New England short track racing had its Dale Earnhardt moment on Saturday, with the tragic passing of modified ace and all-around versatile veteran Ted Christopher at the age of 59.
Though it wasn’t an on-track incident, the plane crash that claimed Teddy’s life as he was on his way to compete in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at Riverhead Raceway was arguably just as unexpected, just as paralyzing and just as stunning as that life-changing moment on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
In one instant, the lives of not only those in the New England racing community, but all of us who watched TC race were forever changed — yanked back to reality with a stark reminder that this life is as fragile as it is beautiful, and that we can never take it for granted.
No one expected that we were going to lose Teddy at that moment, just like no one in racing thought we would lose Dale Sr. on Feb. 18, 2001. But we did, and it brings with it an ache that I’m not sure is going to leave for a long time.
I’m not a native New Englander; I’m not even from the region. But I did watch Teddy race numerous times since coming into the sport on the media side, and I feel like there’s a few more parallels between TC and the Intimidator as well in all of this.
Teddy was one of those drivers that you either loved or hated; there was no in between. He was polarizing, but that was largely because he was so damn good. He never laid down, he never took no for an answer and he was either going to win, or he was going to come back holding the steering wheel because he was trying that hard.
Just like with Earnhardt, you knew there would be noise surrounding him too, whether the fans were cheering or booing.
And just like Earnhardt did for so many years, Teddy just … kept … winning, to the point that people wondered if he’d ever stop.
He stands as the winningest driver in Stafford Motor Speedway history, with 131 overall race victories at the half-mile to go alongside nine SK Modified track championships, and also tops the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park win list with 99 career victories at the five-eighths-mile oval.
Both of those numbers are marks that — if they ever become rivaled — won’t be neared anytime in the near future, in a way similar to Earnhardt’s record-tying seven championships at the Cup level.
During his prime on the NASCAR Whelen Modified and Southern Modified Tours, Teddy was someone that drivers throughout the field feared because he stepped up to the plate and he was going to get inside your head, whether you knew it or not.
He scored 42 Tour victories in the North and added six more in the South, largely because of his aggressive, never-say-die driving style and his refuse-to-lose mentality.
That mentality was most widely shown in his famed “Three Tap Rule”. The first tap was for Teddy to let you know he was there, while the second was to warn you that he wanted by and expected to be given a lane to pass.
If it came down to the third shot, you were getting moved out of the way. Period.
All of that stands to back up the black hat nature that Teddy had no problem showcasing. He knew that a lot of fans viewed him as the villain, and I think in a way, he embraced it.
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