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Racing-themed casket takes beloved WNC racing fan on victory lap

Ted Caldwell gave the casket of his dad, Jeff Caldwell, a racing inspired makeover. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

A Buncombe County man found a unique way to pay tribute to his dad, who was known for his need for speed. For years, Ted Caldwell was part of a social circle at the old Asheville Motor Speedway, and that source of identity stayed with him to the very end.

Ted's son, Jeff Caldwell, gave his late father's casket a racing inspired makeover.

"There's no telling what he'd do. I think he'd love it," Jeff said, fighting back tears.

Ted died earlier month at 80 years old. Together, they started Jeff's Auto Sales in Leicester 30 years ago.

At the Sign 1 shop in Arden, the goal was to transform our view of transportation for an unforgettable victory lap of sorts.

"When the guy told me most are steel these days, I went, 'Really?'" owner Dean Jones said.

"You know he likes speed, I think he likes speed," he said of his friend Ted. "It's a warm fuzzy situation, you know."

Warm, fuzzy and fitting, Jones explained.

"We'll do this for Ted," he said as workers applied racing decals to the casket. "Man, the guy's just so genuine!"

To Ted, the happiest place on earth was a race track. He was a crew member for driver Ronnie Silver.

Jeff recalls many fond family memories at Asheville Motor Speedway.

"Oh, that makes you smile. That's his happy time, you know," Jeff said. "That's when he was happiest. He just liked to hear the talk and laugh and cut up."

Which explains why something like this was bound to happen some day. Sadly, that day came two weeks ago.

"Just fulfilling Jeff's request, that's all," Jones said. "Ted would be all smiles. There's hardly a time you would see Ted without a smile on his face."

At first, the casket with a No. 88 might catch you by surprise.

"It doesn't creep me out, not me personally," Jones said.

Jeff hopes maybe it gave everyone who knew his dad a reason to smile through tears.

"Just talk about all the good times," Jeff said, his eyes tearing up. "All the jokes he's done, all the things he did and playing around and stuff like that. "

Good times make him long for more. Ted and his wife Susie were married nearly 57 years.

"I went there every morning to see my mom, every morning, and I'd go out there early," Jeff said, as emotions welled up. "And sleeping in his chair and take a little nap before work and stuff."

The simple moments bring him comfort and pain. Loved ones pray Ted's on the fast track to a better place.

After Ted's funeral, pallbearers carried his casket to the truck he rode countless times.

"That's what he did for the last four or five years, everywhere that rollback went to get cars, he was in the passenger seat of it," Jeff explained.

The racing decals are the sign of a life well lived, but they're also the mark of a man well loved.

The finality of it all sinks in as his widow Susie looked on. You can't help but wonder what Ted would would say. At the end of the day -- at the end of the road -- it seems appropriate that this is how he got to the finish line.

"This is the checkered flag, the final race," Jonesn said. "The race is finally done."

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