Richie Evans

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 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes

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After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.

NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’

The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.

Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall? 

Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.

The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (provided Kenseth does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2021.

Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.

If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.

The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.

A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.

Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.

Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.

2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals

Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:

2018 Class

Robert Yates (94 percent)

Red Byron (74 percent)

Ray Evernham (52 percent)

Ken Squier (40 percent)

Ron Hornaday Jr. (38 percent)

2017 Class

Benny Parsons (85 percent)

Rick Hendrick (62 percent)

Mark Martin (57 percent)

Raymond Parks (53 percent)

Richard Childress (43 percent)

2016 Class

Bruton Smith (68 percent)

Terry Labonte (61 percent)

Curtis Turner (60 percent)

Jerry Cook (47 percent)

Bobby Isaac (44 percent)

2015 Class

Bill Elliott (87 percent)

Wendell Scott (58 percent)

Joe Weatherly (53 percent)

Rex White (43 percent)

Fred Lorenzen (30 percent)

2014 Class

Tim Flock (76 percent)

Maurice Petty (67 percent)

Dale Jarrett (56 percent)

Jack Ingram (53 percent)

Fireball Roberts (51 percent)

2013 Class

Herb Thomas (57 percent)

Leonard Wood (57 percent)

Rusty Wallace (52 percent)

Cotten Owens (50 percent)

Buck Baker (39 percent)

2012 Class

Cale Yarborough (85 percent)

Darrell Waltrip (82 percent)

Dale Inman (78 percent)

Richie Evans (50 percent)

Glen Wood (44 percent)

2011 Class

David Pearson (94 percent)

Bobby Allison (62 percent)

Lee Petty (62 percent)

Ned Jarrett (58 percent)

Bud Moore (45 percent)

3. Charter Switcheroo

Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.

In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.

The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.

With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).

So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.

4. Dodge and NASCAR?

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’

One report last year stated that Dodge decided not to return to NASCAR, and another countered that report.

While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.

Marchionne said, according to The Associated Press, that the U.S. tax cuts passed in December are worth $1 billion annually to Fiat Chrysler.

A Wall Street Journal story this week stated that Fiat Chrysler makes most of its profit from its Jeep and Ram brands, writing that those brands “have been on a roll as U.S. buyers shift to these kinds of light trucks and away from sedans, which is a segment the company has largely abandoned.’’

5. NMPA Hall of Fame

The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.

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PHOTOS: The 18 new cars on Glory Road at the NASCAR Hall of Fame

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When visitors walk into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the first time in 2017, there will be a noticeable difference greeting them.

Glory Road, situated in the Great Hall, has undergone a makeover. The exhibit serves two purposes in highlighting memorable cars from NASCAR’s history as well as the different degrees of banking they raced.

The unveiling of a new Glory Road marks its third generation since the Hall of Fame opened in 2010. Featuring 18 cars under the theme of ICONS, they were chosen based on the consideration of being an iconic car, an iconic driver, or an iconic race. It starts with Marshall Teague and ends with 2015 Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.

Here’s a tour of Glory Road: ICONS

1952 Hudson Hornet driven by Marshall Teague

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An owner/driver, Teague won three consecutive manufacturers championships for Hudson Motor Company after they began supplying him with cars in addition to developing performance parts for him.

“I feel the Hudson is the best car for my purpose, and, if any other car was better, I would drive that car,” Teague said. “It’s as simple as that!”

1957 Ford Fairlane driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts

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Roberts drove this car to eight premier series victories, including three in a row at North Wilkesboro, Langhorne Speedway and Southern States Fairgrounds.

“Fireball wouldn’t mess with you at all,” Marvin Panch, a Ford teammate, said. “You could trust him on the racetrack. You always knew right where he’d go. It was a pleasure to race him.”

1964 Plymouth Belvedere driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty

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Considered his breakout year, Petty earned his first of seven wins in the 1964 Daytona 500 and first of seven championships in a HEMI-powered Plymouth tuned by brother Maurice Petty. The Daytona 500 was the first of nine victories for Petty that season.

“In all my career, I had never had a car that was faster than anybody else … until then,” Petty said.

1966 Ford Galaxie driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott

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The 1966 season was the best of Scott’s career as he earned 17 top-10 finishes and finished sixth in points.

“I never set out to blaze any trails or be a pioneer,” Scott said. “I’ve always said the only race I care about is the race on the track.”

1966 Dodge Charger driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson

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Paired with mechanic Cotton Owens, Pearson went to victory lane 15 times in 1966 including four straight at Hickory, Columbia, Greenville-Pickens, and Bowman Gray Stadium. Pearson also won the championship with the car, which ushered in a new era of race cars because of the aerodynamic advantage it had with a sloped-back roofline.

“The aerodynamics were the key to that body design … the air went over the car,” Donnie Owens, crew member and son of Cotton Owens, said. “And with that sloped roof and short rear deck lid, you couldn’t draft behind it. NASCAR put the first spoiler ever on it to keep the back end on the ground.”

1939 Chevrolet Coupe driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans

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It was with this car, which he ran on short tracks throughout the Northeast in the early 1970s, that Evans’ career took off. While he changed cars throughout the years, Evans kept his iconic orange paint scheme and No. 61 while winning a record-setting nine (including eight straight from 1978-1985) NASCAR championships.

