Ted Christopher has never been known as one to display a whole lot of emotion at the race track. The snappy, wise, 56-year-old driver from Plainville, Connecticut is known for keeping to himself and doesn’t often even stick around in one spot long enough for someone to witness his emotions.
On Sunday afternoon at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway as he exited his car in victory lane after finishing third and clinching the 2014 SK Modified championship, for one of the few times in his career, the emotions were flowing.
On this occasion, the joy of winning the championship stood for more than just coming out on top in one of the toughest weekly divisions in the country. It served as a victory for Christopher and his good friend, and long-time crew chief, Michael O’Sullivan.
In late July and as the drama began heating up in the chase for the 2014 SK Modified championship, O’Sullivan, of New Hartford, Connecticut suffered a stroke at the age of 44-years-old. He didn’t know when he would return to the race track and Christopher’s No. 13 team appeared to be lost without him.
After spending time in a nearby hospital and recovering at a rehabilitation center, O’Sullivan said there was no way he was going to miss the final two races. He returned to the track on September 19 for the first time since being hospitalized. Then, this past Sunday, he returned to victory lane to celebrate his close friend’s ninth career SK Modified championship.
“Teddy has nine championships at Stafford and that’s the seventh one I’ve been with them for,” O’Sullivan told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Feeling wise, it was probably the best and most accomplished feeling yet. It was definitely an emotional day.”
O’Sullivan said he’s always known Christopher, but the two didn’t really become as close as they are today until 2000-2001. Since that time, the dynamic duo has gone on to win half of the track championships since the turn of the century.
“I’ve pretty much known Ted since about 1985-1986,” said O’Sullivan. “I competed against him with my father for quite a few years and we have become pretty good friend. I always knew who he was, but was never really good friends with him probably until probably 1995-1996. I started working for him in 1998 part-time on his transmission business. As far as being really close, really good friends, I’d say about 2000-2001 was when we really clicked and did everything together at that point.”
How good do the two know each other? O’Sullivan will be the first to tell you about Christopher’s short attention span and his knack to lose focus despite how serious a conversation may be.
“He is by far one of the most unfocused people I’ve ever been around when you’re talking to him,” joked O’Sullivan. “If you’re having a serious conversation with him and a good looking girl walks by, he totally loses focus.
“If it has anything to do with his business or racecar, the guy is the most focused person I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s just determined all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say he can’t do something. The guy is just unbelievable.”
After so many years of working together and establishing great chemistry at the race track, Christopher felt completely lost without his close friend at the race track. Call it a coincidence, but the results showed it as well.
During the month of August, Christopher didn’t record a finish better than seventh. He finished eighth (August 1), eighth (August 8), seventh (August 15), and ninth (August 22). That was a big change for a driver who already had one feature win and spent the majority of the season battling at the front.
“He did all the stuff on the car,” Christopher said in a phone interview with Speed51.com. “He always drove the truck up. He made sure the tires were in the tire inventory. He made sure everything was right. He’d warm the car up. He’s the last one to always put the net up for me when I get in the car. When you don’t have that, it’s definitely a big change.
“We were having a rough time for a while there. It was like once he wasn’t there the car didn’t want to run good for some reason. We had like three horrible weeks.”
Upon returning to the track on September 19, O’Sullivan made a difference right away. Despite having shaky vision and needing the assistance of a cane to walk, he noticed something wasn’t right with the car.
“The last Friday night, I got out of the van and I have so many friends at the race track they let us just pull right in because I have to walk with a cane and sit in a wheelchair most of the time,” said O’Sullivan. “When I got out of the van, I noticed something was wrong because it wasn’t what we normally do. I could see the race car and there was a battery charger on it.”
“They were charging the battery every week and he’s like, ‘Why are you doing that? We never do that,’” said Christopher. “So he looks at it and he can’t even really see that straight yet, one eye goes one way and one goes the other right now, and he notices it. He goes, ‘Well the alternator, the pulley is loose and the thing is spinning on it.’”
Within 20 minutes, O’Sullivan and a group of crew members had fixed the problem. Christopher would go on to finish ninth that night after a late-race spin and gain valuable points on Ryan Preece in the championship hunt.
Throughout his time in the hospital and in the rehabilitation center, O’Sullivan had a hard time accepting the fact that he wasn’t able to be at the race track on Friday nights. With limited cell phone service, he was lost trying to find out what was going on with the No. 13 SK Modified that he had built and maintained for so long.
“It was probably one of the worst things sitting in the hospital not knowing what was going on because there was no cell phone service, so I couldn’t use my phone to get on the internet,” said O’Sullivan. “My vision is really bad, so if I was able to get on the internet I would have had to have someone read it for me. So yeah, not knowing the lap times and not knowing what was going on with the race car was probably one of the most difficult times away from racing I’ve had in my life.”
Christopher said that he made sure to stay in touch with O’Sullivan throughout the rehabilitation process. He placed many visits to Bristol Hospital, where O’Sullivan stayed for eight days, and then the two stayed in touch on the phone while he was rehabbing at The Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, Connecticut.
“First he was in Bristol Hospital, which is close to here, and we went up to see him there,” said Christopher. “Then we were talking to him to see how he was doing and he was calling me too. It was great to have him back at the track there.
“He built the (NASCAR Whelen Modified) Tour car; he built the SK car. He was the main guy behind all of those things. It’s still his stuff that he put together and it was still our team. It was nice for him to be there to win the championship.”
According to his doctors, O’Sullivan is expected to make a 95-100% recovery. When asked if he would be back at the track in 2015, he didn’t hesitate one bit.
“Most definitely,” O’Sullivan said. “Pretty much right now I’m off balance a little bit because of my vision. When my vision comes back, they say I should make a 95-100% recovery. The only problem is that it’s time. Time is everything on this deal.”
When the duo returns to the track in 2015, Christopher will be searching for his 10th career SK Modified title and eighth track championship working alongside his good friend.
“A lot of people ask me, and they talked about it earlier, after you get ninth what’s the goal after that,” said Christopher. “They ask me if 10 championships is a goal. I always said 10 would be a goal, but I have to get to nine first. I guess I got to nine, so I guess 10 would be the next goal.”
“It would be the icing on the cake,” said O’Sullivan. “I like even numbers, so an even number would be nice to get.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com