Mike Stefanik

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.”

Jeff Gordon among nominees for 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

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Four-time champion Jeff Gordon headlines the list of nominees for the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class, which was announced Tuesday on NASCAR America.

Gordon, who ranks third on the Cup all-time wins list with 93 and helped broaden the sport’s appeal, is in his first year of eligibility.

Should he be among the five selected for the 2019 Hall of Fame Class, he would follow team owner Rick Hendrick (2017 class) and crew chief Ray Evernham (2018 class).

There are 20 nominees for the class. Fifteen are holdovers from last year. Gordon is among the five new names to the list. Voting is expected to take place in May with the class inducted in January 2019.

Joining Gordon, 46, as first-time nominees are: Harry Gant, John Holman, Ralph Moody and Kirk Shelmerdine.

Gant, 78, competed in NASCAR from 1973-94, winning 18 races and 17 poles. He won four consecutive races in September 1991. He remains the oldest Cup winner. He was 52 years, 7 months, 6 days when he won at Michigan in August 1992. He’s also the oldest pole winner in series history. He was 54 years, 7 months and 17 days when he won the pole at Bristol in August 1994.

Shelmerdine, who turns 60 on Thursday, won four championships as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt in 1986-87 and 1990-91.

Holman and Moody formed one of the sport’s most famous teams. Between 1957-73, Moody and Holman built cars that earned 83 poles and won 96 times. They won the 1968 and ’69 titles with David Pearson. Holman died in 1975. Moody died in 2004.

The other 15 nominees from last year are:

Davey Allison … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1992 Daytona 500. He was the 1987 Rookie of the Year. He died in a helicopter crash in 1993 at Talladega.

Buddy Baker … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1980 Daytona 500. He was the first driver to eclipse the 200 mph barrier, doing so in 1970.

Red Farmer … Records are incomplete but the 1956 modified and 1969-71 Late Model Sportsman champ is believed to have won well more than 700 races. Continued racing beyond 80 years old.

Ray Fox … Renowned engine builder, car owner and race official. He built the Chevrolet that Junior Johnson won the 1960 Daytona 500 driving. Fox won the 1964 Southern 500 as a car owner with Johnson as his driver.

Joe Gibbs … His organization has 148 Cup wins and four Cup titles (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Tony Stewart in 2002, 2005 and Kyle Busch in 2015).

Harry Hyde … Crew chief for Bobby Isaac when Isaac won the 1970 series title. Guided Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Neil Bonnett and Dave Marcis each to their first career series win.

Alan Kulwicki … 1992 series champion who overcame a 278-point deficit in the final six races to win title by 10 points, at the time the closet margin in series history. He was the 1986 Rookie of the Year. He was killed in a plane crash in 1993.

Bobby Labonte … 2000 series champion who won 21 Cup races. He was the first driver to win an Xfinity title and a Cup championship in a career.

Hershel McGriff … Made his NASCAR debut at age 22 in the 1950 Southern 500 and ran his final NASCAR race at age 84 in 2012. Was selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

Roger Penske … Team owner whose organization has won 107 Cup races and one series title. Has been a car owner in auto racing for more than 50 years.

Larry Phillips … Weekly short track series driver believed to have more than 1,000 career wins. During an 11-year span, he won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned starts on short tracks.

Jack Roush … Team owner whose organization has won 137 Cup races and two series titles (Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004). Team has won more than 300 races across NASCAR’s three national series.

Ricky Rudd … Won 23 Cup races, including 1997 Brickyard 400. He is known most as NASCAR’s Ironman, once holding the record for consecutive starts at 788. He ranks second in all-time Cup starts with 906.

Mike Stefanik … Nine-time NASCAR champion with his titles coming in the Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East.

Waddell Wilson … Famed engine builder and crew chief. He supplied the power for David Pearson’s championships in 1968 and ’69 and Benny Parsons’ 1973 title. Wilson’s engines won 109 races. He won 22 races as a crew chief, including three Daytona 500 victories.

