STERLING, CT (WFSB) - A modified stock car driver was killed in a plane crash in Sterling on Sunday afternoon.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France confirmed 61-year-old Rhode Island resident Mike Stefanik passed away from injuries sustained in a crash on the Connecticut-Rhode Island border.
Troopers said they were called to the plane crash in a wooded area near the intersection of Plainfield Pike, Route 14a, and Gibson Hill Road on Sunday around 2 p.m. Stefanik was operating a single engine, single seat Aerolite 103 and took off from RICONN Airport in Rhode Island.
While turning back towards the airfield, police said he crashed into the woods near the airport.
Officials with LIFE STAR medical air transport confirmed their crews also responded to the crash.
Stefanik was brought to a hospital, but died a short time later.
He is being remembered for a tough, competitive nature as well as his excellence on the race track.
France issued a statement following Stefanik's passing.
"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."
Stefanik won nine NASCAR series championships. He also won Rookie of the Year honors at the age of 41. He was a six-time nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Pilots say flying an ultra-light is compared to riding a dirt bike on private property, there are no rules. The craft is not inspected nor regulated and the pilots don't have to have a license.
"It's a Wild West type of issue with un-regulation and non-certification and no license required, but that's part of the freedom that comes with ultra-light flying," said Martin Weiss, a pilot.
FAA records show that Stefanik got his airman's certificate from the FAA two years ago.
Stefanik lived in nearby Coventry, Rhode Island and began his racing career at Stafford Springs Motor Speedway in 1978, capturing his first championship one year later.
General Manager of Stafford Springs Motor Speedway released a statement saying, "Mike was a true champion and one of the best to ever compete at Stafford. Our thoughts and prayers are with Julie, Nicole, Christine, and all of Mike's family and friends."
The crash remains under investigation.