NASCAR Driver Mike Stefanik Dies at 61 After Plane Crash
The crash occurred near the state line in Sterling, Connecticut
NASCAR legend Mike Stefanik died at 61 on Sunday following a plane crash, according to multiple outlets.
Connecticut State Police confirmed to PEOPLE that an Aerolite 103, single-engine, single-seat ultralight aircraft crashed into a wooded area adjacent to the Riconn Airport in Rhode Island after taking off from there earlier. Stefanik was piloting the plane, according to the Associated Press.
The crash occurred near the state line in Sterling, Connecticut, the outlet reported. Stefanik was transported from the scene with severe injuries and burns, police said. He was later pronounced dead, according to the AP.
NASCAR confirmed Stefanik’s death on Sunday night in a statement.
“Mike Stefanik was one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, but even more so, he was a true representative of our sport,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said. “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.”
Continued the statement, “We will keep his wife Julie and his family and friends in our prayers.”
Stefanik was named the second greatest NASCAR Modified driver of all-time in 2003 for his seven championships. His nine total championships — including two from the Busch North Series — tied him with Richie Evans for the most in NASCAR history.
Before his death, Stefanik held the Whelen Modified Tour record with 74 total victories between 1985 and 2014. He also set a record in 1998 for the most wins in a season with 13.
Stefanik was nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame six times, the first being in 2015.
Many paid tribute to the driver after the news broke, including racer Jesse Little.
Wrote Little, “Man. So sad to hear the news of the passing of Mike Stefanik. I idolized him growing up when my dad was involved with the tour. God speed. My thoughts & prayers are with his family.”