Nominees for the Landmark Award are Alvin Hawkins Sr., Barney Hall, Janet Guthrie, Jim Hunter and Ralph Seagraves.

Hawkins established Bowman Gray Stadium with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

Hall was a broadcaster for 54 years from 1960-2014.

Guthrie was the first woman to race in a  Cup superspeedway event.

Hunter was a journalist, track promoter and longtime NASCAR executive.

Seagraves started RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company’s sponsorship of NASCAR.

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Watch: NASCAR Whelen Modified, Southern Modified Tours combined race from Bristol, 7 pm ET on NBCSN

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The NASCAR Whelen Modified and Southern Modified Tours came together on Aug. 18 at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bush’s Beans 150 combination race.

The race will be televised tonight at 7 pm ET on NBCSN and streamed on NBC Live Extra.

Schedule-wise, it’s the 11th of 15 races for the Whelen Modified Tour this season, and the seventh of 11 for the Southwest Modified Tour.

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It’s the 14th time both series have squared off in a combination race, with NWMT drivers coming away with the win each time, including the last six at Bristol.

Woody Pitkat, of Stafford, Connecticut, qualified on the pole with a Whelen track record of 14.654 seconds (130.940 mph), breaking Donny Lia’s old record set in 2009 of 14.806 seconds (129.596 mph).

The No. 22 Our Racing Chevrolet won the previous two years at Bristol, with Mike Stefanik behind the wheel in 2013 and Tommy Barrett Jr. in 2014. Legendary Northeast driver Ted Christopher will be driving the 22 in this race.

If you plan to stream the race on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 7 pm ET to watch live via the stream.

Long: How voters could select next NASCAR Hall of Fame Class

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They will gather today at the Charlotte Convention Center. Champions Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett. Esteemed car owners Junior Johnson and Bud Moore. Series officials, including NASCAR Chairman Brian France. Media members, track operators and others all to select the seventh NASCAR Hall of Fame Class.

They’ll start with lunch, catching up and sharing stories about back in the day. The 50 or so voters in attendance then will gather for a group photo before the work begins.

I know. I’ve been there. I was a NASCAR Hall of Fame voter for the previous six classes.

What happens behind closed doors is fascinating, leading to the 6 p.m. ET announcement of the 2016 class on NBCSN’s NASCAR America.

Each year the temperature of the voting room changes. The inaugural year featured a mesmerizing debate on if Bill France Jr. should join his father in the inaugural year. The discussion went back and forth like a tennis match.

Other years, the debate can turn into a push for a particular candidate by a person or small group. Words are never heated, but passion underscores the debate.

How will voters select the next five inductees among 20 nominees?

Here’s how it might go today.

Take a look back to last year’s vote. The 2015 Class features all drivers – the first time it had happened: Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White.

Only 12 of the 20 nominees this time are drivers.

Don’t expect an all-driver group this time.

This could be the year an owner – or even two – gets in and/or a crew chief such as Harry Hyde or Ray Evernham. It’s been two years since voters selected someone who worked on the cars (engine builder Maurice Petty) and that could be a factor.

Another good clue is look at who were the highest vote getters who didn’t make it the previous year. Every year at least two of the four highest in votes who failed to make the Hall the previous year, make it the following year. Scott and Weatherly ranked in the top three who missed the cut for the 2014 Class but were elected to the 2015 Class.

The top three in votes who missed last year’s cut were Jerry Cook, Robert Yates and Benny Parsons.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see at least two of those three make it this year – if not all three.

Robert Yates is among five cars owners among the nominees. Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress have more championships but they’re still competing – and to some voters that has been reason enough to not vote for them even though both are deserving. With an influx of new voters this season, it will be interesting to see if that philosophy remains. If not, this could be Hendrick’s year.

