FMS: Mike Stefank Thankful for Good Fortune

Stefanik thankful for good fortune COVENTRY, R.I. (Oct. 19, 1998) Lou Gehrig, in his famous retirement speech at Yankee Stadium, said he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." While Mike Stefanik has never been...

Stefanik thankful for good fortune

COVENTRY, R.I. (Oct. 19, 1998) Lou Gehrig, in his famous retirement speech at Yankee Stadium, said he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

While Mike Stefanik has never been faced with Gehrig's fatal circumstances, he considers himself to be right up there with "The Iron Horse" when it comes to the luck department. To win two NASCAR championships in the same year, two years in a row, Stefanik said, there's got to be more than a little good fortune involved.

"I've got to be the luckiest guy there is," said Stefanik, who recently clinched titles in both the Featherlite Modified Series, NASCAR Touring, and the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring, for the second consecutive year -- the first time anyone has ever accomplished that feat in the 50-year history of NASCAR.

"I'm truly amazed that we were able to pull this off once, let alone again this year," Stefanik said. "I've been racing for 22 years, and a lot of things can go wrong over the course of the season. In order to even stay competitive in both series, you have to dodge the rain and the scheduling of the races. Orchestrating the whole deal is tough, and you've got to have strong enough programs in both divisions to win a championship. We were able to do that, so I guess it's cool being me right now."

Stefanik wrapped up his championship season in the Busch North Series with a victory in Saturday's Dodge Dealers 200k at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., his fourth win of the year in that series. He followed that up on Sunday with a win in the Featherlite Modified Series' Stop & Shop presents the Sunoco World Series event at New Thompson Speedway in Thompson, Conn.

The latter triumph was his 13th of the year on the Featherlite Modified Series, giving him 23 wins in that division in the last two seasons. His 13 wins broke the all-time series record for wins in a season, previously held by his mentor, the late, great Richie Evans.

"I'll tell you, we won 10 races last year with the Modifieds, and we really thought that was something," said Stefanik, the Featherlite Modified Series' career victories leader. "But then to come back and win three more this year, that's just unbelievable. We could have even had more, but we gave at least one away at Watkins Glen. So, it's awesome. You can't really put it all into perspective."

At the beginning of the season, Stefanik wasn't sure if he'd be able to defend either of his championships to the fullest. Scheduling conflicts loomed on the horizon, but a rain-out took care of one of those. In a strange coincidence, the wildfires in Florida in June and July took care of another scheduling conflict between the two series, both based in the Northeastern part of the country.

"When we first saw the schedules, it wasn't looking too good," Stefanik said. "Richmond (Featherlite Modified Series) and Lime Rock (Busch North Series), scheduled both for this past weekend, were in direct conflict with each other. But when Daytona (the NASCAR Winston Cup Pepsi 400) got canceled in July and they scheduled it for last weekend, it just happened that it worked out for me because Richmond didn't want to run that race on the same weekend as Daytona to conflict with it, so they canceled it. I hated not running there because I really love that track, but it was better for us that we didn't."

Another thing that hampered Stefanik's Busch North Series effort was the loss of his crew chief and long-time friend, Greg Zipadelli, who took a job at Roush Racing in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series working for Jeff Burton's No. 99 Exide Batteries team.

Stefanik said the team still solicited Zipadelli's advice throughout the season, while team owner Mike Greci acted as interim crew chief.

"Greg was the main man and did the bulk of the preparation for the car," Stefanik said. "But when he wanted to pursue that opportunity, we all told him to go for it. The rest of the team, the volunteers, just dug in after that and did an unbelievable job. Those who weren't aluminum welders became aluminum welders, and those who weren't fabricators became fabricators. We made some major gains throughout the year, and I'm proud of both team's efforts."

Stefanik said he's used "just about every trick in the book" to avoid missing races in either series this season. A cooperative airplane service, a race fan with a helicopter, even a ferry boat.

It's all worked out, fortunately for Stefanik, in his quest to make NASCAR history. Again.

Now, Stefanik said, he's looking forward to some time off, after the Featherlite Modified Series' season finale at Flemington Speedway this weekend.

While Stefanik has ruled both series up north the past couple of seasons, there still is a burning desire for him to move south and break into the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division and eventually, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

Earlier this season, Stefanik ran three NASCAR Busch Series races, finishing 35th at Rockingham, 32nd at Las Vegas and 39th at Nazareth, Pa. He's currently searching for someone, anyone, to give him an opportunity to advance in the NASCAR ranks.

"Things aren't too good with that right now," Stefanik said. "I really don't know what it takes to move up. That's the frustrating part of the whole situation. Everybody in both series up here, well, half hope I go and half hope that I stay. But what I'd really like is an opportunity to run for a good, strong Busch south program or some facsimile of one. That's what I really want to do. I guess we'll keep it here until that time comes along."

Source: NASCAR Online

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