One year ago, in the time span between Florida Speedweeks and the opening of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season, it was a question that you couldn't help but to ask: “Had Ted Christopher finally slowed down?”
After all, the man who defined the Speedweeks racing at New Smyrna Speedway in multiple divisions over the past several years had gone winless during that nine-night series for the first time in memory. He was also coming off a season where he had only won a single NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race. In addition, Christopher was a few months away from celebrating his 50th birthday and stuck in a changing racing world where bringing cash to a ride and being barely old enough to shave appeared to be the best keys to getting into a fast car on the short tracks.
One year later though, Christopher has an answer and exposed the question for the stupid one that it really was. TC didn't answer it with words though - just accomplishments.
In the past 12 months, Christopher has won four NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races, his first ever Tour championship, his 100th SK Modified race at Stafford, the Gambler's Classic TQ Midget race in Atlantic City, the 2009 New Smyrna World Series Modified championship, the Richie Evans Memorial 100 race there and several feature events of various types.
Slowing down? Nope. Christopher is probably closer to being on top of his game right about now.
“I probably still drive as hard as I ever have, but I drive smarter now for sure,” Christopher said.
Smarter perhaps, but not any quieter. Christopher isn't one to mince words and when he won the New Smyrna title this year, he had plenty of critics who pointed to his car as being illegal. Undeterred, Christopher just switched motors midweek and answered his critics by continuing to win.
“This year was a good year [at New Smyrna], especially with all of the f------ around that people had done with me,” said Christopher. “There was all the crying about my motor and we were changing this and changing that just trying to satisfy people. It's not even like we were running any faster than anyone else, so it was real satisfying to go and put a Tour motor in and still kick their asses. That was gratifying, but still a lot of work for the guys.”
Even with another Speedweeks title and all of those accomplishments that we listed recently behind him, Christopher still doesn't see the past year as being his best yet in the racing game.
“No,” said Christopher without even so much as a moment's thought. “That one year that we won about 33 races with one racecar at two tracks and won the National [NASCAR Weekly Racing Series] Championship - that was a good year.”
And even at 50, Christopher expects there to be quite a few more good years ahead of him.
“Age never makes a difference for me. I still work hard every day at work - even though I don't race a lot…I've raced three times as much in one year before. This time, I might get back to where I was five years ago, but I won't be back to running 100 races in a year. I'll probably run 70 or so this year.”
Those days of running nearly 100 races each season were the glory years. Christopher's main focus at the time was to maintain and drive the bad-ass #13 Mystique Motorsports Modifieds owned by Jim Galante on the NASCAR Tour and in the SK Modified division at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT). In the time between those races, he'd keep busy by lining up other rides in open Modified shows, the NASCAR Busch North Series, PASS Super Late Model Series or wherever he'd get an invitation to race.
Good times never last though and the Mystique days ended in the middle of the 2006 racing season when federal agents raided Galante's race shop and confiscated everything from the racecars to the hauler.
Today, Galante is serving jail time thanks to a 93-count federal indictment of racketeering charges. The Mystique team is long gone too. But Christopher ended up back on his feet quickly. On the same week of the raid, he picked up a ride for the #36 Modified Tour team owned by Eddie Whelan, and amazingly he won in their first race together.
Now, just a few years later he and the Whalen team are the defending Tour champions.
“When that Mystique deal ended a few years ago, it was like I started my career all over again. I started it with another Tour team and I hardly raced at Stafford at all that year. The I raced at Stafford for someone else that following year and that really wasn't what I wanted. I never really drove an SK there for anyone other than Mystique or my own stuff.
“The Tour deal [with the #36 team] was pretty good [ in 2008]. It was our third year together…well, basically only two and a half years really…and we turned it into a championship winning team. That was really good.
“With the SK stuff, I did my own deal and finished second [in the Stafford points] this past year. A lot of people just think that [it's not work]. They think that you just hop into something and start winning.”
History though would disagree with Christopher on that matter - just looking at his record proves that fact.
“You know how many times I've done that in my career? A lot!” Christopher told Speed51.com last fall after winning the SK Modified portion of the North vs. South Shootout in his first die for car owner Jimmy Paige.
“I won my race in the #36, this #00, Joe Brady's car, for Clinton Teague…his first time at Thompson in his PASS car…for the Hills, the first time at Caraway…my first time in a Supermodified. “
We reminded Christopher of the fact to show that maybe some people can just hop into a strange car and start winning.