“Richie was a racer’s racer,” said Ray Evernham. “He could build his own cars and really understood them. He was certainly way ahead of his time on a lot of things, especially tires. He’d mount dozens of tires for the big races, and then he’d settle on exactly what he wanted.”

1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip

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Nicknamed “Bertha,” this car became synonymous with Waltrip from 1976-1980. During that time, Waltrip won 25 times and earned two Coca-Cola 600 wins (1978, 1979).

“That thing had a wheelbase of 116 inches and was 64 inches wide,” crew chief Buddy Parrott said. “It really shouldn’t have worked. But we busted our butt working on the weight distribution, and you couldn’t knock it off the track on the short tracks. It worked good on the big tracks, too. It handled really good.”

1978 Ford Thunderbird driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison

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The 1978 season saw Allison paired with owner Bud Moore, and they won their second race together, the Daytona 500. This particular chassis was used in four races at Richmond, where Allison earned two wins and two runner-up finishes.

“The car handled really good … the crew responded well to my requests on what I thought would make the car better,” Allison said. “Bud (Moore) was really good to work with, and he respected my requests. His engines were reliable, and we won 14 races in three seasons.”

1982 Oldsmobile Omega driven by Sam Ard

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In what is now the Xfinity Series, Ard was one of its most successful drivers. He won 22 races between 1982 and 1983 was crowned champion in ’83 and ’84.

“Sam Ard was one of the greatest competitors I ever raced against,” Jack Ingram said. “When I saw that white No. 00 come into the track, I knew I was in for a tough race. And everybody else knew it, too.”

1987 Ford Thunderbird driven by Davey Allison

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In his first full season at Harry Rainier Racing, Allison earned five poles and two wins on his way to winning rookie of the year. When Robert Yates took over the team in 1989, Allison remained the driver and went on to win the 1992 Daytona 500.

“From the time I was a little boy, it wasn’t, ‘I’m Bobby Allison’s son, and I’m going to be a race car driver,’ it was, ‘I’m Davey Allison, and I’m going to be a race car driver,'” Allison said.

1989 Ford Thunderbird driven by Neil Bonnett

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After driving for Wood Brothers Racing early in his career, Bonnett reunited with the team for the 1989 and 1990 seasons. He earned nine wins and five poles driving for Hall of Famers Leonard and Glen Wood.

“Glen Wood calling (in 1979) with two of the biggest shocks in one sentence that I’ve experienced,” Bonnett recalled. “He said, ‘David Pearson has quit the team, and will you drive for the Wood Brothers?'”

1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by Harry Gant

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The green No. 33 went to victory lane a total of 18 times with Gant behind the wheel. That includes five times during the 1991 season. That same season, Gant earned the nickname “Mr. September” when he won four consecutive races at Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville.

“(Martinsville) was the hardest one of the four to win,” Gant said. “I had to pass more cars today than I have in the others.”

1992 Ford Thunderbird driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott

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The 1992 season was memorable for many reasons, including its season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Elliott won the race, his fifth of the season but came up 10 points short of Alan Kulwicki in the championship fight.

“I did all I could do,” Elliott said. “I went out there and won the race (Atlanta).”

1995 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Mike Skinner

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The 1995 season was the inaugural season for the Camping World Truck Series and saw Skinner win eight times on his way to claiming the championship. Skinner also won the inaugural race at Phoenix and put on his most dominating performance at Portland International Raceway when he won the pole and the race after leading every lap.

“I was a driver who wasn’t getting any younger when the opportunity to drive this truck for Richard Childress Racing came along,” Skinner said. “I became more focused than at any other time in my life … When we started looking outside the box, we were unstoppable.”

1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt

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After becoming the first owner to roll out a limited-edition paint scheme in 1995, Richard Childress and his team brought out this car, featuring a throwback Wrangler scheme, for The Winston in ’99.

“It was awesome to be able to represent Wrangler again,” crew member Chocolate Myers said. “When Earnhardt came on board in 1984, he brought Wrangler and that ‘One Tough Customer’ thing with him. Everybody was excited to be running that paint scheme.”

2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Jeff Gordon

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It was February 2005 when Gordon won his third Daytona 500 in what turned out to be his final win at Daytona International Speedway. He went on to win a total of four races in 2005.

“It felt very rewarding on many levels because of it being a spectacular finish, having to really maneuver around … going from first to third or fourth, back up to first,” Gordon said. “Definitely getting beside that No. 8 car (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and pulling ahead of him was amazing.”

2013 Chevrolet SS driven by Jimmie Johnson

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Johnson started the 2013 season by winning his second Daytona 500, the first of six wins that season. He also earned three poles and scored 24 top-10 finishes on his way to winning his sixth Cup Series championship.

“The Daytona 500 is a career-winning race,” Johnson said. “It defines careers for drivers, crew members, crew chiefs and race teams. It has that power.”

2015 Toyota Camry driven by Kyle Busch

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After missing the first 11 races of the season following a broken right leg and fractured left foot in a crash during the Xfinity Series race at Daytona, Busch rebounded to win his first championship. Overall, Busch earned five wins on the season.

“This is just a dream come true and my family, my wife, my son – to have him this year and to have everything we’ve gone through this year, to be in this moment (in victory lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway) – I don’t know know what else to say, but this is so special,” Busch said.