Mike Stefanik, who has driven to consecutive championships in both NASCAR's Busch North and Featherlite Modified series the past two years, will be running full-time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1999. The Rhode Island resident will...
Mike Stefanik, who has driven to consecutive championships in both NASCAR's Busch North and Featherlite Modified series the past two years, will be running full-time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1999. The Rhode Island resident will also run a limited Busch Grand National schedule, and maybe even a few races on the Featherlite tour, just to keep his hand in and have some fun. Stefanik talks about his plans, and compares his first race in the trucks to the movie "Flash Dance".
MIKE STEFANIK -66- Carlin Burners and Controls Ford F-150: YOU TRIED TO MAKE THE BUSCH RACE AT DAYTONA, BUT RAN INTO PROBLEMS. "We didn't go fast enough. That was our problem."
YOU DID BETTER AT ROCKINGHAM. YOU MADE THE RACE, AND YOU RAN OKAY (22nd). "That's a fair assessment. You can use those two letters, O.K. That works."
HOW MANY BUSCH RACES ARE YOU GOING TO RUN? "It was going to be 15, but I think its 13, 14 races. The name of the team is Prime Performance Motorsports, PPM. They owned Barry Bodine's truck team last year, and they ran that number seven truck. They sold all their truck equipment, and are forming a Busch team. They are going to use this season like a building season to build new cars, put their team together, and gain a little bit of Busch experience this year in hopes of running the full schedule next year."
YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE A BUSY YEAR. "That's right. I'm used to that though. That's normal for me, running two divisions. So I'll stay with what's normal. Chaos is normal."
WILL YOU RACE ANY IN THE NORTHEAST IN 1999? "I'm trying to talk my wife (Julie) into letting me run some modified races, but she thinks I've already got too much on plate. But I have so much fun running them I'd hate to not run any. I might do a half dozen."
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE TRUCK TESTING SINCE THE END OF LAST SEASON? "We've been to Homestead twice since the season ended, and we are doing a short track test this Monday and Tuesday at Greenville-Pickens (South Carolina). They're trying to get me some seat time, and get me acclimated to the short tracks and see how the trucks drive on the short tracks. I haven't driven one on a short track yet. That is the only other test scheduled that I know of before we start the season at Homestead."
HOW DID THE HOMESTEAD TEST GO? "I thought it went rather well. The first day was very frustrating. We had to make a lot of changes to the truck to get it to drive the way it needed to drive and feel. But the second day was well worth it. I thought the truck drove very well. It was certainly very competitive to the other Ford teams that were there, the Roush trucks, the two truck and the others. As for myself, I felt that I've gained a feel and a comfort level in the trucks that I didn't have at Vegas, and that I didn't have the first time we went to Homestead. I thought it was going to take a longer time to get acclimated, but I don't think it's going to take as long as I thought. We'll see."
FOR NOT BEING COMFORTABLE, YOU HAD A HECK OF A RACE AT VEGAS LAST FALL (finished 8th his first time in a NCTS event). "Yeah. The comfort level of what I'm accustomed to having, driving and the seat of the pants feel, I didn't have in that race. The truck was new to me. The whole division was new to me. I just feel we will be that much further ahead after testing, and after a couple of races into the season I'm sure the feel I look for and the comfort level I look for so that I can feel at home in the truck isn't going to take as long as I thought it was."
I HEARD YOU COMPARED YOUR FIRST RACE IN THE TRUCK TO A MOVIE. WILL YOU EXPLAIN THAT? "I said it reminded me of "Flash Dance" with Jennifer Beals. It was her life-long dream to get a shot at a big time dance troupe. And she did her audition. And this was an audition for me. That's all this race was. It was an audition. It was come out, try the truck. See what you think, and we'll see what we think, and we'll go from there. It was just a one shot deal in hopes that we would work well together, and we could put something together for next year. In that movie, she finally gets a shot at it, and she wanted to do it the right way. Her boyfriend had pull and could have gotten her in like the way it happens in racing sometimes. You know people get chances to make it because of who you know and who your connections are. I wasn't coming in the back door. I was coming in the front door like she wanted to do. In the movie she starts a record, and she is in front of a panel of people, much like I was in front of the owner and the crew members. And right off the bat she stumbles and falls just like I did five laps into the race when I spun the truck. And I remember saying, give me four more tires, and let me try it one more time." Laughing, "I screwed up. Just give me four more. I flat spotted these. Let me try this one more time. I asked maybe a little too much of the truck or myself. I just didn't have a good handle on it. I thought I did, but I guess I didn't. So they gave me four more tires. And it was just like she did. She restarted the record, and did her thing. And I did my thing. She walked away with a contract, smiling and happy. Much the way it went for me. It wasn't like we won the race, but I think we all felt like we accomplished a lot in a short amount of time, so it reminded me of that movie. We started 26th and finished eighth. We were the first truck one lap down. We had two green flag pit stops so we did well to rebound from an early spin. My only ever shot at a truck was a top ten at a track that I'd never raced."
