Race Weekend Central

Ted Christopher: A Driver Who Polarized the Fans of Short Track Racing in the Northeast

Ted Christopher sitting on his No. 36 Whelen Modified car before the 2010 Carquest Fall Final at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Credit: Richard Grad)

In 1997 we sat at the very top of the grandstands in Turn 4 at New Hampshire International Speedway. The command was given and my adoration for auto racing skyrocketed as the engines of the Winston Cup Series competitors roared to life.

I had been watching on TV for a decade, so I knew all the main characters, their paint jobs, the current points standings and rulebook shenanigans. I had yet to thoroughly wallow in the world of automotive enthusiasts.

In the quiet suburban world of Massachusetts, nobody had a weekend racer hidden in their garage. The discussion around the water cooler at work mentioned the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics. NASCAR was even publicly downplayed by the major local media with sportscasters visibly sneering when they had to mention racing.

As soon as the race was over we bought tickets for the next appearance of NASCAR in 1998, settling for Saturday seats as you had to get in line to get a sniff at Sunday tickets. That Saturday changed how I perceived the sport, its competitors, and most importantly, the fans.

See, the Saturday ticket not only included qualifying for the Cup boys, but also the Busch North and Winston Modified Series. Instead of brightly colored T-shirts bearing the number of familiar cars dotting the grandstands, huge groups of families showed up wearing mismatched hats and shirts. The conversation was more akin to a church social as everybody greeted one another.  Kids emptied out carry cases of Hot Wheels while their parents passed out bags of chips and sodas.

Then I noticed a common name popping up among the different groups.  Ted, TC, Teddy, Christopher–his name swept through the entire facility before any car rolled onto the track. Some couldn’t wait to see his car on track–in both lower series. Others were grumbling as they talked about him bumping somebody else. No matter who talked about this mysterious person, Ted clearly polarized opinions.

And so it was. Ted Christopher started from the pole and won in his Busch North ride. But the stat doesn’t tell the real tale.

Christopher drove old school. Even as NASCAR was entering its huge burst of popularity and more and more drivers across the country worked on their public personas, Teddy was fairly focused on passing the next guy in line, no matter what series he might be running in that day. He would ride up on the tail of his fellow competitor and deliver a love tap. The next impact was more of a nudge.  The third would likely dump the other car into the wall while TC rode off into the sunset.

Fans hated him. They loved him. We adored the show he gave us.

Because of Ted Christopher, I sought out more local tracks. I discovered the real joy of short-tracking; of emotions bursting from rickety grandstands under a haze of Friday night smoke. Of competitors lending a hand in the pits before they faced off in the high banks of the turns. Of the heart of NASCAR.

Times changed over the next 20 years. The Cup show got much shinier and less impulsive. The Xfinity and even truck garages took on more of the glimmer of the networks. But down in Thompson and Stockton Springs, CT the rough and ready rumble of the Whelen Modified and SK Modified Series remained much the same.  Drivers climb from their cockpits smudged, weary and rarin’ for another go. The stands at the start/finish line remain crowded with wives, husbands, cousins, kids, and parents cheering for and against their loved ones.

Ted Christopher was part of that world. He was the heartbeat of local racing in the Northeast, driving against his brother Mike and many other friends over the decades.  No matter if you cheered for or against him, you always knew that when TC was on the entry list, you were in for a great afternoon of racing.

We lost a great racer this week. There will be much said of his wins and appearances in an endless collection of racing series up and down the East Coast. But in the end, it was his larger than life desire to win that set him apart from all others.

We shall always look for a little of Teddy at the track, and every time frustration and intimidation boil over resulting in a bump n’ run that wins the day, we shall find him.

After hearing the news of Ted Christopher’s passing, an impromptu salute was held at the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night.  Click here for the final lap of TC’s No. 13 SK Modified.

 

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