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NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik killed in plane crash

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Nine-time NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik was killed in a plane crash Sunday, NASCAR confirmed. Stefanik was 61.

Stefanik, a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, won seven modified titles and two K&N Pro Series East crowns. In 2003, he was named one of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s 10 greatest drivers.

NASCAR issued a statement on behalf of Chairman Jim France:

“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.”

RaceDayCT.com reported that according to multiple news reports, Stefanik crashed while piloting a single-engine, single-seat Aero Ultra-Light plane. The crash took place took place in Sterling, Connecticut near the Rhode Island border.

Stefanik is the winningest driver in Whelen Modified Tour history with 74 wins. His nine championships ties him with Richie Evans for most national touring championships in NASCAR history.

In 1997-98, Stefanik won back-to-back championships in the modified and K&N East Series. Stefanik was the rookie of the year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 1999.

Stefanik was first nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015. He told RaceDayCt.com that the nomination  “humbled” him. “I’m not in, but it’s quite an honor,” Stefanik told RaceDayCt.com. “I never really thought much about it. I didn’t get into racing to get into a Hall of Fame. But it’s humbling for sure.”

The Hall of Fame released a statement from its director, Winston Kelley:

“First and foremost, on behalf of everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we offer our most sincere condolences to Julie, Nichole, Christie and the entire Stefanik family on the loss of Mike.

We are all very saddened to learn of the passing of NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and nine-time NASCAR Champion Mike Stefanik. His record-tying nine championships just tells part of the story of his incredible legacy. He was intensely competitive, dedicated and tenacious and equally humble, versatile and respected. His seven NASCAR Whelen modified championships are second only to NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans. His tenacity and dedication are exemplified in the facts that his first and seventh championships came 17 years apart and his first and 74th wins came an incredible 27 years apart, the final win coming at age 55 at the very tough Bristol Motor Speedway. His versatility can be seen in winning back-to-back titles in both the Whelen Modified Tour and KN Pro Series East in 1997 and 1998 and winning the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series rookie of the year the following year, 1999. Despite his success and frequent dominance, perhaps what Mike will most be remembered for is his humility and the respect he had from his fellow competitors.

Mike’s legacy and commitment to NASCAR will be forever remembered, celebrated and cherished here at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and in our hearts and minds.”

New Hampshire Motor Speedway released a statement from David McGrath, the track’s executive vice president and general manager.

“Yesterday, the short track community lost one of the greatest modified drivers in history. Mike Stefanik was a true champion on and off the racetrack making a long-lasting mark on short track racing, specifically in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. With 10 career victories, Mike is one of New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s top winning drivers. I know that I can speak for everyone here, as well as our entire Speedway Motorsports, Inc. family, when I say that Mike will be truly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and the entire NASCAR community during this very difficult time.”

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to return to Martinsville in May 2020

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Martinsville Speedway announced Tuesday that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to the track in 2020.

It will mark the series’ first race at Martinsville since 2010.

The modified tour, once a fixture at Martinsville, will run a 200-lap race at night on May 8, 2020. That will be held the evening before the Cup night race there. The modified race will be known as the MaxPro Window Films 200.

“We get asked a lot about the modifieds a lot – from fans, from drivers, from media,” Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said. “Now, we can say, ‘Yes, we will have them back next year.’ These cars are such an important part of Martinsville Speedway history and the time is right to bring them back.”

The modified division first raced at Martinsville from 1960-2002. Greg Sacks went 101.014 mph in qualifying in a modified car in 1986 – a record that remains for any series at Martinsville.

“The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Martinsville Speedway are a perfect match,” said Brandon Thompson, NASCAR Managing Director, Touring Series. “When you talk history and legacy – names like (Richie) Evans, (Jerry) Cook and (Geoff) Bodine are synonymous with Martinsville. The modified division and Martinsville Speedway are the cornerstones on which the sport was built. We’re excited about adding names like (Doug) Coby, (Justin) Bonsignore, and maybe even (Ryan) Preece – a new generation of Modified racing stars to the half-mile and look forward to being part of an incredible race weekend.”

 

Friday night’s NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony postponed by weather

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A winter storm that brought snow and sleet to Charlotte has forced tonight’s NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony to be postponed.

The event at the Charlotte Convention Center moves to 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday and will air on NBCSN and be streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra. The event also will be broadcast on radio by Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. The induction dinner will become a luncheon at 1 p.m ET Saturday. A Red Capet event has been canceled as well as Hall of Fame autograph sessions that had been scheduled for Friday night.

NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day, an event scheduled for Saturday featuring autograph sessions and programs, also has been canceled. The NASCAR Hall of Fame said a complete rescheduling isn’t possible because of scheduling conflicts for drivers and NASCAR, but the venue is exploring options to accommodate fans who had autograph session tickets. Details will be announced by the end of next week.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame will be open from noon-5 p.m. Saturday. Fan Appreciation Day guests still will be admitted free.

Terry Labonte, Bruton Smith, Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac and Curtis Turner will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as its seventh class of five members.

Jerry Cook’s induction into NASCAR Hall of Fame is ‘ultimate’ honor

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Before Wednesday, Jerry Cook was a member of three hall of fames dedicated to auto racing, but the “ultimate” one wasn’t one of them.

For four straight years, Cook, a six-time NASCAR Modified champion, was among the top-two candidates to receive votes that wasn’t elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

That changed Wednesday when Cook, a NASCAR competition administrator, was announced by NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France as part of the 2016 Hall of Fame Class.

“I’m just as happy as you can be, for sure,” Cook told NASCAR America. “Of all that I’ve done in all the years with the racing and then with NASCAR, this is the ultimate.”

Voted into the Hall of Fame with Cook were Bruton Smith, Terry Labonte, Curtis Turner and Bobby Isaac. Cook retired from racing in 1982 to become the Modified series’ director.

Cook was accompanied at the ceremony by his family.

“They’ve been here every year, (even) through the days when we just left when it was over,” Cook said.

Though he was eligible to vote for Hall of Fame inductees, Cook was recused since he was on the ballot. He won’t have to worry about that anymore.

“I love it,” Cook said. “I was thinking about it last night and even today there was two or three people that were waiting, hoping I got in so I could get back in that room. Before, when (NASCAR vice chairman) Mike Helton recused me, that was tough.”

Now Cook is a member of four hall of fames. He was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1989, the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame in 1993 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2009.

But being part of the seventh class inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame is different for Cook, who has been “NASCAR from day one” of his career.

“This is the ultimate achievement in NASCAR, in my mind,” Cook said. “I’m in a number of Hall of Fames all over the place. This one here is home.”