Drivers of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour raced with heavy hearts Saturday night at Riverhead Raceway (NY) after learning the tragic news of a fellow competitor’s death.
Ted Christopher was killed in a Connecticut plane crash just a few hours before the race and the news spread rapidly through the Riverhead paddock, which is where he was destined to be.
Christopher was on a private flight to the race track when his plane crashed into a field. He was 59 years old.
Before the Miller Lite 200 at the Long Island short track, drivers, crew members, and officials lined up along the frontstretch to watch Christopher’s No. 82 run three pace laps and take the checkered flag in honor of the fallen racer.
The No. 82 did not compete in the event.
Timmy Solomito won the race from the pole to score his fourth victory of the season. Doug Coby finished second, Kyle Soper third and points leader Ryan Preece fourth.
After the race, drivers discussed what it was like to race after hearing the unfortunate news of “The King’s” death.
“When we got the news of (Christopher’s death), it was pretty devastating,” Solomito said after his win. “No matter if you loved Ted, didn’t like Ted, you still watched him. Growing up, I watched Ted in every race he was in. He was exciting, aggressive, and he put the fans in the stands.
“I definitely raced with a heavy heart tonight.”
Justin Bonsignore, who finished fifth, also said it was “devastating” to lose a legend of the sport.
“I think Ted would want us all to keep racing,” he said. “I was pretty good friends with Ted. I looked up to him as a kid and loved racing against Ted. I’m definitely going to miss him, and I’m thinking about his whole family.”
Coby said Christopher would have wanted to race if it were him or any other driver that lost his life because racing was what he felt passionate about.
“He wasn’t just a competitor; he was the Richie Evans of our generation,” Coby said. “If you wanted to win a race in a Modified, it was against Teddy. I don’t care whether he’s on the tour full-time or not; Ted is the guy that if you want to race him, it meant you did something.”
Christopher earned 42 career wins in the Whelen Modified Tour. His career spanned 29 years and included winning the series’ 2008 championship. Of his 372 career starts, he finished in the top-10 203 times.
“The guy got more boos than (anyone) at any race track we ever went to,” Coby added. “It ‘s going to be a shame not to hear that anymore.”
When his No. 82 appeared on-track at Riverhead, the crowd was on their feet cheering and waving their hats as they watched his car go by for the final time.
“Ted will want us to move on and race in his memory I hope,” Bonsignore said. “And we’re going to do that.”
-By John Haverlin, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Michael Jaworecki / Myracenews