50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Mike Stefanik 1958-2019
“A Born Racer”
Mike Stefanik was the 1986 Stafford Modified Track Champion. He was also the 1979 Six Cylinder Limited Sportsman Champion. It wasn’t until 1986, the last year Stafford ran full bore modifieds on a weekly basis, that Stefanik won his first feature, which came in the Winston 100 on May 30. It was the only feature he won at Stafford that season, but coupled with consistent top 5 finishes, he was able to garner the title.
Stefanik began his racing career at Stafford in 1976, driving a back up car belonging to Bob Witcop. Believe it or not, the night before he was to make his debut, he was hit by a car outside an auto dealership where he worked. Stefanik picked up his first Limited Sportsman win in 1978, but it was in 1979 when he dominated the division with 9 wins. He moved up to the modifieds in 1980 and garnered his first open wheel win at Riverside Park on July 12. Stefanik ran at both Stafford and Riverside, gaining confidence and experience plus, he caught the eye of Richie Evans. Evans talked Sonny Koszela into giving the young hot shoe a ride in the famous Woodchopper Special that had been formerly driven by Ernie Gahan, Leo Cleary, Fred DeSarro, and Bugsy Stevens.
The combination worked so well that Stefanik literally became part of the family as he married Koszela’s daughter Julie. The alliance and marriage into the Koszela family enabled Stefanik to become a full time race car fabricator as well as a driver.
Stefanik began racing on the NASCAR Modified Tour and was the most successful driver in Tour history. From 1985 through 2014, Stefanik made 453 starts and he holds the series record for most career wins with 74 and championships with 7. Stefanik recorded Spring Sizzler® wins in 1989, 1990, 1997, and 1998, Fall Final wins in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2002, 2007, and 2008. Stefanik’s 2008 Fall Final victory was the 34th and final Stafford win of his career.
When the opportunity to race on the Busch Grand National North series presented itself in 1991, Stefanik jumped at the chance and was been equally successful there. From 1991 through 2005, Stefanik made 164 starts and won 12 races. Stefanik won the championship in 1997 and 1998, marking an unprecedented 2-year stretch where he won the championships in both the NASCAR Modified Tour and Busch North Series.
Mike Stefanik truly deserves his place as one of the Fifty Greatest Modified Drivers of All-time as voted on by the public in the Stafford Salutes NASCAR at 50 program.
By: Phil Smith