Mike Stefanik, a short track racing legend, was killed in a plane crash in Connecticut on Sunday afternoon, according to RaceDayCT.com. NASCAR confirmed the report Sunday evening. Stefanik, a seven-time champion in NASCAR's premier Modified series, was 61 years old.
According to multiple media reports, a plane crash occurred at approximately 2:02 p.m. in Sterling, Connecticut. Although the pilot was not named in those reports, police indicated that a single-engine, single-seat plane went down in the area of 1329 Plainfield Pike. According to police, the plane had taken off from the RICONN airport, just over the Connecticut state line in Greene, Rhode Island.
Initial reports indicated that the pilot was transported via air transport to a hospital to be treated for severe injuries and burns.
Stefanik will go down as one of the greatest Modified drivers of all-time with seven NASCAR Modified championships and 74 career victories. He was also a two-time Busch North Series champion, with 12 career victories in that division. Other career highlights include wins with the Valenti Modified Racing Series, a Race of Champions victory, and wins at local tracks such as Stafford Motor Speedway and the now defunct Riverside Park Speedway. He also made starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series during his career.
Stefanik last competed behind the wheel of a Modified during the 2014 season. Since that time, he developed a new passion flying airplanes as a hobby.
NASCAR, on behalf of Chairman Jim France, issued a statement Sunday night:
“Mike Stefanik was one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, but even more so, he was a true representative of our sport. 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 is the second Modified legend to lose his life in a plane crash in recent years. His death comes one day prior to the two-year anniversary of Ted Christopher's death, which also occurred as a result of a plane crash in the state of Connecticut.
Speed51.com will update this story as additional information becomes available.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com