When teams unloaded for the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway last weekend, there was clearly a void in the paddock area.
It was because Ted Christopher, the all-time wins leader at the Connecticut oval, was missing. Christopher, who passed away last year, was a fixture in the Stafford pit area for nearly his entire racing career. And with his absence, multiple of the divisions top drivers knew their racing on the track would be nothing like it was before.
But, for Mike Christopher Jr., who is Ted’s nephew, the fierce competition is refreshing as he begins a new venture in his career. The son of Ted’s twin brother Mike Christopher Sr., is running in Ted’s equipment this season.
In some ways, it’s about him continuing the family legacy. But in another way, it’s a chance for him to push himself into the realm of winning.
“It means a lot (to keep the legacy going), not only for me, but for my family. I have a lot of support behind me, not only the fans at the track, but my whole family is coming to the track every week with me,” Christopher Jr. said Sunday. “It’s pretty important to continue the family legacy. It’s a lot to handle, but you can’t really put it into words, because it’s something bigger than anything else I have ever done (in my life).”
Is there pressure behind him? Certainly. But following the path Ted created is going to be something he embraces right from day one.
“There has always been pressure, because it’s just the name I have, but I set it aside,” Christopher Jr., said. “If you let the pressure get the best of you, it will drag you down. I just have to put it to the side and go out there and drive the race car.”
The memories are endless, but the opportunities he received to visit the track with Ted, and specifically watch him at speed, are going to help him along the way.
“I’m lucky that my mom brought me to a lot of races when I was younger, I went to Stafford pretty much every Friday. Once I got older, he (Ted) started bringing me and I traveled with him to places like Bristol and New Hampshire,” Christopher Jr. said. “All of that traveling and watching him race, I learned from that. I learned what to look for, and watch how he went about his driving ability. I’ve been watching him for many years.”
His season got off to a good start in the Sizzler. He was running second when he looked under eventual winner Keith Rocco for the lead, and after the two made contact, he had to settle in behind and cross the finish line second. A post-race penalty pushed him to 13th in the final tally, but he showed the toughness to compete in one of the most competitive modified classes in the entire country.
“It doesn’t matter if you have the best car because there are a lot of drivers out there that are better than their equipment, this is definitely the toughest competition in the country on the short-track level,” Christopher Jr. said. “You have Keith Rocco, a multiple-time champion, and you have a guy like Ryan Preece, who won a couple of XFINITY races, and he could come here and struggle to get a podium finish. You put all of these drivers onto a half-mile track, and it could get hectic.”
Entering a difficult schedule that will include SK racing every Friday night throughout the summer, Christopher knows the task of even capturing a checkered flag is going to be difficult. But, the elusive first win in the difficult class would be one of the proudest moments of his young racing career — and would certainly help him to start pushing forward towards more success.
“I haven’t got a win yet, but I feel like we have a car that is very capable of winning, so that’s the first goal for me,” Christopher said. “The beginning of the year, it’s important to have good consistent finishes. Winning a race and getting that off my back is what I need. Once you have the momentum and the confidence you need, watch out.”
Christopher, the SK Modified division, and the entire slate of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions at Stafford get their weekly season underway tonight, with qualifying races scheduled for 6:15 p.m.
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