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Ted Christopher is being remembered all weekend across the top levels of NASCAR at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway as a hard-nosed. hard-driving competitor who would do anything to help a competitor get better -- then go out and beat that competitor all night. He was also remembered as someone who never masked his truest feelings, lest he be thought a hypocrite. Just 59, he died last weekend in a plane crash in Guilford, Connecticut. He and 81-year-old pilot Charles Dundas were en route from Plainville, Connecticut, to a Saturday night race at Riverhead Raceway on Long Island.
Christopher’s extensive NASCAR resume shows 123 combined starts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Camping World and K&N East and K&N West series. But by far his greatest successes came in the Whelen Modified Tour, where he was top 10 in points for 14 consecutive seasons, had 42 major victories and won the 2008 Modified Tour national championship and the 2000 NASCAR Whelen All-American championship for short-track racers. Among his 42 victories were 10 at NHMS, where every car in the weekend’s four races carried decals in his memory.
While Christopher was considered a legend in the Northeast -- one driver compared his popularity to that of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the Cup level -- he was more respected and admired by his competitors than liked.
“We had quite a few problems and weren’t the best of friends,” said Donny Lia, the 2007 and 2009 Modified national champion and two-time NHMS Modified winner. “But even so, it’ll be tough and difficult to race without him. He was always my main competition for race wins and championships. I respected him so much as a driver that in a weird sense I’m going to miss him.”
Lia said Christopher was as important to the short-track community of New England racers as Earnhardt was in the Southeast.
“Whether you liked him or not, he was a major part of the weekly shows and a major part of the competition at those shows,” he said. “He was the king of the Modifieds for so many years. He was such an important part of the series. It was a big deal for him to be at tracks, for fans and the media to watch him race. He always got the biggest cheers and the biggest boos at the same time. It won’t be the same without him.”
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson met and became friends with Christopher when both were new to NASCAR. “He was a great wheelman and a great man,” Johnson said at NHMS. “I met him right away, when I started in the Xfinity Series. We were parked near each other and around each other. He was so approachable, so much fun. I already knew the name and was excited to be on a track with him. I would always see him in and around this (New England) area or at different races. He’ll be missed, and my heart goes out to his family, friends and the racing community here. He was such an icon in the area.”>
Veteran NASCAR modified driver Ted Christopher was killed on Saturday in a plane crash near Guilford, Connecticut.He was 59 years old.According to a story in the New Haven Register in Connecticut, a ...
Former four-time NHMS winner and four-time Modified champion Doug Coby said Christopher made sure everyone knew exactly where they stood with him. That caused some resentment -- Coby said he and Christopher were never close friends -- but Christopher didn’t want to appear as someone he wasn’t.
“Some weeks it’d be hands over your shoulder, laughing and being friends,” Coby recalled, “The next week, he’d be yelling at me if I’d had to move him up the race track. The next weekend, he’d come over and we’d be friends again. It’s going to be difficult picturing us going forward without him. He was so instrumental in helping make us all better racers.
“He interacted with everyone, with the people who loved him and the ones who hated him. Whether it was driver or mechanic or a media person, he had a one-on-one relationship with almost everybody, even people who didn’t like him. He was so unique because he was the only driver who could walk through the pits and everybody would have something to say to him. I came to respect and appreciate him for that, because somebody had to fill that role and he was so good at it.”
A significant number of other Cup drivers reacted to Christopher’s death.
“I’ve never really followed much Modified racing in the Northeast, but I knew who Teddy Christopher was,” said Ricky Stenhouse, a two-time Cup winner this year. “He was well-known all across the country in all sorts of racing for what he’s been able to do throughout his career. The Modified guys looked up to him and what he was able to accomplish, so it’s a huge loss. You never want to see that.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted that Christopher was “a legend.” Connecticut native Corey LaJoie tweeted “short-track racing just lost one of the best-ever.” Current Cup Series leader Martin Truex Jr. said: “another one of the greats gone too soon; was lucky to race with and learn from such a true racer and fierce competitor. Rip TC13.”
But perhaps Alex Bowman, who will replace Earnhardt in the No. 88 Chevrolet next year, said it best when he called Christopher “the absolute definition of a racer.”