This past Saturday was a dark day for the sport of auto racing when racing icon Ted Christopher lost his life in an aviation accident while en route to Riverhead Raceway on Long Island. Christopher was scheduled to drive the Danny Watts-owned No. 82 Modified in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competition that night.
After local driver Tom Rogers, Jr. took a final lap during pre-race ceremonies in the 82, the car was immediately withdrawn from competition.
That night the race went on and now the tour is ready to move forward to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the F.W. Webb 100 on Saturday. Rejoining the fray will be the Watts-owned team, who are set on moving forward in the true Ted Christopher spirit.
Taking the wheel of the No. 82 is none other than Christopher’s friend and one of many on-track rivals, Woody Pitkat.
Like Christopher, Pitkat is a Connecticut born driver who calls Stafford Motor Speedway his home track, with Christopher and Pitkat sitting one and two respectively on the all-time win’s list at that track.
The deal for Pitkat to drive the car this weekend is a deal less than 24 hours old, with it mostly coming together on Monday. Pitkat had been originally slated to run the No. 52 car in a still fresh partnership between himself, Steve Greer and Dan Stebbins. However, given the honor and opportunity presented, the plans were quickly changed.
“I had a conversation with one of Danny’s crew members on Sunday night, saying that he thought Danny still wants to race, that they want to keep going, that Ted would feel the same way and would want them to race. So they wanted to try and put somebody in the car that would give them the best opportunity to go and try to win the race for them and for Ted,” Pitkat told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
“They said that the best person to put in the car would be Woody, saying that he’s won there in the past and the MRS race up there this year. But Danny said that ‘He’s got his own ride.’ And the crew member said, ‘He has a ride, but it’s for himself, his own team. If anything he would be the best person to ask since he’s not driving for a team.’”
When asked, Pitkat took advantage of the opportunity to race and attempt to visit victory lane in Christopher’s honor.
“I talked to Danny today and he said pretty much the same thing, to run for Ted, Mike, and the whole family. I was humbled by that, because I’ve had a relationship with Ted and a lot of people don’t realize that,” Pitkat stated. “That was a while ago and now racing stuff you’re not together as much. But I have as many memories to go back to as everybody else. So I thought it would be a good idea to go up there and try to and at least get a great finish for them, and have a shot at winning.”
Pitkat also explained that his Gunsmoke Stebbins Racing team was very understanding of his decision.
“I appreciate them and I have to give props to my guys for understanding and all. They have been working hard to get my white No. 52 car prepared for up there. They totally understood and they still wanted to help out, they’re just as excited going up there to help Danny’s team as if we were going with the 52,” Pitkat said.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing, I know I can never be Ted Christopher, but I know deep down inside he had a lot of respect for me and he had always helped me throughout the years, even when I was in Dare Stocks and Late Models at Stafford. I always looked up to him, it’s an honor to go there and try to get the job done for him.”
Pitkat knows that the potential to win Saturday at the “Magic Mile” is there and it also got him thinking once again at the entire scope of Ted Christopher and his legacy.
“I wasn’t even thinking about that at first, it still doesn’t even feel real. I’m actually looking at his picture that I got and he signed for me hanging on the wall. Ever since it happened, I’ve been down here every day and made it a point to look at it. That’s the biggest thing, it’s not going to hit you until you go back to the track and realize he’s not there. It’s crazy.
“I was thinking about that on the ride home from work today, if we could win that race, it would be absolute pandemonium. It would be by far the biggest thing to do. I haven’t talked to Danny a whole lot, but I don’t want his name off the car, I don’t want anything, I want it left the way it is. I’m going to run to their shop tomorrow, just help them out, get my seat in the car, and that’s it. Just do the best we can.
“I’m not going to try to put any extra pressure on myself, I’m going to go out there and do the same thing I’ve always done and try to give those guys good feedback and make the car the best we can. I’m pretty excited and I know those guys will be pretty excited and we’re going to do the best we can, if not we’re going to work even harder to try to get one for Ted.”
If Pitkat can get a win for Ted, it will certainly be one of the most magical moments ever at The Magic Mile.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT