Sept. 16 (UPI) -- NASCAR legend Mike Stefanik has died after being involved in a single-seat plane crash in Connecticut. He was 61.
NASCAR announced his death Sunday. Connecticut State Police said Stefanik's plane was turning back toward the airfield from where it took off before it crashed into a wooded area near the airport.
The crash remains under investigation.
Stefanik was one of two drivers in NASCAR history to win nine national series or touring championships. He won seven tour championships during his 30-year career in the sport. He is the winningest driver in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
"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 news release. "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."
Stefanik's nine NASCAR championships are tied with Richie Evans for the most in NASCAR history. Evans is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, while Stefanik was a six-time nominee.
"He was a hero of mine growing as a kid," NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. told NASCAR.com. "It's really sad to see. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time. It's a shame. What a legend. He'll be remembered for a long time because he was a pretty awesome guy."