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

Mike Stefanik (Photo: NASCAR)

On year ago today NASCAR legend and now Hall of Fame member Mike Stefanik was killed in a plane crash in Sterling, Ct. Today we look back on Stefanik’s passion for flying.

Republished from RaceDayCT on Sept. 15, 2019

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 know 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.” 

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  1. this was a man who lived live to the fullest,raceing flying etc a true champion and gentelman,who will be greatly missed RIP mike

  2. Hard to believe a year has passed. Mike was the definition of a racer. Thankfully he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, tragically he was not there to celebrate his accomplishment.

  3. Mighty Mike Stefanick was truly one of the Greatest Modified Drivers in History….. Mikes Records speak for themselves… 9 NASCAR CHAMPIONSHIPS.. 74 TOUR WINS. not to mention Wins in other types of cars. He was a Humble Guy that walked away while still competitive, had time for people and younger drivers coming up through the ranks giving them advice as Richie Evans advised him years before …Always a class act . Mike was a fan favorite for many years for his aggressive but clean driving prowess,… He seemed to take care of his equipment and always seemed to be in the top 5 at the end of the race… Was so happy when he Won Bristol in that interview !!! That is how I will remember Mike , Huge Smile , Its Bristol Baby …!!! Rest in Peace, Or have fun racing those Chariots in the sky with Richie and Teddy , Baldwin, Flemke, and the rest that have gone before you … You are greatly missed but also greatly remembered by those of us who saw your career from start to Finish .. Well Done Mighty Mike !!!

  4. Wow!! I Can’t Believe It’s Been A Year Since We Lost !! “Mighty Mike” Today! T.C. Tomorrow! I Just Wish Mike Got To See Himself Inducted! He Should Have Been Inducted Before Jerry Cook!!! Politics I Guess? Being A NASCAR Official And All. R.I.P. These Two Legends Who I Grew Up Watching!!

  5. Mike Stefanik was my original favorite Modified driver. I’m going off of memory, but my favorite was one of the Triple headers at NHIS. He won the Busch North race and had to start in the back for the Modified race (might have been Featherlite Modifieds then) because he missed the driver’s meeting. He put on an absolute surgical driving clinic to take the lead late in the race, and got a flat from someone else’s accident debris with about 15 to go. Started in about 12th, and with a couple more late cautions assisting, won that race too!

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