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’s throwback weekend reaches a crescendo with tonight’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Paint schemes that pay tribute to such drivers as Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart and Tim Richmond and cars from “Days of Thunder” and “Stroker Ace” will circle the track.
Here’s all the info you need for tonight’s race.
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines will be given at 6:07 p.m. by 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Waddell Wilson along with Jose Armario, Bojangles’ CEO. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 6:15 p.m.
PRERACE: Garage opens at 1 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 4 p.m. Driver introductions are at 5:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 6 p.m. by Dr. Bill Curtis, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Darlington, South Carolina. Edwin McCain will perform the National Anthem at 6:01 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 367 laps (501.3 miles) around the 1.366-mile short track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 100. Stage 2 ends on Lap 200.
TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green begins at 5:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 5 p.m and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.
FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts a high of 81 degrees with a 41% chance of scattered thunderstorms at the start of the race.
LAST TIME: Brad Keselowski won last year’s Southern 500. Joey Logano finished second. Kyle Larson placed third.
TO THE REAR: Kyle Busch (engine change), Aric Almirola (backup), Reed Sorenson (transmission change), Joe Nemechek (unapproved adjustments) and BJ McLeod (unapproved adjustments)
STARTING LINEUP: Southern 500 lineup
Social media quickly rose to congratulate the five men named Wednesday to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020: Tony Stewart, Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte and Waddell Wilson.
Here are some of the more noteworthy posts from Twitter:
Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative.
It’s the 11th consecutive year of voting for Ryan, who is one of 59 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans; two voters, Ricky Rudd and Waddell Wilson, recused themselves because they were on the ballot).
A maximum of five votes may be cast from a list of 20 nominees (this was the first year in which Ryan voted for fewer than five)
His ballot for the 11th class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding 10 years, which included six at USA TODAY Sports):
- Tony Stewart: Three Cup championships, 49 victories and two Brickyard 400s (plus an IndyCar championship) are a testament to his boundless talent, but “Smoke” also has left a mark as an alluring and highly quotable superstar and a respected team owner. His irascible personality and tenacious grit provided some of NASCAR’s best moments of the past two decades.
- Buddy Baker: The winner of the 1980 Daytona 500 and 1970 Southern 500 was one of NASCAR’s home run hitters, counting several major wins among his 19 career victories on the premier circuit. One of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors Baker also became a beloved broadcaster on TV and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
- Waddell Wilson: Perhaps the greatest across-the-board garage resume on this year’s ballot with three championships and 109 victories as an engine builder and 19 wins (including three Daytona 500s) as a crew chief.
- Joe Gibbs: Nine NASCAR titles (four in Cup; five in Xfinity) and his four-car team remains the class of the premier circuit. Deserves to be elected in the wake of contemporaries Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Jack Roush and Roger Penske being elected the last few years.
2020 Landmark Award: Ralph Seagraves
Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:
2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.
2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty
2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner
2013: Fireball Roberts, Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock
2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly
2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick
2016: Turner, Smith, Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Bobby Isaac
2017: Hendrick, Evernham, Benny Parsons, Parks, Red Byron
2018: Evernham, Byron, Robert Yates, Alan Kulwicki, Buddy Baker
2019: Jeff Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker, Davey Allison, Jack Roush
2020: Tony Stewart, Baker, Waddell Wilson, Joe Gibbs
2015: Raymond Parks
2016: Raymond Parks
2017: Raymond Parks
2018: Ralph Seagraves
2019: Jim Hunter
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart, the three-time Cup champion who took NASCAR by storm after transitioning from open-wheel racing, was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 on Wednesday.
Stewart’s election comes two days after his 48th birthday.
Joining Stewart in the Class of 2020 are: Joe Gibbs, Waddell Wilson, Buddy Baker and Bobby Labonte.
The class, the eleventh elected to the Hall of Fame, will be inducted on Jan. 31, 2020.
Edsel Ford won the Landmark Award.
Stewart was selected on 88% of the 57 ballots cast. Gibbs and Wilson were selected on 72%, Baker was on 70% and Labonte was on 67%.
The next three top vote-getters were Mike Stefanik, Ray Fox and Hershel McGriff.
Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Baker, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Labonte and Stewart.
MORE: Nate Ryan reveals his Hall of Fame ballot.
“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” Stewart said on NASCAR America presents MotorMouths. “There are so many great people in this sport. … to be part of it and have all the great names that are in and the people that were going to be in in the future we’re going to be with, it’s an unbelievable feeling. But it is extremely humbling.
“A lot of it is really mixed emotions because I’m still in race car driver mode and car owner mode. I’m not even thinking about hall of fames. To be inducted earlier this year into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and now going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it’s just a very humbling experience.”
When asked what he would say to voters who didn’t select him, Stewart gave a typical Stewart answer.
“I don’t know but when I find out, I’m going to throw eggs at their front door tonight,” Stewart joked.
A native of Columbus, Indiana, Stewart’s election comes in his first year on the ballot. He retired from NASCAR competition at the end of 2016 with 49 Cup Series wins and three titles as a driver (2002, ’05 and ’11).
In 2014 he earned a fourth title in his role as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
After being crowned the 1997 Indy Racing League champion, Stewart split time in 1998 between the IRL and the Xfinity Series, competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. He moved up to Cup in 1999 and claimed the Rookie of the Year title after earning three wins. He was the first rookie to win a race since Davey Allison in 1987.
Stewart won two Brickyard 400s, four July Daytona races and eight road course races, including his final Cup win in June 2016 at Sonoma Raceway.
Stewart is one of the most prolific Cup drivers to never win the Daytona 500, joining fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin in that category.
Nicknamed “Smoke,” Stewart is also one of four drivers to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. He did it twice, in 1999 and 2001.
Stewart’s election also comes 27 years after he attended his first NASCAR race, the 1992 Cup finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as a 21-year-old wearing a $2,000 suit and trying to “impress people.”
“I thought like I was wasting my time being down there,” Stewart said in 2016. “I thought there was no way I was going to get an opportunity to come do this.”
Stewart will be joined in the Hall of Fame by Gibbs. Stewart raced for Gibbs in Cup from 1999-2009, and Labonte, his teammate at JGR until 2005.
“I couldn’t think of a better day than my boss, Joe Gibbs, or my teammate, Bobby Labonte, that was the one responsible to get me in to Joe Gibbs Racing to go in with those guys,” Stewart said on MotorMouths. “And Waddell Wilson, who was part of Ranier-Walsh Racing, who I drove for in ’96 before I drove for Joe. It really is a cool day, a cool day to be in with these guys.”
Gibbs, a NFL Hall of Fame head coach, entered NASCAR as an owner in 1992. Since then he has accumulated four Cup titles, five Xfinity titles and 157 wins. He was elected in his third year on the ballot.
Labonte was also elected in his third year on the ballot. The younger brother of Hall of Famer Terry Labonte, Bobby is a Cup (2000) and Xfinity champion (1991). He earned 21 Cup wins, including two Brickyard 400s and one Southern 500. His first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600.
Wilson was three-time championship engine builder. He crafted the engines that won titles in 1968, ’69 and ’73. He also won the Daytona 500 three times as a crew chief winning with Baker in 1980 and Cale Yarborough in 1983-84.
Baker, known as the “Gentle Giant,” was elected in his sixth year on the ballot. Baker made 699 starts from 1959-92 and claimed 19 Cup wins, including one Southern 500 and two Coke 600s. After retiring he transitioned into TV, where he worked for TNN and CBS and later SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Baker died in 2015 at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.