Story & Photo By: Kyle Souza
When Ted Christopher suddenly passed away in a plane crash in 2017, en route to a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, it sent shockwaves through the entire Northeast modified community.
Nevermind just the modifieds — but it sent those same waves right through short-track racing, and even trickled it’s way up to the higher levels of the sport. Losing a prestigious driver, who was a multiple-time champion and winner, but more importantly — a genuinely good guy — hit home with most.
Including Ryan Stone, now a two-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship crew chief. Stone clinched his second title on Sunday at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park as the ringleader of the No. 51 Phoenix Communications Chevrolet with driver Justin Bonsignore and car owner Ken Massa. It was also the second title for the other two centerpieces of the organization.
After a tenure down south, working in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports, Stone came home to unite with Bonsignore and Massa — and it’s resulted in two titles in three years.
“Losing Ted Christopher made me think about being away from home, being away from friends,” Stone told Souza Media. “He was a good buddy of mine. I missed him racing for the last three and a half years of his life. That really affected me. I said I needed to go home to my people.”
Stone’s success down south was well-documented. Working for JR Motorsports, an organization owned by NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr., was the epitome of everything Stone dreamed of as a kid. But, as that kid growing up, his home was in the open-wheel Modifieds, cars with no fenders, wide tires and plenty of ground-pounding speed.
The fendered Xfinity cars and the trip down south was worth it for Stone. But it was three separate phone calls from Ken Massa and Bonsignore that helped him make the return to New England, where he belongs.
“It’s such a funny story, because at first I said no because I wanted to stay at JR Motorsports and try to drive myself up the line,” Stone said. “They called me in September of 2017, I said no. They called again, I said no. When they called me a third time, they sweetened the deal, and they were going to get me a shop. They wanted me to move to Long Island, almost home… but I wanted to be in Connecticut where I was from with my friends… really go home. Ken told me he would get me a shop and they wanted me to do it. I saw some layoffs happen at the end of the year at JR Motorsports, and that was tough. I watched that and said I should go home.”
The decision to roll back has certainly paid off in a big way. Stone and the No. 51 team have accomplished some impressive feats in the last three years — on top of two titles — with wins in 17 of 41 races and top-five finishes in 31 of them. Better yet, they have been consistently one of few cars on the Whelen Modified Tour that can unload at a variety of different tracks with winning speed right off the truck.
“We have a special deal here,” Bonsignore said. “Ryan, more than anyone, speaks up to it. He knows what we have as a core group. And he, more than anyone, wants to go out and keep solidifying his spot as a championship winning crew chief in the future. He wants to be in the likes of Phil (Moran) and the others who were the dominant type.”
Stone has been busy since day one, building, preparing and maintaining cars, and hasn’t stopped for much else. He’s dedicated to his craft, and it shows on the track. He even spent time living with former Whelen Modified Tour champion and close friend Ron Silk until he got his feet back under him.
“We hit the ground running in 2018, we built some cars, I lived with Silk for two years, because all I was doing was working. I looked for a home, worked, worked some more, went racing,” Stone said. “We’ve just been on fire ever since. The chemistry just happens. I can’t even explain it. We hit the ground running and never looked back.”
“Ryan just doesn’t let us fail, he works his guts out every single day at the shop, 16-hour days,” Bonsignore said. “He’s there every single day of the week. Even with COVID he was there. It’s just how he is.”
With two titles down, and no signs of slowing down in their immediate future, Stone, Bonsignore and Massa, while celebrating on Sunday at Thompson, we’re already starting to look forward to the 2021 season, where they hope to grab their third title in four years.
“It feels good to get a second one,” Stone said. “If we can keep this together, we can be one of those teams that you guys talk about… the No. 16, the 3, the 4, the 2… that’s what we are trying to build towards, an iconic team. It’s another step closer to that… we have a long way to go to catch people like Doug (Coby) and Phil (Moran), but that’s what we are trying to do. It’s been a magical three years.”