The racing world served up more of the good, the bad, and the ugly last weekend.
In the good category, Josef Newgarden won the Verizon Indycar championship with a decisive win on the road course at Sonoma, California.
The race win was the seventh Indycar win of Newgarden’s career, and the fourth this season.
The 26-year-old from Hendersonville, Tennessee is the first American-born Indycar champion since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, and it didn’t take him long to reach the top of his sport.
In fact, in an era when drivers begin their grooming at age 5 or younger, Newgarden didn’t race a Kart until the age of 13. He progressed up the ladder and even ran in Europe’s GP3 series, but made his first mark winning the Indy Lights championship in 2011.
Driving for Sarah Fisher, Newgarden made his Indycar debut in 2012. But he didn’t win until 2015, driving for Ed Carpenter. Now in his first year behind the wheel of the No. 2 for Team Penske, the driver once dubbed “the driver of the future” proved that he is the driver of today.
Also in the good category was Martin Truex’s NASCAR win at Chicago, the first round of the playoffs. Coming back from a pit road speeding penalty, Truex grabbed the lead in the final stage of the race.
Unlike Darlington or Richmond, nothing happened late in the race to take the win away. In Darlington, Truex suffered a cut tire while leading with two laps to go, and in Richmond, NASCAR was too quick to throw a caution while Truex led with four laps remaining. In Chicago, the fastest car finally won the race.
The bad category is actually the sad category. The racing world was stunned Saturday afternoon to learn that Ted Christopher was killed in a plane crash earlier that day while traveling to Long Island to compete in a NASCAR Modified race.
“TC,” as many referred to him, and the plane’s pilot, were found dead in the wreckage after the plane went down in a wooded area in his home state of Connecticut.
The 59-year-old racer was perhaps the best short track racer in the country the past couple decades. He was the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified national champion, and the 2001 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion. He competed in everything from Modifieds to Midgets, indoor TQ Midgets, Late Models, Super Late Models, K&N Pro Series, NASCAR Trucks and even made six starts in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
He had track championships at numerous New England tracks, but was renowned for his success at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he had five wins in Modified competition and five wins in the K&N Pro Series East on the flat mile.
Christopher implemented his infamous “three tap rule,” which made him loved and hated alike by fans. In Earnhardt fashion, if he reached your bumper on the track, he would tap you once to let you know he was there. The second tap was a warning to commit to a lane and let him pass. The third tap was enough to send you out of the groove so he could pass; the bump and run.
A larger-than-life character, Ted Christopher was a friend to most who knew him. At South Boston Speedway on Saturday, four-time NASCAR All-American Champion Philip Morris paid respects to Christopher over the public address system, prior to a moment of silence. Even Dale Earnhardt Jr. used Twitter to express his sadness over the loss. Christopher could race and win in anything. And he always had his smile in Victory Lane. The racing world misses you, TC.
The ugly from last week was the first corner of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen started on the front row. Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo covered the second row. Surprisingly, the quickest Mercedes was Lewis Hamilton in fifth.
Raikkonen made a great start and pulled up along Verstappen’s left side, just as Verstappen pulled up alongside Vettel. Bur Vettel moved to the left, leaving Verstappen nowhere to go, his Red Bull the meat in a Ferrari sandwich. The contact resulted in all three cars out of the race, and damaged Fernando Alonso’s McLaren to force him out a few laps later.
The ugliness of that Turn 1 incident gave Hamilton the win, and he padded his points lead over Vettel, who each week appears less likely to win his fifth world championship.
Your best bet for the good, bad, and the ugly this weekend is the Late Model race under the new LED lights at Martinsville, Virginia on Saturday night. Visit Martinsvillespeedway.com for information.
Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.