(Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Speed51.com on September 19th, 2017.)
Ted Christopher was simply the man. Ask anybody that he raced against. They’d use different words, but they all mean the same thing. A King. A Legend. A hero. Even a villain. Simply put, he was one of the greatest to ever strap into a Modified. He was one of the greatest to ever strap into anything.
“TC” was loved by many; he was also hated by many more. But most importantly, he was respected by everybody.
“Modified racing definitely lost one of the greats,” Burt Myers said Saturday night after hearing the devastating news that Christopher was killed in an aviation accident. “Me and Teddy used to butt heads a little bit. We had some good, hard racing. I’m definitely going to miss him.”
Myers isn’t the only driver that butted heads with TC; just about every driver that competed against him did.
He was aggressive. He was physical. He had his “three-tap rule.” Because of all this, he often times rubbed people the wrong way on the race track.
“But it’s because he wanted to win the race,” Myers stated.
And win races he did. A lot of them.
TC scored 131 wins at his home track of Stafford Motor Speedway (CT), 109 of which came in a SK Modified. He also visited victory lane on 99 different occasions at Thompson Speedway (CT), the most recent visit coming just nine days ago. Add in nearly 50 wins at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, 48 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour wins and the 2008 Tour championship, and that’s just scratching the surface of his accomplishments. Christopher also racked up wins in NEMA Midgets, TQ Midgets, Super Late Models, Supermodifieds, and Pro 4 Modifieds.
As a result of all those wins, Christopher received many boos during his storied career. Some have said that he was the Dale Earnhardt of the north. Earnhardt once said that he didn’t care what sound the crowd made when his name was announced as long as they were making a sound. TC was the same way.
“The guy got more boos than (anyone) at any race track we ever went to,” defending NWMT champion Doug Coby said. “It’s going to be a shame not to hear that anymore.”
Coby wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday night that for the longest time Christopher would refer to Coby, now a four-time NWMT champion, as a “f***** non,” meaning someone with no talent. He said that Christopher had his group of friends at the track, and then everyone else.
One driver that definitely was not in Ted Christopher’s group of friends was Donny Lia.
“It’s odd because I feel like I lost a friend,” Lia said. “I took for granted always having to race him. Racing for me wasn’t really racing unless I was racing Teddy. From the moment I started racing Modifieds until now if I was going to win a Modified race I had to beat him.
“I do wish we were friends, but we just could never get past things that happened on the race track because we both were just so competitive. It was what it was, but it was okay because it was always like that.”
Lia said he’s done a lot of reflecting since he found out that he lost his fiercest competitor. He narrowed down the cause of their rivalry to one reason.
“If you rubbed him the wrong way, for me at least, it seemed like he wouldn’t let it go for a long time,” Lia said with a laugh. “I’ve never seen somebody that had the competitive spirit like him. But racing was his life. The competitive fire to go out and win was his life. I don’t think there were any other hobbies in Ted Christopher’s life. His life revolved around racing, and that made him special. That made him who he was and gave him the fire that he needed to become the legendary short track racer of our time.”
Ryan Preece grew up watching Christopher race. When Preece started winning a lot of races at Stafford and Thompson, he did so by beating TC. Quite a few times they banged nerf bars. They had their fair share of angry words. Preece said he doesn’t know if TC considered him a “non,” like Coby, or if he was in the other group, but he said he knows something changed recently.
“I noticed a difference in the way Teddy would race me the last two or three years when I kind of started ‘getting it’ as he talked about,” Preece explained. “For example, on Friday night we were racing for the win; Teddy was fourth, I’m third, (Chase) Dowling and (Matt) Galko are side by side. I’m trying to wait and see where they’re going to go. I remember one time I slipped up off of two and Teddy was getting a run so I blocked him. The old Teddy would have probably punted me, but he didn’t. He was riding behind me and he was waiting. In my head I felt like as a race car driver that it was a different type of respect. But I’ll never know. I’ll never know if I was in that club or not.”
One thing that Preece does know is that ever since he’s been racing, he knew what he had to do when he saw Christopher in his mirror.
“When you saw Teddy in your mirror you thought ‘Okay I’ve got to get up on the wheel here.’ On the track he was your biggest rival. Off the track he wasn’t a bad guy at all. He was actually a really nice guy. It makes me wish that I could go back and do things a little different. It’s just tough to swallow right now. You wake up Sunday and you’re wondering if it’s all going to be not true and you’re still waiting for them to say something different. It’s just unreal.”
It’s unfathomable is what it is. Much like how nobody thought it was possible that anything could happen to Earnhardt, nobody thought anything could happen to Ted Christopher. He was invincible.
Until he wasn’t.
Christopher and a friend were flying to Long Island for Saturday night’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at Riverhead Raceway. Their plane crashed in a field in Guilford, Connecticut shortly after 1 p.m. ET.
Saturday’s race at Riverhead went ahead as scheduled, but without the orange No. 82 machine that Christopher was scheduled to drive for car owner Danny Watts. Saturday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will also go on as scheduled, and that bright orange No. 82 machine will be in the field, but with Woody Pitkat behind the wheel.
Pitkat, too, has his memories of racing with TC. Pitkat, like Christopher, wears glasses while he races.
“He is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He’s helped me, when I first started racing Modifieds I remember he was the only one that told me to try glasses at night.”
Christopher didn’t just help Pitkat on the track, but also off the track in more ways than one.
“There’s so many memories with him helping with my pick-up truck, with the transmission, because that’s what he did for a living. I’ve flown in that plane with him years ago to races when I was just starting on the Tour. On and on and on, it’s crazy to think.”
The legend that is Ted Christopher has started to become more apparent in the days since the accident. His impact to Modified racing and racing in the northeast has always been clear. But his legacy goes far beyond just the Modified world and the northeast.
Racing greats like four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon and seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson tweeted about TC over the weekend. They weren’t the only ones.
Throughout the years, TC inspired every driver that ended up having the chance to race against him, and many more that never got the chance. And just like Earnhardt has, TC will continue to be idolized by racers and fans for years to come.
“He didn’t impact a couple hundred people,” said 19-year-old Chase Dowling. “He impacted thousands of people with the cars he drove over the years. Everything he drove, he won in, and you can’t take that away from him. He’s a legend in this sport.”
Whether you loved TC or loved to hate TC, there was no doubt that TC was respected by everybody, including his fiercest rivals.
“He made it hard sometimes for me to respect him,” Lia said with a chuckle, “but you had to respect him. I really respected him probably the most out of anyone I’ve ever raced with and always did. I know that he was a good guy.”
A good guy. A legend. A king, gone way too soon.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Melissa Strahley