Story and photo by Patrick Reynolds
I walked into Stafford Motor Speedway while shadows diminished as a beautiful and sunny New England autumn morning was opening its curtain.
I thought about Ted Christopher and I was sad.
“It’s just not going to be the same,” said Doug Coby. “There’s going to be something missing here for a lot of us.”
“This may be the house that Jack built, but TC was the King,” Reverend Don Rivers said. “And to be the King you need to win a few battles… more than anyone else.”
Stafford hosted the 45th annual NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final, the track’s traditional season-ending race. The speedway also paid tribute to Christopher with a ceremony prior to the afternoon’s first green flag that retired his number 13. His memory merely two weeks removed from the aviation crash that took his life.
Before NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour drivers strapped into their cars for 150 laps around the half-mile oval, they appeared to have a happy-go-lucky attitude. Drivers laughed, joked and were eager to race.
The mixture of race-anticipation excitement and missing the absent Christopher, brought to mind the phrase, don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.
When I asked several drivers to talk about their memories of TC, their faces turned solemn and their voices sounded sad. Every driver began speaking in a somber manner. During their comments, serious reflections turned happy as the thought of Christopher being gone was replaced with the Christopher-instilling cheerful memories.
SK Lights division driver Todd Clark said he designed Christopher’s recently-built house. The two had become closer friends within the last year. Clark’s relative racing inexperience to some other Stafford competitors was reflective in his mid-pack finishes. In a twist of fate, Christopher had agreed ahead-of-time to take Clark’s car out in a Fall Final practice session to give Clark an experienced benchmark on the machine’s potential.
Modified division veteran Wade Cole raced with Christopher for many years.
Cole said. “When we went to Watkins Glen, I’d never run a road course before, and I knew Teddy had. I said, ‘Teddy can you give me any advice?’ He said ‘Yup, I can give you some advice. Black stuff is good. Green stuff not so good. Brown stuff baaad. That was great advice, ‘stay on the track and you’ll be fine.’”
Kyle Bonsignore recalled a shared laugh while sitting next to Christopher during an autograph session before a Bristol TN Modified race.
“A fan said to Ted, ‘You’re never too old to go fast,’” Bonsignore said. “Teddy said, ‘Did he just call me old?’”
Kyle’s cousin, Justin said Christopher had a “quiet, friendly, and soft spoken side away from the track. Not what I expected. He was a good dude.”
Four-time Modified Tour Champion Coby said with a laugh, “It was a constant barrage of insults and ball busting. I really never thought I’d have to recount some of the fun stories.
“As much as racing isn’t going to be different for any of us, who encountered him at the racetrack… it’s totally different for the people who were working with him all of the time,” Coby said.
Keith Rocco won the SK Modified feature and the division track championship. Now in his early 30s, Rocco was a crewmember for Christopher as a teenager. The two have been longtime competitors, teammates and close friends.
Rocco was emotional and could barely speak in Victory Lane; clearly grasping and absorbing the moving aspect of his popular triumph.
Stafford track announcer Ben Dodge read a statement during pre-race ceremonies from Ted’s twin brother Mike.
“On behalf of Ted’s wife Quinn, my Mom Lucy, sister Judy and my wife Jennifer, thank you for the outpouring of support, friendship, prayers, and personal tributes in honor of my brother Ted. For the past two weeks have been extremely painful for all of our family and friends with the tragic and sudden loss of my brother ,we’d like to thank the Arute family and the TC fans and competitors for honoring Teddy today to retire his iconic number 13 from the competition here at Stafford. My brother loved racing at Stafford and this tribute would mean the world to him. Thank you for honoring Teddy’s memory and his enormous list of accomplishments today and for many years to come.”
Eric Goodale won his first Stafford Modified Tour race with a late pass of leader Ryan Preece and spoke of Christopher as he enjoyed his popular win.
“I’ve come close many times, but it feels good to finally seal the deal and get to Victory Lane here (and) be amongst the names of those like Ted Christopher who is the King here. I think he would have approved of the move for the win there at the end,” said Goodale.
“I passed Ted Christopher for my first Whelen Modified Tour win at Riverhead with 25 laps to go,” Goodale said. “There ain’t many people that can say that. He came up to me with a big smile on his face and called me a ‘son of a bitch’ and laughed. That was pretty cool. I grew up watching Teddy race. To finally get a win here, where he has won so many times and I’ve watched him pass a million cars here, really is sentimentally valuable that you just can’t replicate.”
NASCAR’s Modified Tour drivers clearly missed Christopher at Stafford. In recalling their memories of him, TC was also clearly the cause of many happy times in between the hard charging wins.
I walked out of Stafford Motor Speedway with shadows growing longer as a beautiful and sunny New England autumn afternoon came to a close.
Don’t’ cry because it’s over; smile because it happened ran through my mind again.
I thought about Ted Christopher and I smiled.