Itâ€™s an old clichĂ© that people say every time someone special passes away - there never will be another like him.
In the case of Plainville native Ted Christopher, however, itâ€™s not a clichĂ©. Iâ€™ve covered local auto racing for 35 years and Iâ€™ve never met anyone like Christopher. His driving ability, his toughness, his personality, his passion and his drive to be the best were unmatched. His contributions to the sport - helping build the SK Modified division into the top weekly division in New England - also was unmatched.
Thatâ€™s why racing fans are still in shock after Christopher and pilot Charles â€śPatâ€ť Dundas died in a plane crash Saturday on the way to Long Island, N.Y., where Christopher was scheduled to compete in a Whelen Modified Tour race at Riverhead Speedway.
Christopherâ€™s racing statistics are so impressive that you canâ€™t list them all without leaving something out. He was the all-time win leader at Stafford Motor Speedway with 131 wins and nine SK Modified championships. He is the all-time win leader at Thompson Speedway Motor Sports Park, with 99 wins. He won a NASCAR Regional title representing Thompson Speedway in 2001. At Waterford Speed Bowl he collected 47 wins.
Early in his career, many regarded him as just a local SK Modified driver, not good enough to compete on a regional stage. He answered those critics by winning 42 times on the NASCAR Wheelen Modified Tour, third on the all-time list.
He competed in NASCARâ€™s three national divisions, the Cup Series, the Xfinity Series and the Truck Series. He made several appearances in the 24 Hours of Daytona. He has won in divisions ranging from the ISMA Super Modifieds to the NEMA Midgets, to indoor three-quarter midgets.
Those numbers, however, only tell a small piece of Christopherâ€™s legacy.
He was 59 years old, but had the stamina of a teenager. Just as it appeared as if he was slowing down, he responded with one of this best seasons in 2017 - six Stafford victories, a Valenti Modified Racing series win at Waterford and a Sunoco Modified win at Thompson.
He never lost his desire to be the best. Christopher never wanted his age announced because he felt it was irrelevant - he was still at his peak.
People remember his toughness. He broke his wrist in a race this year at Loudon, N.H. and never missed a lap. He had a cast on his wrist that restricted his movement, making it difficult for him to climb in and out of the car. The pain kept him awake at night. Christopher, however, never missed a race.
There was one night in an indoor race in Providence when he was burned by fuel early in the program, an accident that would have sidelined other drivers - Christopher dominated the race and won it.
He suffered broken bones - including a broken collarbone - and still never missed a race.
Writers will remember his outspokenness and his candor. The phrase â€śpolitically correctâ€ť was not in his vocabulary.
Christopher wrote many stories all by himself - all you had to do was quote him, and the story was done.
Itâ€™s amazing how many lives he touched in his career, that started in the go-karts and Pomfret Speedway in the â€™80s and wound up in the national and regional spotlight.
The tributes came pouring in from all over the country.
â€śHe was not only one of the greatest drivers to compete at Stafford Speedway, he was also a friend to many,â€ť Stafford GM Mark Arute said. â€śHis hard driving style, off-track antics, passion for short-track racing, and legendary persona will be missed by both drivers and fans. His legacy will remain with us forever and he will be missed by all of us here at Stafford Speedway.â€ť
There were tributes racing from NASCAR divers - Kevin Harvick saluted Christopher with a message on his tires during Sundayâ€™s race in Chicago - to go-kart drivers who renumbered their cars â€ś13â€ť - Christopherâ€™s iconic number - Sunday in honor of their idol.
Christopherâ€™s contribution to local motor sports, however, cannot be overstated. Back in 1988, the SK Modified was elevated to Staffordâ€™s premiere division, and many veteran fans were not happy and resisted the change.
The weekly battles, however, between drivers such as Christopher, his twin bother Mike, Bo Gunning, John Anderson and Bob Potter started to win them over. The SK division, with Christopher as the poster boy, featured the aggressive, hard-nosed racing that fans love. The SK Modified soon became the division that everyone talked about and the fans wanted to see. No one was more responsible for that than Christopher.
The last time I talked to Christopher was after the SK Modified race on Sept. 8, when he had no practice, stated at the rear of the field and won that race, bobbing and weaving his way from the dungeon to the penthouse. It was his 131st and final win at Stafford and one of the best of his career.
He came up to the press box to be interviewed and delivered his usually glib remarks, many of which never could be printed in a newspaper.
As he left, however, he came up with a comment that spoke volumes about his career.
â€śYou know, I really love racing here,â€ť Christopher said.
Even after more than 30 years in racing, the passion was still there. It was a passion that only could belong to the greatest SK Modified driver of all time. And thatâ€™s why there will never be another like him.