Former NASCAR driver killed in single-engine plane crash

Former NASCAR legend Michael Stefanik, 61, is killed in a single-engine plane crash along the Rhode Island-Connecticut border after ‘initially walking away from the wreck’

  • Modified stock car great Michael Stefanik has been killed in a single-engine plane crash along the Rhode Island-Connecticut border. He was 61
  • Connecticut State Police say the crash happened Sunday afternoon in Sterling near the Rhode Island state line. The exact cause is still under investigation
  • Police say the single-engine plane took off from Coventry, Rhode Island, and had been turning back toward Riconn Airport when it crashed into a wooded area
  • A local resident claimed his grandson and the boy’s father ran towards the crash, where they saw Stefanik initially walking away from the wreckage 

Modified stock car great Michael Stefanik has been killed in a single-engine plane crash along the Rhode Island-Connecticut border. He was 61.

Connecticut State Police say the crash happened Sunday afternoon in Sterling near the Rhode Island state line. The exact cause is still under investigation. 

Police 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.

Modified stock car great Michael Stefanik has been killed in a single-engine plane crash along the Rhode Island-Connecticut border. He was 61. The exact cause of the crash is unknown 

Stefanik was flying a single-engine, single-seat Aerolite 103, like the one pictured here

Stefanik crashed in a wooded area along the Connecticut-Rhode Island border. As seen by his social media accounts, the former NASCAR driver was an experienced pilot 


(Left) Stefanik pictured in the seat of a small airplane, but not the single-seat Aerolite 103 he was flying on Sunday. (Right) A checkered flag was placed near the crash site

Stefanik’s daughter, Nicole, reacted to his death on Instagram: ‘My heart hurts so much. We truly lost a great person, husband, father, son and friend. I know you are in heaven flying around, looking over us. I love you so much and can’t wait to see you again’

Local resident Allen Sayles, who lives near the airfield, told Providence’s NBC affiliate that his grandson and the boy’s father witnessed Stefanik miraculously walking away from the crash before succumbing to his injuries. 

‘They said he was walking and he was talking,’ said Sayles. ‘He was out of the plane he was like 15 feet from the plane.’ 

Sayles went on to describe how the incident unfolded. 

‘We heard the plane coming, which we see all the time, then all of a sudden he just missed the treetops and my wife said, “That plane is going to crash.”

Stefanik pictured with his daughter Nicole 

‘I says, “No, you just can’t see it over the treetops,” and then we seen big powerful smoke and my grandson and his father went running down there,’ said Sayles. ‘Four to five seconds later, we heard a big explosion and I called 911.’ 

Sayles was actually very familiar with the the plane, having seen it on many occasions. 

‘We see it a lot,’ said Sayles. ‘He comes up and goes around a couple times and tests it, I think. It was one of those little hand glider one person planes, fiber wings.’ 

Stefanik’s daughter, Nicole, reacted on Instagram: ‘My heart hurts so much. We truly lost a great person, husband, father, son and friend. I know you are in heaven flying around, looking over us. I love you so much and can’t wait to see you again.’ 

Retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who recently survived a plane crash with his family, tweeted out his condolences on Sunday: ‘Breaks my heart. I hope his family and friends can find some peace and comfort somehow.’  

Retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt. Jr. recently survived his own plane crash 

Stefanik pictured with his daughters Nicole (near left) and Christine (near right) as well as his wife Julie (far right). The 61-year-old Stefanik died after a plane crash on Sunday 


Stefanik’s daughter Nicole shared several pics of her father on Instagram. Her sister Christine had recently been married – an event that Stefanik Tweeted about: ‘Gave our baby away yesterday! 5-5-2018. Beautiful ceremony & reception!’

Months earlier, Stefanik posted a picture of himself flying. Presumably his daughter Nicole, who is mentioned in the caption, was the person who took the picture 

Pictured: A 2015 shot of the Riconn Airport along the Rhode Island-Connecticut state line 

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 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 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.


Modified stock car great Michael Stefanik has been killed in a single-engine plane crash along the Rhode Island-Connecticut border. He was 61

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

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