STERLING, Conn. (AP) -- Modified stock car great Michael Stefanik has been killed in a single-engine plane crash. He was 61.
State police say the crash happened Sunday afternoon in Sterling near the Rhode Island state line. They say the single-engine, single-seat Aerolite 103 took off from the Riconn Airport in Coventry, Rhode Island, and had been turning back toward the airfield when it crashed into a wooded area near the airport. NASCAR confirmed that Stefanik was killed in the accident.
Stefanik won nine NASCAR series championships to tie Hall of Famer Richie Evans for the record, topping the Whelen Modified Tour seven times and Busch North Series twice. He also raced in what are now called the NASCAR Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck series, taking rookie of the year honors at age 41 in the truck series in 1999.
''Mike Stafanik 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 in a statement. ''His tough, competitive nature and excellence on the race track won him the admiration of cans and competitors alike.''
Stenanik holds the Whelen Modified Tour record with 74 victories from 1985 to 2014. A six-time nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he had 12 victories the Busch North Series.