On Saturday September 16, 2017 the short track racing world lost one of its greatest racers ever. Ted Christopher passed away at 59 years old in a plane crash in Connecticut on his way to a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event in Long Island, NY. Christopher, often referred to as “TC” and the “King of Modifieds”, was an icon in the sport. His statistics were inconceivable as he was the all-time winningest driver at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (99 victories) and Stafford Motor Speedway (131 victories) where he clinched nine championships in the SK Modified divisions. Christopher was the 2001 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National champion and the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion. He was an incredibly diverse racer, competing in indoor Midget cars, Supermodifieds, Late Models, and even had appearances in the highest level of NASCAR and Sports Car racing competition.
The spectacle of watching Ted Christopher wheel a racecar may be gone but “The King of Modifieds” left family, crew, fans, and the short track racing world with plenty of stories. There has been an overwhelming flow of TC tales and words of support showing up on social media since his untimely passing.
A showman, an inspiration, a fierce competitor; all accurate descriptions of Ted Christopher’s racing persona are being used. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kyle Petty all used the word “legend” in reference to TC. Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer credited him as a “wheelman”. Jack Arute Jr. noted Christopher as a “Giant” and “the truest definition of a real racer.” The verdict is out: Ted Christopher was a man who left a massive impression on short track auto racing.
It’s difficult to give yourself a moment to appreciate what you’re witnessing in current time. I spent my childhood watching TC from the grandstands and was lucky enough to spend a handful of years competing against him on a weekly basis. The majority of my on track experiences with Ted involved frustration as I would watch the 13 cruise past me and stalk the next racer in line towards the front of the field showing impeccable car control. It’s difficult to imagine that these are sights that will never be seen again.
There is a small number of racers who I refer to as “hard chargers”. These are the guys who always push their racecars to the absolute limit with a fiery drive in their battles on the track. In discussions, I would often pass over Ted as one of the those racers because it was just so obvious. He had an aggressive driving style and it was comical to hear the grandstands erupt as admirers and opposers would voice their opinions of that style during pre-race driver introductions. “Boo” sounds would most always overpower the cheers as TC always playfully embraced his role as the track villain.
I always admired Ted’s passion for the sport. While waiting for his main event it was common to see him spectating the lower tier divisions that were on the speedway. When not strapped in the racecar the typical Ted Christopher would be floating around the pits with that distinct bounce to his step, breaking balls, and throwing shoves and elbow jabs with track friends, officials, crew members, and fellow competitors.
It is worth noting that we never got to see Ted Christopher’s abilities decline. Aging racers eventually go through a downward slide of performance and in recent off seasons people debated whether TC would start struggling to find victory lane. Every race season, however, he would show up with guns loaded, ready to attack the competition. It was just over one week prior to his death that we saw TC come from a last place starting spot and end up in victory lane in an SK Modified at Stafford Motor Speedway.
From this point on there will be a void in New England Modified racing competition. SK Modified racing at Stafford Motor Speedway is known to be one of the toughest short track racing divisions in the country. Why is that? Because in order to win you would have to beat Ted Christopher.
(Driscoll Motorsports Photography)
(Howie Hodge Photo)