Intertwined Destiny: Keith Rocco Fondly Remembers Ted Christopher

Keith Rocco (left) and Ted Christopher in the pits at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl (Photo: Tiesha DiMaggio/Vault Productions)

It was a relationship that morphed from mentor and teacher, to feisty – even sometimes bitter – rivals on the track.

But it was a connection between Ted Christopher and Keith Rocco that always revolved around mutual respect and friendship.

They were two of the best and most recognized Modified drivers in the Northeast over the last decade plus. Sunday the 32-year old Rocco remembered Christopher, both somberly and humorously.

The 59-year old Christopher, a legend of short track racing, was killed Saturday in a plane crash while flying to a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at Riverhead Raceway in Riverhead, N.Y.

Christopher was the all-time winningest driver at Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway. Among his extensive list of racing accomplishments was winning the nine SK Modified division championships at Stafford, the 2001 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series short track national championship and the 2008 Whelen Modified Tour championship.

“It’s a shame,” Rocco said Sunday. “I’m still shook up about it. You just have to think about Ted being Ted. But it’s not going to be the same. I just don’t think racing will be the same without him.”

Rocco, along with his twin brother Jeff, spent much of his teen years working as a crew member for Christopher. Rocco is the son of longtime Modified driver Ronnie Rocco, who had competed against Christopher in the 1980’s and early 90’s.

“We wanted to work on racecars once we were old enough to get in the pits,” Keith Rocco said of he and his brother. “My father said ‘If you really want to work on race cars “you might as well go help someone that’s going to win.’

“As much enemies as my father and Ted were, my mother and father stopped at Ted’s shop and said ‘Would you mind if the kids started helping you?’ He took us right in and made us part of the team. He treated us great. He took care of us. At that time I don’t even think we had our licenses. My mom or father would drop us off at the shop. He’d take us to the racetrack and then drop us off right at our doorstep at the end of the night.

“At that point we were really just getting into it. Ted was winning a lot of races. He was the best of the best. He won everything there was to win. Our first year working with him was 2001 and he won the National Championship.”

While working with Christopher, Rocco began competing in the Street Stock division at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. He was the division’s champion in 2004.

“Whatever I needed he helped me,” Rocco said. “I didn’t have a trailer, he gave me his open trailer to use it. Any gear he had he gave me. … I remember winning in the Street Stock when I was racing at Waterford and he was racing the [SK Modified] at Waterford and I remember him coming over to victory lane and jumping in the picture. He was just as excited as my father.”

After the Street Stock championship at Waterford, Rocco made the jump to the SK Modified division and almost immediately established himself as a force across all three tracks in Connecticut, right alongside Christopher.

Like Christopher, Rocco won the Whelen All-American Series National Championship in 2010.

“After working with him all we knew was winning races,” Rocco said. “I learned a lot of good things from him. I learned a lot of things that probably – how can I say it – that other competitors don’t like on the racetrack.”

“When I started racing SK [Modifieds] there was nobody I wanted to beat more than Ted. After working with him for so many years and knowing that he was the best of the best, there was nobody I wanted to beat more than him. The nights that I did it was always pretty special. As much as I’m sure he didn’t like to get beat, I think he was pretty proud when I did beat him.”

Rocco is now the all-time winningest driver at the New London-Waterford Speebdowl and a multi-time SK Modified champion at all three Connecticut tracks.

And while the fierce rivalry off the track sometimes boiled over into anger, the two remained close off the track.

“People don’t know Ted off the track,” Rocco said. “They know him on the track. He’s a different guy off the track than he was on the track. Nobody really got to know that side. I don’t think people really knew that side of Ted.”

Rocco said stops at Christopher’s shop in Plainville, or the house he was building, just for visits, were many. Sunday he joked about a delivery he made one day before the start of the 2017 racing season. Christopher’s love of ice cream was well known throughout racing.

“Over the offseason, me and my wife went to get lunch and I knew he was building his house at the time,” Rocco said. “We were getting ready to get our bill and I asked them if I could get a bowl of ice cream, to go. They were like ‘Yeah, I guess so.’ I went over to his house and we brought him over some ice cream and we were just laughing about it. He was just so proud of that house he was building. And the guy would give you the shirt off his back.”

Comments

  1. Dolla Dolla $$$$ says

    Hands down best of the best these two… nobody had more respect for teddy then Keith…

  2. Ted took my sons Jeff and Keith under his wings and am so happy they learned from one of the best. RIP TED

  3. A class act remembering a legend …

  4. Stuart Fearn says

    Well said Keith. Especially the part about when you beat him you are most proud.
    We used to race against him weekly in the prostock at Stafford and when we beat him that was a real win. When he wasn’t there for some reason the win was just a win and everyone inside knew it was less of an accomplishment because you didn’t have to beat the King that night.
    Thank you for sharing Keith

  5. He belongs in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he was the best of his generation.

  6. Two great drivers who loved to beat each other. The real winners? The racing fans who got to witness these epic battles.

  7. Great story. You never know these things until something like this happens. Most people just know what they see on the track.

  8. To me, you can equate, in many ways, Ted to the late Dale Earnhardt. They both won in about any car they drove,were much larger than life to their fans, and class acts off the track. As the dominant drivers in their areas of the sport, we will never see the likes of them again. Both are great losses to the sport we all love and will be missed forever

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