Mike Stefanik, Ex-NASCAR Champion, Dies in Plane Crash


Mike Stefanik, one of the most successful modified stock car drivers in NASCAR history, died in a plane crash in Connecticut on Sunday, the authorities said.

Mr. Stefanik, 61, was piloting a single-engine ultralight aircraft when it crashed in a field near the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island, the authorities said. He was conscious when emergency responders arrived at the crash site, but he died at a hospital in Rhode Island, the authorities said. He was the only person on the plane.

“Mike Stefanik was one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history. But even more so, he was a true representative of our sport,” Jim France, the chief executive of NASCAR, said in a statement. “His tough, competitive nature and excellence on the racetrack won him the respect and admiration of fans and competitors alike.”

Mr. France noted that Mr. Stefanik’s racing career had lasted more than 30 years, and that he had served as a bridge between generations of older drivers like Jerry Cook and Richie Evans “to our current drivers.”

Mr. Stefanik was known for setting records on the Whelen Modified Tour that Mr. France called “likely untouchable,” adding that “his legacy as a champion will endure.”

The Whelen Modified Tour is NASCAR’s longest-running division, according to the racing organization. The tour’s races are held on tracks from South Carolina to New York, and its cars are shorter, lighter and wider than those in the better-known NASCAR Cup Series.

Mr. Stefanik’s records on the tour include the most laps led in a series, most top-five finishes in a season and most races won in a season.

He was also a six-time nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, winning the rookie of the year honor at 41 years old in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 1999.

On the Whelen Modified Tour, Mr. Stefanik held the record for most victories with 74 — 30 more than “the second-winningest driver,” according to NASCAR. He also set the record for most wins in a season, with 13 in 1998.

On Sunday, Martin Truex Jr., who races in the NASCAR Cup Series, took a moment to remember his fellow driver.

“I remember a lot about Mike; my dad raced against Stefanik for a long time,” Mr. Truex said, adding that Mr. Stefanik was “just a hero in the Northeast, a hero of mine growing up as a kid.”

“What a legend,” Mr. Truex said. “He’ll be remembered for a long time. He was a pretty awesome guy.”

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