(WFSB) – The racing community is mourning the deaths of two local legends over the span of just three days.
Former race car champion Bob Potter died after a crash in Norwich on Tuesday.
His death comes on the heels of a plane crash that killed Michael Stefanik in Sterling. Stefanik made a name in Connecticut before becoming a NASCAR champion.
Channel 3 spoke with a friend of both racers who also happened to be a fierce rival.
Jerry Pearl and Potter burst into the Connecticut stock car racing scene in the 60s.
For decades, they’d tear up the tracks, competing for championships until one day they decided to be partners.
“I drove his backup car. We went to Poconos and we had a lot of good memories together,” Pearl said.
Potter finished his career with 11 championships. He and Pearl remained friends through retirement.
“I talked to him on the phone not too long ago and I wanted to get over to see him, I just haven’t had the chance,” Pearl said.
Pearl agonizes knowing he’ll never get that opportunity again.
Norwich police confirmed the 78-year-old died after having a medical emergency while driving in Norwich on Tuesday.
Potter’s death was the second in just days for the racing community.
On Sunday, 61-year-old NASCAR champion, Michael Stefanik died when his ultralight plane crashed in Sterling.
“[Stefanik] won a lot of championships. I raced him on the tour, I raced him years ago on Thompson, Stafford,” Pearl said.
Stefanik won nine NASCAR championships in his 30-year career.
The passing of the two local legends was the talk of the Colchester car show and not many knew Stefanik was an avid flier.
“When I heard that happen, I just couldn’t imagine it,” Pearl said.
Fans and fellow races mourn the deaths of the legends and are grateful they got to see them in action.
“You don’t want to see anyone you’re fond of leave or pass. Now, you only get the memories. You don’t get to talk to them again,” said Mark Maikshilo.
Potter is in the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame. Stefanik was a six-time NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee.
“All of us at Stafford Speedway are saddened by the loss of a great friend and mentor, Bob Potter. For over 6 decades Bob has been a true representative of the sport,” explained Mark Arute, Stafford Speedway GM. “The Stafford Speedway racing community has lost a great hero. A 5-time SK Modified® Champion, with 24 overall wins at Stafford, his passion for racing is unsurpassed. In his retirement from competitive racing, Bob gave back to the racing community as he continued as the driver of the 2-seater modified at Stafford, always looking to give the fans a good ride. Bob was always looking at the big picture and enjoyed sharing ideas. It is without a doubt that we will miss Bob but his legacy as a champion and love for racing and life will serve as an inspiration. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Dale, son Bob, Jr., daughters Debbie and Ginny, and all his family and friends.”