Story By: TOM JENSEN / NASCAR HALL OF FAME – CHARLOTTE, NC – New England Modified racer Michael Stefanik was an all-time great in more than one series.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2021 featured a diverse series of racers, with third-generation driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., 89-year-old Southern short-track ace Red Farmer, and Stefanik, one of the greatest racers to ever emerge from New England.
A multi-series champion and a multi-dimensional talent, Stefanik was as capable working on his race cars as he was driving them. He also had a well-deserved reputation as one of the cleanest racers in NASCAR, someone who raced hard and raced others with respect.
Here are five things you need to know about Michael Stefanik.
Nine-time NASCAR champion
Along with friend, mentor and fellow Hall of Famer Richie Evans (2012), Stefanik is one of only two drivers to win nine NASCAR national championships. During his Hall of Fame career, Stefanik won seven championships in what is now known as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and two more in the NASCAR Busch North Series (now ARCA Menards East Series). In the Whelen Modified Tour, which dates back to NASCAR’s first season of 1948, Stefanik holds the all-time records for race victories, top-five and top-10 finishes and poles. Those accomplishments earned him recognition in 2003 as one of the Tour’s 10 Greatest Drivers.
Two-Series NASCAR Champion
In both 1997 and again in ’98, Stefanik won titles in the Modified Division and the Busch North Series, despite the cars being very different from each other and the two series racing at different tracks on 10 weekends, requiring complex logistic planning just to make both races. During the ’97 season, Stefanik competed in 43 of the 45 combined races in the Modified and BGN series, winning 10 Modified races and 2 more in the BGN Series en route to his double championships.
Stock Car Star
While Stefanik devoted most of his career to the light, wide-tired Modified race cars, he also fared very well in the heavier, less powerful Busch North Series stock cars, which were completely different to drive. Stefanik competed for eight full seasons in the Busch North Series, winning championships in 1997 and 1998, and finishing second in points in 1995, 2003 and 2005. All told, he earned 12 victories and 65 top-five finishes in the heavier and less agile stock cars.
Stefanik’s talent behind the wheel was obvious to anyone who watched him race, but his tremendous mechanical skills also contributed to his success. Stefanik designed and built the Modified car in his Hall of Honor display. This car featured a number of design innovations that other Modified racers would later incorporate. At the track, Stefanik knew how to set up his race cars to extract maximum performance, no matter what series he was racing in. And at home in Rhode Island, even built his own Shelby Cobra replica street car.
Truck Driving Man
In 1999, Stefanik decided to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (now NASCAR Camping World Truck Series) and he found success there, too, winning Rookie of the Year honors in his only full season in the series. In his very first race of 1999, Stefanik finished second at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He would go to post eight other top-10 finishes in the Truck Series that season, finishing 13th in points.