DO YOU HAVE SPECIFIC GOALS? "No. Obviously we're a rookie team and I'm a rookie driver. Well, they're not a rookie team, but I'm a rookie driver. We can go after rookie of the year. And that would be nice, but what I would really like to do is try to win a race this year. That is absolutely my goal somewhere, somehow. That's the bottom line. That's what I want to do. I don't race for any other reason. I'm not into being a profiler. I'm not into the whole glitz and glitter of it. I'm into to it for the competitiveness of it, and I'm into it to win. If I become uncompetitive, and feel I can't win then I will leave and walk away. I'm not in it to ride around. I'm in it to win. That's why I race."
WHERE DOES THE TRUCK SERIES FIT IN MIKE STEFANIK'S RACING CAREER? "I don't really have any set plans. I've never really had any set plans because I guess I don't have the luxury of being able to make set plans. My career has always been sort of a roller coaster ride. I haven't really set any time schedule. I just look at it as another rung up the ladder. It's another rung up the ladder I've been climbing for 22 years. I feel like I've been stretching, and reaching and stretching and pulling for this one rung. Now I've got both hands on it, and now I want to pull myself up, and go up that ladder. It's another ladder to climb, and there's not many rungs left. You've just got Busch and Winston Cup. I'm finally seeing the end of the ladder, but it might take my whole career to get up this ladder. I'm just climbing the ladder to see how high I can get with the God-given talents I've got."
HOW DID YOU END UP DRIVING FOR DALE PHELON? "I needed to move to another ladder. I've been on this northern swing here with the modifieds and the Busch North series. I felt that personally I had accomplished everything I needed to accomplish. It would be redundant to keep doing it again and again. It was time for a change. I was talking to Dennis Huth, and Dale Phelon was looking for a driver and had tried several. Dale and Dennis talk quite a bit. Actually there were a couple of truck teams that had contacted me about driving for them next year. I was in Flemington, New Jersey running a modified feature, and the truck series was out at Phoenix. Basically friends like Dick Berggren mentioned to Dale I was available to drive a truck. Then Dale asked Dennis Huth what he thought, and he said what about Mike Stefanik. Dale had heard the name quite a bit. Dennis called Ed Cox, the tour director on the modifieds, and we talked from infield to infield. He was at Phoenix and I was at Flemington. He asked if I would be interested, and I asked when was the next race. He said Vegas, and I said, let's do it. I guess I caught him a little off guard. He didn't expect me to jump right in and go to Vegas, but I'm certainly glad we did. It answered a lot of questions for both of us. It showed me that's a team I wanted to drive for, and I guess I showed them they wanted me to drive for them. I want to go to some new tracks, and I want to drive some different vehicles, and I want to stay in NASCAR. I want to go up the road, and up the road is Craftsman Trucks and Busch. Running Busch North, I did that and won a couple of championships, and I won four modified tour championships. It's time to make a move. Now's the time. If it doesn't happen now it's never going to happen. The timing is right. I looked at what I could get in, truck or Busch. I ended up finding both. But basically the truck is the "A" deal. That is the one I'm going to run the full schedule with. The Busch team is building, and it is an experience year for me. That's how I look at it. I've moved up the ladder. I'm excited to go out and race against all these guys I've watched on TV. I know (Ron) Hornaday a little bit, and I know (Jack) Sprague a little bit. I know where they've come from and their background in racing. It's a neat series. We will run a lot of different tracks. That's the only down side to it. Most of the other competitors have been to these tracks and I haven't. That will be a frustrating thing for me to have to deal with. I'm going to be on a learning curve this year. There's no doubt about it. But I'm going to try to make it is quick and short as I can. And I think we'll be okay. This will help my overall career, getting acclimated to radial tires and different tracks. I've got so much new stuff going on this year. It's just plain exciting. I'm just happy to be racing and I've moved up the ladder."