Tony Christian , one of the pioneering drivers of the Pro Street movement , passed away Thursday , June 9 , following complications related to a heart attack . He was 74 .
Christian was infamous for his battles with drivers like Pat Musi in the NMCA Pro Street heyday of the mid-tolate ‘ 90s , and his nitrous-fed ’ 57 Chevy is responsible for introducing scores of fans and future competitors to fast doorslammer racing . Before Pro Street , Christian won three races in NHRA Pro Stock , finishing third in the 1988 championship points .
Christian and Musi were known for their rivalry , but they were actually close friends for many years . They met when the two were competing in Pro Stock , and they competed against each other in numerous different classes and organizations from then on . While their heated battles on track were very real , the off-track trash talk was calculated at times to develop the rivalry .
“ We were always friends , then we battled it out pretty good in the Pro Street deal ,” Musi says . “ It was a lot of on-the-camera stuff . We were really better friends than people think . We created a good rivalry that way , whereas the other [ racers ] took it personal . He was a good racer and we respected each other and just did our deal .”
Christian and Musi did their trash talking , and their cars did the rest . Christian ’ s ’ 57 Chevy and Musi ’ s ’ 69 Camaro – both featuring big-inch nitrous engines – were as popular as they were fast . They remain two of the most iconic cars of the early NMCA and NSCA street car movement 30 years later .
“ The red ‘ 57 and the green Camaro were probably the most popular Pro Street cars in that era ,” Musi says . “ The rest of them can say what they want and show videos when they beat us once , but I got eight championships . Tony had whatever he had . We were the fastest . Everybody talked about the red ‘ 57 and the ‘ 69 Camaro . Made it into a lot of magazines . It was just a cool deal .”
Musi has mountains of memories from his years of racing with Christian , and one of his favorite stories to tell happened at the now-defunct Palm Beach International Raceway in south Florida . It was in the Pro Stock days , before Pro Street , and it was a
Pat Musi pays tribute to longtime friend and rival Tony Christian
By Nate Van Wagnen
Pat Musi and Christian . typical Christian versus Musi showdown .
“ He ran good . He was the No . 1 qualifier and we were No . 8 . We were struggling a little bit ,” Musi remembers . “ Tony comes back cocky and says , ‘ I could see your bumper and I ’ m going around you .’ I said , ‘ Remember you said that .’ The next run , I left on him and beat him by probably a fender at the finish line . We get out and he goes , ‘ Did you go red ?’ I said , ‘ No . And by the way , how ’ d the bumper look ?’”
Musi counted Christian as one of his best friends , and he saw a side of Christian that the general racing public didn ’ t .
“ He had a great heart ,” Musi says . “ He ’ d do anything for you . We talked at least twice a week . He wasn ’ t as hardcore as people thought . Everybody thinks I ’ m hardcore too , but down deep I ’ ll do anything for anybody – until you cross me . I think everybody knows that part of it . But yeah , we talked at least twice a week . I ’ d bounce things off him . It was just cool .
“ I was just talking to Jeff Stange [ of Strange Engineering ] – he ’ s another one of our friends ,” Musi adds . “ We miss the calls now . I ’ m going to really miss talking to him . We talked about how long we had , how long all of us have . We ’ re all getting older . I thought he ’ d be OK for a while , but I guess you never know .”
Musi says he ’ s been in contact with one of Christian ’ s daughters , Heather Kircher , to help her sort through some things . Along with Kircher , Christian is survived by another daughter , Tori Beckham , son Tony Christian III , and grandson Asher James .
Over the years , Christian was very supportive of Musi and his family , including daughters Lizzy and Tricia . He ’ d visit with the family whenever they were racing at tracks like Bradenton Motorsports Park near Christian ’ s home in Sarasota , Florida . It ’ s one of the many reasons why Musi will miss his old friend and rival .
“ We miss him already ,” Musi says . “ He was a part of our family . I don ’ t know what else I can say . We were closer than people think . It ’ s just going to be one of those holes you have to try to get around .
“ But at the end of the day ,” Musi continues , “ when Tony raced , he was a hell of a racer . He was tough to beat . I think we both had mutual respect for each other . Whenever we raced , you could count on it being a good one .” DI
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT SPARROW
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