RPW Exclusive: The Champ Trail: Remembering Legend Mike Stefanik; Weekly Racing & More

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – On a very sad note, seven-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and short track racing legend Mike Stefanik was killed in a plane crash Sunday in Sterling, CT.

Stefanik, 61, crashed while piloting a single engine, single seat Aero Ultra- Light plane The crash took place took place in Sterling, CT near the Rhode Island border. The plane had taken off from the RICONN Airport in Coventry, R.I.

Stefanik, who last raced on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2014, is the division’s all-time winningest driver with 74 career victories in 453 starts 1985 to 2014. In addition to his seven Whelen Modified Tour titles (1989, ’91, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’02, ’06), Stefanik also won championships on the former Busch North Series (now K&N Pro Series East) in 1997 and 1998. He was also the last weekly Modified Champion at the Stafford Motor Speedway in 1986. He has 34 career wins at the Connecticut oval. In 2018 he was inducted to the NEAR Hall of Fame along with the late Ted Christopher who also lost his life in a plane crash.

Mike leaves behind his wife Julie and daughters Christine and Nicole. He also leaves his in-laws, Henriette and John “Sonny” Koszela.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series heads north this coming weekend for the second annual Musket 250 presented by Whelen at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The main event, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Musket 250 presented by Whelen, is the longest mileage and richest purse of the season. The Saturday tripleheader also features the sport’s stars of tomorrow at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Apple Barrel 125 and the only chance in America this year to see Canada’s NASCAR Pinty’s Series drivers race at the Visit New Hampshire 100. A fourth race has been added to the lineup with a 20-lap J&J’s Yolk & Co. Oval Series race featuring Granite State Legends Cars competing for a $5,000 purse on Friday.

In weekly racing at the Stafford Motor Speedway, the Stafford Speedway wound up its NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing action on Friday, September 13 with the First Responders Friday / Final Friday Night Shoot-Out program that paid tribute to Ambulance, EMS, Fire, Police, and all First Responder personnel. Scoring feature wins on the night were Stephen Kopcik in the SK Modified® feature, Cliff Saunders in the Late Model feature, Teddy Hodgdon in the SK Light feature, Jeremy Lavoie in the Limited Late Model feature, and Dave Secore in the Street Stock feature. Tom Fearn was officially crowned as the 2019 Late Model track champion. on Friday night.

In the 40 lap SK Modified feature Steven Kopcik led Todd Owen to the checkered flag to pick up his second win of the 2019 season. Ron Williams finished third with Keith Rocco and Michael Gervais rounding out the top-5. Owen, Williams and Rocco will slug it out for the championship at the season finale on Sept. 29 at the NAPA Fall Final, In the SK Lights, Teddy Hodgdon led Jonathan Puleo to the checkered flag to pick up his fourth win of the 2019 season. Chris Matthews finished third with Mark Bakaj and Alexander Pearl rounding out the top-5. Bryan Narducci got collected in a two car spin and had no where to go & got caught up in the resulting wreck and was eliminated. Narducci did wrap up the NASCAR Home Tracks Division III championship. Other winners were Cliff Saunders in the Late Models, Jeremy Lavoie in the Limited Late Models and Dave Secore in the Street Stocks.

Matt Hirschman won the 30th annual Tommy Druar/Tony Jankowiak Memorial 110 for the Race of Champions Modified Series on Friday night at Lancaster Speedway @ New York International Raceway Park.

The 110-lap race originally started on August 17, but was halted after six laps after a crash by Karl Hehr damaged the catch fence on the front straightaway. The race resumed on Friday night to kick off the 31st annual U.S. Open weekend at Lancaster. One final caution with five laps to go was all that separated Matt Hirschman from his fourth career win in the Tommy/Tony 110. He pulled away in the final circuits to secure his first RoC Modified Series win of 2019. Emerling had to settle for second, but he managed to cut Andy Jankowiak’s series points lead to just 12. Beers finished third with Kevin Miller and Tommy Catalano rounded out the top five.

Hirschman had entered the Tri Track Modified Series 100 lapper that had been scheduled to be run at the Monadnock Speedway on Saturday night and then return to Lancaster Speedway for their US Open on Sunday. When Monadnock cancelled because of rain Hirschman opted to compete at Lancaster rather than at Monadnock.

In the 31st annual US Open at Lancaster Hirschman had to settle for fourth behind Patrick Emerling, Andy Jankowiak and Mike Leaty.

Chuck Hossfeld. won the Joe Reilly Crown Royal Classic 54 Race of Champion Sportsman Modified event on Saturday at Lancaster Speedway @ New York International Raceway Park as part of the 31st annual U.S. Open Weekend.

The Tri-Track Modified Series event at the Monadnock Speedway drew 31 cars. The event was run on Sunday after being rescheduled. Chase Dowling took the win over Richard Savory. A big At-A-Boy to young Jacob Perry who scored an impressive third place finish. Mike Galko and Kirk Alexander rounded out the top five.

While the hot August nights have evolved into cooler September evenings Tom Rogers Jr. of Riverhead remains hot at Riverhead Raceway as he again scored double victories Saturday night winning the Whelen First Responder Night 100 NASCAR Modified event and just moments later the 15-lap Figure Eight feature. The 100-lap win was Rogers 4th of the season and 56th of his career while the Figure Eight triumph was his 9th of 2019 and 52nd of his career.

As Kyle Soper made his way to second, many on hand were anticipating a fierce battle for the lead and the win between Rogers and Soper but that battle never did develop as Rogers was spot on for the entire 100- lap distance. Soper in the later stages of the race had his mirror fill up with former three- time track champion John Fortin who peppered the current championship leader for the remainder of the race.

As the checkers flew it was Tom Rogers Jr. sitting in victory lane now just seven wins behind “Charging” Charlie Jarzombek for the all- time lead in NASCAR Modified wins at the track, Kyle Soper was runner-up in Wayne & Joette Anderson’s Chevy noting afterwards, “there was no sense in me pushing the envelope tonight I think we pretty much wrapped up out second championship in a row tonight”. Indeed, with two races left Soper enjoys a 69-point bulge over Rogers with Tommy needing full 20 car fields to show up for the final two races of 2019 which is highly unlikely. John Fortin Sr. was third while John Baker and Chris Young rounded out the top five.