Sunday, June 15, 2003

Jim Galante and the Mystique Racing Team

He always loved fast cars. Unlike most people, Jim Galante can afford automobiles others dream about. At the race track his driver and crew live by his motto, “second place is the first loser.” When Galante, a New Fairfield resident, spent a few nights at the races more than a decade ago it’s no surprise he wanted to get involved.


So he became a race car owner, and linked with NASCAR driver Ted Christopher in 1995 in what they presently refer to as “a good marriage.”

“The whole reason I got involved originally in the races is because I love cars,” said Galante, owner of Automated Waste Disposal in Danbury. “I never realized how competitive of a person I was until our company put a race car on the track. From the first day I came to the racetrack I think there’s always been this mutual attraction, (Ted) and I. He’s not afraid to take that car and put it anywhere on that track and go for it, and I’m not afraid to spend the money to get the car to the finish line. So it’s a great relationship.”

The racetrack offers a chance for employees and customers to see the race car. Unlike others, Galante prefers no advertising on his race car.

“At 120 miles per hour you can’t read the names of the sponsors anyway,” Galante said.

Instead, sponsorship for Mystique can be found on a giant billboard on the backstretch of Stafford.

Christopher, a Plainville native, has had a similar passion for cars, only he prefers to be on the speedway. Unlike many modern professional drivers, Christopher was not exposed to the sport at an early age, nor did his parents have an interest. He raced go-carts toward the end of his high school days through age 25 with his brother Mike. They traveled all over the country, paying for all their races themselves. Mike raced for Galante before Ted took over.

Although racing is practically a year-round sport, Christopher will race most of his 101 features this year from April to October. He drives a modified, or open-wheeled, race car at Thompson Motor Speedway on Thursdays and at Stafford Motor Speedway on Fridays – the two main features throughout the year.

After thousands of races in practically every car and competition imaginable, Christopher acknowledges money affects racing.

“This is a very financially-driven business,” Christopher said. “It takes somebody like (Jim Galante) to supply you with the equipment you want to do well, and we’ve been real successful.”

The Mystique race team has been so successful that winning has become an expectation, not just a goal. Christopher’s laudable driving career includes: 77 victories at Stafford, the most by any driver; a National Championship in 2001, beating over 2,000 drivers from about 90 tracks across America; and a competitive desire that makes him willing to take risks many drivers won’t.

They recognize Stafford fans are more opinionated – both in favor and against – toward them than other race teams because of their success. Galante said he enjoys when the fans boo because he knows he is winning, but gets annoyed when people say his team cheats or doesn’t deserve the win. After thousands of races, Christopher seems unfazed before or after races. He sometimes sits in the Pits before a race wearing blue jeans and t-shirt, cracking jokes. It’s a big change from when he built his own racing motor for eight years.

Galante and Christopher credit the crew for much of these accolades. Many of the members work at the race shop, also the location of Christopher’s transmission business in Plainville – MNT Enterprises. Others pay their way into the Pits – a parking lot area near the racetrack where the cars are adjusted before the race – to volunteer assistance or support. This is a place where fans like to see the cars and drivers in-person and sometimes take photos or voice their opinions.

Before they load the black, blue and silver No. 13 race car into the jet-black 35-foot trailer, the crew goes through its routine check – tires, nuts and bolts, etc.

“There are a lot of teams that will show up to the track with a bent race car or bad parts or something that they know they have to change,” said Mystique co-crew chief Mike O’Sullivan, who spends 40 to 60 hours a week working on the race cars. “Jimmy gives us the opportunity every week to go to the track with the best equipment. We never go second best. We’re there to win. We’re not there for anything else.”

The crew has become so accustomed to the track that adjustments during practice runs and before the feature are second nature. For instance, they know if it’s hot outside, the track is slicker, forcing them to lower the panhard bar so the rear tires hug the asphalt.

Even with a dedicated race team and an owner like Galante, who is willing to fund the best parts and several standby cars, the driver has to sacrifice. One weekend before Christopher won the National Championship in 2001, he stayed up all night fixing his crank shaft after getting back to the shop at 2:45 a.m. from Stafford. As Christopher says, “Effort equals success,” or in this case: 49 straight hours awake equals two wins.

As Christopher and Galante know through experience, even possessing the best equipment with a talented driver and crew, anything can happen on the race track.

“When we lose and have a bad night I don’t have to say anything because no one is harder on them than themselves,” Galante said.

On Friday, June 6 at Stafford, Christopher was in second place for the entire second-half of the 100-lap race only to have the distributor screws loosen with five laps to go. But the crew had no time to mope. In less than five hours they’d be up before the sun, heading to a race in Long Island. Although rain was in the forecast, skipping the race never entered their minds. They only thought of winning.

This story first appeared in the Danbury News-Times.

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