jean says

    He was the best. Me and my family watched him always. Oh yes he should have been in the Hall of Fame. Thank you Mike for all our memories. Thoughts and prayers to your family and friends and your fans😥😥😥🙏🏻🙏🏻😘😇

  10. Michael Medeiros says

    So very shocked to hear the news of Mike’s tragic passing. I had the honor of creating his T-shirts for his #64 race team. He always had time for his fans and made everyone around him feel special. I feel so blessed to have gotten the chance to get to know him in Riverside and Stafford and continued to follow his career. I truly believe we will see his Name in the Hall of Fame soon and he will be missed dearly. . Thinking of you, Julie and your family, my deepest sympathy, Mickey

  11. My condolences go out to Julie and his entire family. I will never forget his drives in the Beal & Bacon Burnham Boilers X6 in ‘97 & ‘98 when he dominated the NASCAR Modified Tour. This guy was truely one of the best Modified wheelmen there ever was. Rest in piece Mike.

  12. R.I.P. Mike and condolences to the family. Thanks for the memories.

  13. Our condolence to the family. My first husband, who passed in 2009 from a brain aneurysm, loved Mike. We went to a bunch of races watching him win the majority of them. Thanks for the races Mike. God bless and our prayers are with the family.

  14. Chuck Rubacha says

    Mike was one of my first employee’s, when I had my race car business in Connecticut. He was a heck of a good fabricator, and race car driver, and a really good person. I’m proud to of known him. My condolence’s go out to Julie and their family He certainly was one of the best, and will truly be missed..

  15. Josh paradis says

    We at the gada racing team are speechless. We are all fans of mike’s. We have Julie in our thoughts and prayers. When take the 17 sk to thompson we will be blessed to do it in honor of mike. R.I.P. Steffy and hope to make you proud at the world series. Love you buddy rest easy.

  16. Thoughts and prayers to the family, so sorry for their loss. Mike Stefanik was always “my guy” to root for at the races.

  17. An icon of his time and the bridge between the Evans era and today. Most today in Modifieds couldn’t carry this guys shoes. Classy racer that didn’t abuse you to get by but also didn’t back down if the situation warranted it. Nobody’s fool. His face after getting spun by Steve Park at the Battle of the Beech is forever engrained in my brain. He left his mark and will never be forgotten. Only upside is he’s likely to get inducted into the HoF quicker that he would have. ( should be there now IMO) .
    RIP Mr Stefanik. Thanks for the memories.

  18. I began watching modifieds in my early teens in the late ’80’s, thanks to my uncle. Without question, the best racing moments I have ever seen were Mike Stefanik and Reggie Ruggiero race each other, regardless of the track. I always pulled for Reggie, yet there was no more gentlemen of a racer than Stefanik. If me memory serves me correctly, I recall Reggie’s saying somewhere something to the effect that if there were ever anyone he could trust in true racing, it was Stefanik.
    How anyone can justify his not being in the Hall of Fame befuddles me. His winning seven modified championships and two regional touring series back-to-back attests to his abilities, yet he was not sought after by NASCAR’s three (I think that actually helped him); his demeanor evidenced humility; the support he provided to competitors and time he devoted to his fans represents a generation now extinct.
    So many owe so much to him and what he brought to modified racing. Thanks for the memories!

  19. I think if Mike had wanted to, he could have gone south and landed a good ride. The fact that he didn’t gave us New England fans a gift. That gift was to watch one of the best, at his trade. Love him or gate him, everybody respected Mike. We must realize that people like him don’t come around often, and in these sad times remember him for who he was and what he represented. Hopefully he’s inducted into the Hall Of Fame, where he truly belongs.

  20. My condolences to Julie, daughters and entire family.Mike was not only a great driver but to me a great family man.It takes a great team to be a champion and Mike and Julie made a great team.

  21. One midsummer Saturday night when I was young, probly 13-14, we were at Riverside Park for the races. Durring intermission Been Dodge started hyping this new division that would start the following year. Out of the pits came this swoopy Camaro bodied car, that looked like the ASA cars of the time. Driving the car was Mike Stefanie. The car was a Pro Stock, that Mike had built to showcase the new division. He proceeded to run a handfull of hot laps in the car, then disappeared back to the pits. Just one of the memories I have of Mike.

  22. This is just crushing, what a regional hero Mike was. I started watching him at Stafford in that 32 late model, then the 64 mod, so many great cars along the way, esp. that X6 that just dominated. While a short lived Mod, I really had a thing for that red 14 I think he built, perhaps because I was a Siscone fan, but that car looked bad ass and experimental.. cool! He was a cool hand Mike and so respected. Thoughts and prayers to Julie, their kids (who collectively were always at the track), extended family, friends and fans. What a giant he was – RIP Mike.

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