“Yeah, I know,” said Christopher, cracking a smile. “I've been fortunate that way I guess. There have been a lot of races where I won the first time that I drove for someone and that is really cool.”
These days though, Christopher gets fewer and fewer chances to drive in new situations. Choosing a driver for his accomplishments and talents now takes a back seat to “hiring” a funded driver for a ride in the racing world of 2009.
Still, Christopher isn't bitter - not about losing potential rides on the short track or at not making it to one of NASCAR's top three series as a regular.
“You can't let that stuff bother you,” said Christopher. “I don't let it bother me, but people always tell me that I should be down South and run Cup cars or Busch [Nationwide Series] cars or something like that.”
Of course, racing in a big NASCAR Series full-time would mean that Christopher would have to cut back his schedule of racing…which wouldn't make him really happy…right?
“I wouldn't [like it], but I'd make a hell of a lot of money,” said Christopher of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. “That's not me. I've made good money racing, but not that kind of money and I wouldn't give up what I have now to race a Cup car and get paid a million bucks a year.”
Of course, that is easy to say for Christopher right now. But if it really came down to it and there was a contract sitting in front of him waiting for a signature and guaranteeing him a top NASCAR ride and all of the fame, money, motorcoaches and airplanes that come with the life of a NASCAR star, would he put the pen to paper or not?
Christopher actually had to think about that one for a moment…albeit a brief one.
“I'd probably like to do it for a year or two just to stock the bank account,” he admitted. “But then I'd be back racing the other shit. That's what I love.”
The 2009 season will be all about balancing what Christopher loves and what he needs to do. He'll have a healthy schedule of racing ahead of him this year, but he is also mindful of the economy and working overtime at his business of M&T Enterprises, where he services and rebuilds Allison transmissions for large trucks and commercial vehicles.
“I've been involved more in the past year than before. There are only a couple of guys there now. We slowed down a little. I've been building all of the transmissions since last April.”
Keeping busy with his day job has even left Christopher out of some of the events that a NASCAR Touring champion typically enjoys during the off-season.
“That is why I didn't go to the Bobsled deal,” said Christopher. “One of the guys who worked for me was on vacation, so I was busy pulling transmissions out of trucks, rebuilding them and putting them back in. I was real busy between Christmas and New Year's too. I didn't go to California [for festivities around the NASCAR All-Star Showdown in January] either because I was too busy working. You just can't give up a good job to go to California and have dinner.”
Christopher will find plenty of time to race this year though. He'll be defending his title with the #36 team, run some more open shows for the Joe Brady-owned #00 team (who he won the New Smyrna championship with] and even get back into the saddle in the NASCAR Camping World East Series, where he has a total of 10 career victories to his name.
“I'm going to run some [Camping World] East Series races this year. I'm going to run two or four races for Teddy Marsh. We'll probably do some stuff with Joe. I'd like to do [the ASA Modified race] Rougemont, but my TQ is running. [ n an indoor race in Providence, Rhode Island] I told everyone that is the most intense racing and I love it. For its size and the size of the venue, that is intense.”
In fact, the TQ Midget racing might be tied with running an entry in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the coolest type of racing in Christopher's book.
“That is right up there too. The 24 Hour race is so cool because of the car, the technology and the speed. I also love racing at night.”
So what has Christopher not raced that he'd like to try? He's driven just about everything at least once - including NASCAR Cup cars. Maybe some dirt races would be enjoyable? Perhaps the Chili Bowl?
“Nah, I'm not really a dirt guy, so I don't know about that race. But I would like to do [Super DIRT Week] Syracuse. I almost had a chance to do that a bunch of years ago. Brett [Hearn] and I were going to swap rides. I talked to some people and now you don't really slide your car there too much. So if you get a car that can really drive there, that is fast. It's not like you have to kick the car sideways to drive it anymore. Some people still do, but you don't have to. That would be really cool to do.
“I'd like to have a really good Busch South ride for a few races and go to places like New Hampshire or Watkins Glen where I know my ability is good. If I was in an exceptional car, I could really showcase it. Maybe a truck too. I'd like that.”
Then again, it doesn't take much for Christopher to learn to like any particular racecar, or racetruck. A steering win and a chance to have it run up front is about all that he's looking for.