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Mike Stefanik (1958–2019), nine-time NASCAR champion

by Linnea Crowther

Mike Stefanik was a champion of NASCAR whose nine total championship wins made him one of the two drivers with the most championships in NASCAR history. 

Mike Stefanik was a champion of NASCAR, whose nine total championship wins made him one of the two drivers with the most championships in NASCAR history. A star of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, he began racing in 1987 and won his first championship in 1989. He went on to win the Whelen Modified Tour in 1991, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2006, giving him the most wins in the tour’s history. In 1997 and 1998, he impressed fans by also winning the Busch North title, and his total nine championships are tied only with NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans. Stefanik was a six-time NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and was named the Busch North Series’ Most Popular Driver in 1995, 1997, 1998, and 2004.

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Died: September 15, 2019 (Who else died on September 15?)

Details of death: Died in Sterling, Connecticut in a single-engine plane crash at the age of 61.

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Viral interview: An unexpected loss in 2013 prompted one of Stefanik’s best-known moments. In the final lap of the Battle of the Beach Whelen Modified Tour event, Stefanik was in the lead. But when he was hit by driver Steve Park, his car spun out and lost the lead, coming in 13th. Park won, and Stefanik was livid. In a post-race interview with a stony-faced Stefanik, reporter Ray Dunlap noted that Park had been pushed into Stefanik, causing the spinout. “Yeah right,” answered Stefanik before briefly continuing in an angry—and profane—rant. The interview made in into Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” monologue and became a viral sensation online. Later, Stefanik admitted that he thought Leno’s take on the incident was funny.

Stefanik reacts to his viral interview on Leno: “I’m a good sport about that stuff. To see how well they put it together, that was pretty funny. I’m still chuckling about it. I realize I was mad and they had fun with it. It’s no big deal. I think it’s pretty cool I got exposure on Leno. I’ll ask him for an invitation to see his car collection.”

What people said about him: “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.” —Jim France, NASCAR chairman and CEO

“It’s hard to put into words what Mike Stefanik meant to NASCAR – he was simply one of the best. It’s even harder to put into words what he meant to a skinny 15-year-old kid like me who was just starting out in the biz. Mike was a racer, but also a great family man and a friend.” —Motorsports journalist Bob Dillner

“From all of us at Stafford Speedway we want to extend our condolences to the Stefanik family. Mike was a true champion and one of the best to ever compete at Stafford.” —Stafford Speedway

Full obituary: NASCAR

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