Iconic car restored for late NASCAR great Michael Stefanik’s posthumous HoF induction

by TAYLOR ROCHA, NBC 10 NEWSMonday, December 20th 2021

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This is a submitted photo of Michael Stefanik.

8VIEW ALL PHOTOSThis is a submitted photo of Michael Stefanik.

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Born to a racing family, Julie Stefanik admired her husband before the two had ever met.

“He had won his first race before we met. I actually had a little picture of him on my bulletin board from the newspaper,” said Stefanik. “The rest is history.”

Through Michael Stefanik’s nearly 40-year racing career, in which he became one of only two racers to capture nine NASCAR championships, Stefanik was her husband’s spotter. During races, she would be in constant communication with him in order to keep him out of harm’s way.

Michael Stefanik is seen with his wife Julie. (Submitted photo)

“I know down South, the men don’t think the women should tell the men how to drive, so it’s kind of funny,” she joked. “I would be a set of eyes ahead of his.”

When Michael died in a plane crash at just 61 years old, Julie couldn’t see it coming.

“He got into aviation and got his sports pilot license,” said Stefanik. “I told him he was an adrenaline junkie because he had to go fast. He enjoyed and lived his life to the fullest. I have no regrets. I just wish we had our final chapter together, but I guess I wouldn’t change anything.”

Michael Stefanik’s iconic NASCAR car has been restored. (Submitted photo)

Now, Stefanik has to make a speech on her husband’s behalf in Charlotte at the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Jan. 21, 2022.

“There’s no way I can thank everyone personally because if I tried, I would miss somebody,” said Stefanik. “You all know who you are. It’s an honor. We’re bringing a whole lot of love there for him.”

Also making the trip to Charlotte is “Big Red,” the car that will represent Stefanik in the hall of fame.

Michael Stefanik’s iconic NASCAR car has been restored. (WJAR)

“He was a fabricator and he built his own race cars,” said Stefanik. “This was the last one he built.”

Stefanik was Skip Wilcox’s childhood hero: “Growing up, I was starstruck with him. He asked me to clean the race cars. That was my first job,” said Wilcox. “It turned into racing with him up and down the East Coast.”

From fan to best friend, Wilcox and Stefanik stayed in touch after the modified racing legend’s retirement in 2014, especially during New England Patriots games.

Michael Stefanik’s iconic NASCAR car has been restored. (WJAR)

“I was waiting for one of his texts during the game and we heard that he had a plane crash,” said Wilcox. “We went to the hospital and as soon as you walked in, you got a sense of how serious it was. I was lucky enough to go into the room to say goodbye before he passed.”

Wilcox’s final job for Stefanik would be spearheading the restoration of Big Red.

“Michael was so respected,” said Wilcox. “So many people came out wanting to help.”

Michael Stefanik’s name is seen on his iconic car that has been restored. (WJAR)

The task came with an extreme amount of pressure: “Michael was a perfectionist at everything he did,” said Wilcox. “Whether it was his fabrication, his driving, his lawn — if it wasn’t perfect, he didn’t do it. When we took it on, we knew if it wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t going to be happy. We had to make sure it was right.”

A labor of love that took over a year to complete became worth the effort as soon as Stefanik saw her husband’s revitalized car for the first time.

“I had the car in my garage and the guys came and got it. I haven’t seen it since,” said Stefanik. “The car turned out exceptional. They got everything to perfection. Michael would have been very proud.”

Michael Stefanik’s iconic NASCAR car has been restored. (WJAR)

The car brought back a flood of memories for the widow: “It brought tears to my eyes,” said Stefanik. “There are happy tears, too. There are so many wonderful memories. We have two beautiful daughters.”

The names of Stefanik’s daughters, Nicole and Christine, appear on the car’s dash. The two will forever ride shotgun along their father in the hall of fame.

“I just wish Michael was here to see it,” said Wilcox. “I was looking forward to helping him with this project. I miss the guy a bunch.”

The names “Christine. Nicole” are seen on Michael Stefanik’s restored car. (WJAR)

In January, the NASCAR world will reflect on the life and legacy of Stefanik, while his family celebrates the pinnacle of his career.

“When he won his last race at Bristol, he was like a little kid,” said Stefanik. “It’s just a big honor.”

Stefanik didn’t love the sport because of the fanfare. His wife said that even when nominated, he downplayed his achievement: “He was a racer. That was his office. He put his helmet on and that’s when he went to work. He would have gotten up and given a speech without writing anything down. He always talked from the heart.”

This is a submitted photo of Michael Stefanik.

“Whether you rooted for him or against him, he holds all the records,” said Wilcox. “He’s going to be along the best names in NASCAR. That’s where he belongs. He was that good.”

The Class of 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place on Jan. 21, 2022 in Charlotte. Stefanik will be inducted alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Red Farmer. Additionally, Ralph Seagraves will be honored with the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to the sport.