NASCAR Modified legend and professional stock car racing driver, Mike Stefanik died Sunday after a plane crash near the Connecticut-Rhode Island border. The Massachusetts native was 61. According to Connecticut state police per Speed Sport, a single-engine, single-seat plane went down near the Connecticut-Rhode Island state line just after 2 p.m., with NASCAR officials confirming Stefanik’s passing at 8:15 p.m. ET.
Mike Stefanik, who won nine titles across NASCAR's Modified and K&N Series during his career, died today in a plane crash.
He was 61 years old. pic.twitter.com/kGofnjt5za— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 16, 2019
In a report from News 8-WTNH, the pilot had “taken off from RICONN Airport, just over the state line into Rhode Island, and was heading back for a landing when he crashed into a wooded area adjacent to the airport.”
NASCAR issued a statement on behalf of Chairman Jim France, stating how he was one of the most “successful drivers in NASCAR history.”
“His tough, competitive nature and excellence on the race track won him the respect and admiration of fans and competitors alike,” the statement read. “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.”
Fans, industry insiders and athletes within NASCAR, took to Twitter to memorialize the legend, sharing tributes and memories.
We are so sad to hear the tragic news about Mike Stefanik. He was one of the greatest modified drivers in history and a great friend of the speedway. Rest in peace, Mike. We will miss you! Our thoughts and prayers are with the Stefanik family. https://t.co/ElGEJErsjs— New Hampshire Motor Speedway (@NHMS) September 16, 2019
Man. So sad to hear the news of the passing of Mike Stefanik. I idolized him growing up when my dad was involved with the tour. God speed. My thoughts & prayers are with his family.— Jesse Little (@jesselittle97) September 16, 2019
It’s hard to put into words what Mike Stefanik meant to #NASCAR - he was simply one of the best.
It’s even harder to put into words what he meant to a skinny 15 year-old kid like me who was just starting out in the biz.
Mike was a racer, but also a great family man & a friend.— Bob Dillner (@bobdillner) September 16, 2019
We are deeply saddened to hear the tragic passing of 9-time NASCAR Modified Tour Champion, Mike Stefanik. Hoosier Tire offers our thoughts and prayers to the Stefanik family during this time. pic.twitter.com/OKHvQrwCrc— Hoosier Racing Tire (@HoosierTire) September 16, 2019
Making appearances in the Busch Grand National series and the Craftsman Truck Series, Stefanik was honored with the title of the second greatest NASCAR Modified driver of all-time in 2003. A legend in his own right, the family-man won seven championships on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, adding two titles in the former NASCAR Busch North Tour — now formerly known as the K&N Pro Series East. The accomplishment ties him for the most in the sport’s history.
Stefanik’s career in the Modified Tour ended in 2014, with a staggering 74 victories. In addition to winning 12 times in the Busch North Series, with back-to-back titles in 1997 to 1998, his last win came the previous year at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Photo credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images