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NASCAR champion and RI native Mike Stefanik dies in small plane crash

Sterling, Conn. (WPRI) — Nine-time NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik was killed Sunday in a small plane crash in Sterling, Conn., just over the Rhode Island border, according to Motorsport.com.

He was 61 years old and a Rhode Island native currently living in Coventry.

Connecticut State Police said the plane went down in the area of 1329 Plainfield Pike in Sterling around 2 p.m. Sunday.

The Aero Ultra-Light Aircraft Model #103 had taken off from RICONN Airport in Greene, Rhode Island, according to police.

It was heading back there for landing when the plane crashed into the wooded area not far from the airport.

Now, NASCAR is mourning the loss of Stefanik, whose career stretched nearly 30 years.

In a statement, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said, “Mike Stefanik was one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, but even more so, he was a true representative of our sport. His tough, competitive nature and excellence on the race track won him the respect and admiration of fans and competitors alike. His career stretched more than 30 years, bridging the generations between Jerry Cook and Richie Evans to our current drivers. He recorded achievements in this sport that are likely untouchable, and his legacy as a champion will endure. We will keep his wife Julie and his family and friends in our prayers.”

According to NASCAR, Stefanik was one of two drivers in NASCAR history to win nine national series or touring championships.

Connecticut State Police said the crash remains under investigation.