In October, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is the worst thing to see coming out of the bullpen at a Major League Baseball game. The veteran pitcher has 42 saves in the post season as a member of the Bronx Bombers. He's one of the best at finishing a game.
130 miles to the northeast of Yankee Stadium sits another venue that has a phenomenal closer. Stafford Motor Speedway, in Connecticut, is Yankee Stadium to Ted Christopher. The 53-year-old is a multi-time track champion and had 11 tour wins on the half-mile before Sunday's Fall Final for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Christopher is one of the best when it comes to finishing a race at Stafford
So when it came down to the ninth inning, the closing laps, at Stafford, the 36 machine with TC aboard was trying to close another dramatic chapter in the history of the Fall Final.
Insert a 19-year-old Erick Rudolph from Ransomville, New York and you have your setting for a Fall Classic.
Rudolph played the pit strategy just right to lead to the white flag, but Christopher, who took tires late, had run him down and had his right-front tire almost to the door of Rudolph’s No. 98 Mohawk Northeast/Original Pizza Logs machine. The two drag-raced to turn one and made contact, nearly causing both to spin. Christopher gathered it up and took the lead as Rudolph washed up the track and saw Christopher sail away like an unhittable fastball.
Christopher finished the lap and took the victory in the Fall final for his 42nd career Modified Tour win, the same number of saves as Rivera and the jersey number he wears too.
"He knew I had a faster car and he had to protect the track as much as he could," said Christopher in victory lane. "I had my right-front to his left-rear, we were actually touching coming off the turn (four). He was trying to protect and I was trying to win. I think the faster car won."
It's the fourth time in his career that won a race at Stafford by taking the lead the lead in the final 10 laps. It was the first time in TC's career where he led only the final lap of a Tour race to win it.
Rudolph was able to hang on to a top five finish after the contact in one, but was very upset with the final lap of the race. He managed to explain his side of the story and was not pleased with the outcome.
"I was going into (turn) one just like I did every other time," said an emotional Rudolph after the race. "Ted just stuffed it in there and almost took us both out. I don't know. It's typical of him. He's a flat out idiot."
It ruined what could have been his second-career Tour win and the best run of the season for the 98 team. Still, Rudolph was able to make a positive out of what turned into a fifth-place finish.
"I can't complain of how the car was handling," said Rudolph. "I am proud of the team and how we got it together and how we ran. We can take something away from this as we had a good car if we come back and run here."
Then third-place runner and second-place finisher Ryan Preece had the bird's eye view for the final lap. The 2011 Stafford SK Modified Champion saw no reason to blame ether party.
"I almost thought I was going to win one like I lost one a couple of years back," said Preece. "Teddy got a run on Erick and I don't know if it was enough to say he was there or not, but Erick and Teddy got together and we all got sideways trying to avoid it."
Donny Lia finished behind Preece on the podium with Eric Beers and Rudolph in fifth.
The win was extra special for Christopher who won the previous race at Stafford only to split with his current team for a few weeks. All the pieces were put back in place with the same personal and the results were the same.
"It's good to win," said Christopher. "I like coming back and knowing that we can run strong here. It was disappointing that we were third in points when we took some time off, but that's behind us."