Story by Patrick Reynolds; photo courtesy Joe Pelham
Short track great Ted Christopher lost his life earlier today- not on a race track but from an aircraft crash.
I saw Christopher race many times while living in the Northeast. I was mad at him over the years while working on Modified pit crews and repairing crash damage that I deemed him responsible for.
For younger racing fans to relate, there is a parallel with TC and Kyle Busch. If Christopher was in the race you were watching, love him or dislike him, that race was a whole lot more interesting with him in it and you would be doing yourself a disservice to not keep a close eye on him every lap.
In the hours following hearing about Teddy’s death, I recalled a story I wrote in 2010. The column remains one of my favorites as it revolves around several firsts. The story was about my daughter’s first race, generated the first writing award I ever received for the first website that gave me my first writing shot, and took place on Christopher’s first race at Bowman Gray Stadium. When motorsports and my personal life intersect, memorable nights are created.
The website in which this piece was first posted is no longer online. I offer the article as it was originally posted on www.bump-drafts.com during July of 2010 after Christopher’s spectacular night at the Madhouse.
Thanks for the memories, TC. Godspeed.
SATURDAY IS RACE NIGHT U.S.A.
This past Saturday night was a big night for motorsports, as most of them are during the summertime height of the racing season. Hundreds of local speedways staged a race program. There was an ARCA race at the Iowa Speedway. And NASCAR’s Cup Series breezed through 400 miles in Chicago.
Like most good racers I spent my Saturday at a grassroots speedway. There was a lot going on this night and it all ties together.
I visited Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, NC. The historic NASCAR speedway gained added notoriety during the past winter when it was featured on the History Channel’s series Madhouse.
Tim Brown, Chris Fleming, Burt and Jason Myers, and Junior Miller were the spotlighted drivers and became household names among Modified fans both longtime and new. A 20-car feature field plus three support divisions signed in to compete in the program. An added bonus was northeast-modified hot shoe Ted Christopher making the long distance trip to compete at the Stadium.
To pile on to my own excitement, my daughter was tagging along to watch her very first race. Now she had technically already been to the racetrack. Before she was born in 2005, her presence unmistakable with a nice baby bump on my wife, they nestled into a low seat in turn two. Her pregnancy kicking, tossing and turning was mysteriously calmed with the sound of roaring 800 horsepower Modifieds. On this night she returned to the track for the second time, but to view it for her first time.
She had attended car shows and qualifying for this year’s Charlotte 600. This was her first actual race. The Madhouse. Southern Modifieds. And Ted Christopher. Dad was excited.
Her fear of loud noises was a concern. This is a girl who shies away from hairdryers and vacuum cleaners. How would she fare sitting mere feet away from the most powerful cars that NASCAR sanctions?
The answer? Just fine.
A nice set of ear protectors that resemble the radio headsets from race teams did the trick. So did my lap when we sat down among the massive crowd that filled nearly all of the Stadium’s 17,000 seats. Her sight line was improved by hopping up on Dad rather than leaving her four-year-old pipsqueak body behind towering adults.
Time trials and a redraw set Christopher on the pole for the 100-lap Modified main event. This eliminated the prospect of a typical New England style Christopher-charge-from-the-rear-to-victory drive. But it sure didn’t eliminate excitement.
Oh by the way, a friend and fellow co-worker of mine from the Goodridge Corporation was spotting for Christopher. Also a Connecticut native, Joe Pelham got his racing start exactly where I did as a young boy, at the Danbury Racearena.
Christopher led early and what shuffled the deck and added some spice was the cone rule. This allows each driver to pass a cone at the start/finish line the lap prior to a restart and choose his line high or low. Not the standard inside and outside as the field is aligned. The potential is there for a driver near the rear to be brave and pick the outside lane where no one ahead of him had the courage, and dramatically improve his position.
Jonathon Brown outgunned Christopher on a restart bringing Mason-Dixon fans alive and on their feet. On a later restart Miller dived into turn one with the intention of using Christopher’s second running car to guide him through the corner. ‘T.C.’ didn’t take kindly to the move and made sure Miller was on the working end of a tow truck by turn three. Christopher spun, wound up restarting in the rear, and a fifteenth place finish was all that was in store.
Defending track champion Tim Brown worked his way to first after setting quick time earlier in the evening and went on to victory. This was a double win night for Michael Waltrip Racing.
While Brown was waving the checkered flag with his Modified celebration, David Reutimann was spraying champagne in Chicago for his second Cup circuit victory. Brown is the head of the suspension department for MWR and builds all the components for Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose, and Martin Truex, Jr. Monday morning at the race shop should have brought some good attitudes and smiles with all the weekend winning.
So I spent my Saturday night at ‘The Stadium,’ Ted Christopher made a guest appearance, a buddy was spotting for him, and my daughter was on a date with her Dad for her first race. What was not to like?
I loved it. But the real telltale sign of this evening was going to come from the little girl with curly red hair and the big headset who enjoyed the colorful cars, noise, speed, cheering, booing, popcorn and cotton candy.
“How was it sweetie? Did you have fun?”
“That was awesome, Daddy!”
The entire ride home she slept while I smiled. I love Saturday night.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://racersreunion.com/podcast-library . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.