July 23, 2004 was a memorable day for the Christopher family.
On that summer afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams and drivers competed in the Siemens 100. The day belonged to Ted and Mike Christopher, with the twin brothers combining to lead 80 of the 108 contested laps en route to a one-two finish. Ted won the race, with Mike crossing the finish line second.
Just 5 at the time, Mike Christopher Jr. doesn‘t remember much about being at the track that day. He does remember rewatching the race multiple times on VHS, making it one of his earliest memories of Modified racing.
“That was just an incredible day, not only for them but for my mom and the whole crew,” Mike Jr. recalled. “Ted had the Mystique No. 13 car and was obviously doing great and the car owner, Mr. Jimmy Galante, asked my dad if he would want to race. So they built a car exactly like Ted‘s, same paint scheme, just with the No. 82 on the side of it. And they finished one-two at New Hampshire.
“My dad, my uncle, they all went to Victory Lane together because it was pretty much like a we-both-won kind of deal. You can‘t get much better than that.”
Moments like that leave a lasting impression on a 5-year-old kid from Connecticut, but Mike Jr. was lucky enough to witness many.
Another that stands out to the newest member of the Christopher racing clan happened a few years later, in 2008. His uncle Ted, at the age of 50, won his first and only NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.
“I didn‘t understand racing that much, back then because I was just so young,” Mike Jr. said. “I knew (Ted) was really determined to chase that Tour championship and finally got this opportunity in the Eddie Whelan car.
“I remember going to Thompson for that World Series weekend. That was a big deal for him and the Christopher family, too.”
The Christopher family has long been associated with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Ted earned 42 Tour victories in addition to his 2008 championship before he was killed in a plane crash in 2017. Mike competed in 75 Tour events through the years, earning five top-five finishes.
These days the Christopher family continues to make memories on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but now it‘s Mike Jr. who is the author.
Following in the footsteps of his late uncle and his father, Mike Jr. began racing go karts when he was 10 at Connecticut‘s Stafford Motor Speedway. He said the push to go racing came not from his father, but from his mother.
“It was actually my mom who got me to the track almost every single week,” Mike Jr. said. “My dad‘s dad, my Grampy, also brought me to Stafford every single week for the weekly racing that Ted did. It‘s just something I grew up with. Going to the tracks every single week and watching Ted race, and whenever my dad raced too, watching that. It‘s just something you grow up with.”
Modified racing has a strong tendency to attract generational family involvement, something Mike Jr. attributes to the fact that it‘s mostly based in the Northeast.
“It‘s a very specific subset of racing,” Mike Jr. said. “It‘s primarily in the Northeast; that‘s where it grew up from, and it‘s stayed there the whole time in the New England, New York, Pennsylvania. It doesn‘t really venture much outside of that.
“The idea of having generational teams or families that grow up and continue Modified racing I think stems from that. They do have Southern tours and series, but that‘s kind of newer. Modified racing in the Northeast has been around since the dawn of NASCAR racing. I mean, it is the oldest division, so it kind of makes sense that this subset, this genre of racing has grown up to be so popular among Northeast families.
“You think about racing in the Northeast, and its Modified country. We do have Supers (Supermodifieds) and Late Models and stuff like that, but it‘s nothing compared to Modified racing up here.”
Now 23, Mike Jr. has begun making a name for himself on the Northeastern Modified scene. He‘s become a fixture at tracks like Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, and last year he made his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour debut at New York‘s Riverhead Raceway driving for Tommy Baldwin Jr.
The partnership between Baldwin and Mike Jr. has been fruitful, with the duo earning several victories so far this season.
“(Baldwin) came to me in like 2019 maybe, something like that, and we ran a couple of one-off races and just kept building on that,” Mike Jr. said. “He puts a lot of work and effort into getting me specifically to the track with sponsorship and stuff like that. We raced last year and won some races, and I guess he saw that there was some kind of potential here to go out and win races.”
One of the aforementioned victories for the pairing this year came at Pennsylvania‘s Jennerstown Speedway on May 28 in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Jennerstown Salutes 150. It was Mike Jr.‘s first Tour victory in just his third start.
“I just feel like I have an incredible car and team behind me,” Mike Jr. said. “Everything felt right to where the chances were good even before the race started that we were going to win, because Tommy‘s just been on his game.”
With his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory out of the way, the question now is what‘s next.
He doesn‘t currently have an answer.
Christopher is not scheduled for any more Tour events this season, but he hopes to secure an opportunity to contest the full schedule in the coming years.
How that‘s going to happen is the greatest unknown.
“Obviously I want to race Tour races, but I feel accomplished with winning the one race and I want more,” he said. “It‘s a question I‘ve been wrestling for the past couple months, year, or so. Just growing up and realizing you‘re not a kid anymore. You think you‘re going to be a race car driver, but reality is setting in.
“You‘ve got to figure out what you‘ve got to do personally to make money and also what you have to do to follow your dreams. It‘s definitely a deep, philosophical question that you‘re trying to wrestle with and answer.”