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Where Yates could hold advantage is that he was an engine builder and a champion owner. Voters like nominees that fall into multiple categories. If the voters decide to go back to earlier in the sport’s days, Ray Fox (engine builder, owner and official) could be that choice. Parks would need a big swing to be a candidate. There was a push for him for the 2012 class but little since.

Another topic that has come up in the discussion through the years is that this is the NASCAR Hall of Fame not Sprint Cup Hall of Fame. The point, some will note, is that there needs to be a driver from outside Cup to be in the Class.

In 2012, modified driver Richie Evans was the first non-Cup driver to make the Hall. In 2014, Jack Ingram, who drove in what is now the Xfinity Series, was selected.

There’s a pattern. This year there’s four non-Cup drivers among the nominees – Jerry Cook, Hershel McGriff, Larry Phillips and Mike Stefanik. This could be Cook’s year. He’s been among the top two receiving votes who didn’t make the Hall in each of the last four years. Voters could reward him after being so close before.

Parsons is an interesting case. He has one championship but many people recall him for his TV work as the sport grew in popularity. To many fans, he was a friend who came by on Sundays when the race was on and even shared some food tips in his jovial manner. Again, he’s an example of someone who can be viewed in multiple roles as a driver and a TV broadcaster.

If Parsons makes it, that could leave two spots.

Some will vote for Terry Labonte because the two-time champion is the only multi-time Cup champion eligible for the Hall not yet in.

What could hurt him is if voters decide to honor a driver from earlier in the sport’s history. Curtis Turner never won a title – having been barred from the sport for more than four years when he tried to unionize the drivers – but is considered among the sport’s greatest drivers. Or Bobby Isaac, the 1970 champ. His 37 wins are more than any other driver nominated this year.

And of course there are wild cards. If a nominee is in failing health, it could sway a few voters, who would want that person to get the chance to experience entering the Hall.

Another point for some voters is what nominees would do the best job promoting the Hall. If voters go with at least a couple of nominees who are deceased, one spot could go to someone they think could help draw people to the Hall of Fame. Would that be a Hendrick, Childress or Yates? Labonte, Buddy Baker or Mark Martin? Evernham?

If that becomes a key issue for some, it could help provide Hendrick with additional votes and be enough to get him in the Hall this year.

While one can never tell what direction the room is going until discussions start, here’s how the 2016 Hall of Fame Class might look – Robert Yates, Jerry Cook, Benny Parsons, Curtis Turner and Harry Hyde.

 

Rick Hendrick inducted into N.C. Sports Hall of Fame — Could NASCAR Hall be next?

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NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick on Friday was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in Raleigh.

Could induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame be next?

Hendrick is among 20 luminaries up for consideration this Wednesday when the five-inductee NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016 will be voted upon and announced.

Others up for induction include:

Owners: Richard Childress, Raymond Parks and Robert Yates (also for engine builder).

Crew chiefs: Ray Evernham and Harry Hyde.

Drivers: Buddy Baker, Mark Martin, Red Byron, Jerry Cook, Hershel McGriff, Mike Stefanik, Bobby Isaac, Terry Labonte, Larry Phillips, Curtis Turner, Alan Kulwicki and Benny Parsons.

Also: Raymond Fox (race official, team owner and engine builder) and Speedway Motorsports founder Bruton Smith (executive/promoter).

This will be the seventh consecutive year Hendrick’s name has been on the NASCAR Hall ballot.

Hendrick was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame along with nine others: Jeff Bostic, Joe Bostic, John Clougherty, Freddie Combs, Gene Littles, Jerry McGee, Lenox Rawlings, Charlotte Smith and Andrea Stinson.

“It’s such an honor for me to be here tonight,” Hendrick said after being presented for induction by fellow North Carolina Sports Hall of Famer Woody Durham. “Congratulations to all the inductees here tonight.

“I feel kind of humbled, because most of you folks have earned your status on your own. You are great ball players, great referees, and with me, I take a team. I have to rely on a lot of people.”

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