The NASCAR national spotlight rarely glared on Mike Stefanik’s dynamic driving style. But it finally will on Jan. 21 when the late Stefanik becomes enshrined during an emotional NASCAR Hall of Fame ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Over a long driving career, Stefanik stood out on the former NASCAR Busch Grand National North Series and the open-wheel NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He earned nine regional series championships, but NASCAR premier series opportunities never developed.
Mike Stefanik was nearly unbeatable on the 1998 NASCAR Modified Tour
Stefanik did, however, receive a short stint on the NASCAR Busch Series (now Xfinity) and, at 41 years old, earned the Truck Series’ 1999 Rookie of the Year award. He compiled nine top-10 finishes in 25 starts. His average finish was 13.8.
The Rhode Island native earned eight Modified wins, two Busch North checkered flags at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and five Modified victories at Martinsville Speedway.
Stefanik dominated at premier series tracks, finishing his career with 74 Modified victories. His final win came at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2013.
In 1998, Stefanik was nearly unbeatable on the Modified Tour. In 22 starts, he earned 13 wins, 20 top-five finishes, and 21 top 10s. He led nearly half (1,537) of 3,486 total laps.
From 1991-2000, Stefanik started 26 Busch Series races. He reached the top 10 once and led just three revolutions.
If anyone wonders, he is Hall of Fame worthy.
Clay Campbell: ‘As far as the Mike Stefanik that I knew, he was a great guy’
Stefanik’s presence should stand next to fellow 2021 Hall inductees Dale Earnhardt Jr., a two-time Daytona 500 champion who wants to avoid an “awkward” ceremony, and original Alabama Gang member Red Farmer.
The institution’s executive director, Winston Kelley, reiterated to nascar.com that the Hall of Fame is not an exclusive paddock to premier series stars. All levels of NASCAR should – and is – getting their due with Stefanik’s recognition.
Now the president of Martinsville Speedway, Clay Campbell grew up around his family’s track. He recalls witnessing Stefanik’s skill outshine his regional opponents. Campbell developed “a friendship” with Stefanik and was present in 1989 when Stefanik claimed his first win at Martinsville. He also witnessed his final victory there in 2009.
“… This place was always special to the Mod guys,” Campbell said. “Mike was just one of the kindest people I’ve met, and to be a competitor, when you strap the helmet on and get out there in competition, you have to be different. But as far as the Mike Stefanik that I knew, he was a great guy.”
Stefanik’s wife supported his racing career
Stefanik died on Sept. 15, 2019. He succumbed to injuries he suffered from an ultralight aircraft crash.
Campbell recalls seeing his wife, Julie, during visitation. He embraced her. She likely needed the comfort.
“Mike and his wife, Julie. I mean, they were together all the time,” Campbell said. “I went to his visitation and saw Julie, and you know, it’s hard to say when you only see people twice a year that they’re good friends or you consider them family, but in that case, you kind of did.
“… I always thought a lot of Mike, and he was just a special guy to me.”
The NASCAR premier series spotlight may not have developed during his prime racing years, but, at least, it is posthumously.