Unbuckled: Getting To Know Tom Curley
President of the American Canadian Tour, Promoter/Co-Owner of Thunder Road
What are your favorite hobbies in the off-season?
In the past, my lifetime passion was sailing, more particularly sailboat racing. In recent years I would say it has been travel, whether it is Europe, The Caribbean, etc. I think my favorite hobby now though is going home to my house in Maine, sitting on the porch and watching the waves come in. I also enjoy Boston Red Sox baseball, the NFL, and NCAA Basketball.
What is your biggest life accomplishment?
I would say probably when I learned about 40 years ago to appreciate the power of positive thinking. I have tried to convey, teach, and for the most part utilize that through the better half of my adult life. It takes work and effort to buy into that kind of philosophy, but it has gotten me through some difficult times.
What is your biggest inspiration?
There is a famous quote that Robert Kennedy used as his legacy towards his brother John Kennedy, which I have believed most of my life:
“Some men see things as they are and say "why." I dream things that never were and say "why not.”I have it on my office wall. I first heard it in 1962 I believe, and I really started to believe it ten years later when it got me through some very difficult times. I’ve used it ever since.
What would you say is the state of ACT currently?
Well I think there are two parts to that. ACT Castrol has matured over the past 5 years or so and is entering what unquestionably should be the biggest year Quebec racing has ever seen from a quality and finance perspective. On the US side, there are a lot of transitions going on, which are both challenging and predictable. If you look through history, about every half dozen years you see strong veteran support retiring or moving on or changing priorities, and a new crop matures to take leadership. We are fortunate to have had new people make big contributions to our Tour.
Overall, based on the recent announcements of new officials and winding my career down, ACT is continuing to expand and gain strength on both sides of the border. The US schedule is up 50% from last year, and we picked up ACT Late Models from Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. Now 3 of the 4 tracks in Southern New England are ACT, and mixed with the International 500 on the way, there are many exciting possibilities as we move forward.
What race are you looking forward to the most in 2013?
Realistically, there is always something special about opening day. Whether it’s a theater opening, or a baseball opening, our season opener at Lee really has a life of it’s own. I would be hesitant to say it isn’t high on the agenda. Opening day at Thunder Road is always special to me too, and the challenge of the International 500 I think shows the effort we are willing to make here at the office. I think it will be great for race teams to have their own fully sanctioned ACT major event.
What was the highlight of the 2012 season for you?
I thought the battle between Wayne Helliwell and Brian Hoar was a real heavyweight title fight, and I hadn’t seen one of those in a long time. Equally as exciting was the Tiger championship battle that came down to the last lap of the last race at Thunder Road. First-time winners are also a big highlight for me always. I know how hard it is when the divisions are as competitive as they are on both sides of the border, so when the emergence of the new breed pulls off a win, it is very special.
Do you have a hero? Someone you idolize as a racecar driver or try to emulate?
If I had to name a hero it would be C.A. Crouch. He was unknowingly a huge mentor when I was a young promoter. He asked the hard questions. I like to think I am my own man, though. I have a lot of respect for people like Ken Squier, Don Hoenig (Promoter of Thompson Speedway), Vendetti (Promoter of Seekonk Speedway), and others. There are a lot of old promoters that taught me in my younger days. There are a host of others that I have respect and admiration for what they have accomplished, taught, and shared.
Who is your biggest fan at the track/biggest detractor?
My biggest fan is absolutely Darla. Not only as a partner, but also in our common interest to build these companies. I am better off in life for the criticism she is more than willing to share, and it has made me a better businessman too. She does a good job at balancing my good and bad qualities.
As far as a detractor, in the old days it was Ralph Nason. Oddly enough we became pretty good friends over the last decade, so that gives me some real hope. Recently I would say it’s Dany Legace, the new owner of Autodrome Chaudière. I have to consider him a major detractor, but we have been able to set our differences aside in the interest of Quebec competitors and fans.
What is something about you that most people don’t know?
Maybe that I lost my parents when I was 3 years old, and I also had Polio when I was 5 years old. I grew up with my maternal grandparents until I was sent away to boarding school in fifth grade. I did boarding school all year, and then was at camps all summer, so I was really nurtured by them. It was a really great experience for me. Another thing people might not know about me is that I love opera.
How did you get into racing?
Well, I came to Vermont in 1961, enrolled in Norwich University, and back then it was all military. Freshmen weren’t allowed to leave campus or have radios in the dorms, but I snuck a radio in my first year. I had been a stock car fan in Oxford, ME so I tuned in to the stock car races on the radio and heard Ken Squier calling it live from Thunder Road. In the spring, my friends and I headed to Bud Hill at Thunder Road, and eventually we decided to build ourselves a car. My friends were engineers, and I was the designated driver. We bought our first car for $75 and it was a Studebaker Interceptor.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
I would tell them to have the courage of their convictions, and to remain positive. The best advice I can give is to use a philosophy. Find one that is both visionary and realistic, and never give up.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Well, I think I’ll be winding down my career across the board. Hopefully I’ll be sitting at my house in Maine watching the waves roll in, going to a handful of races per year.
You’ve been so vocal about bump and runs and blocking in racing. Why not allow it? What about the NASCAR Have At It motto?
I have always thought that rubbing and racing work well. I understand protecting your lane, and forcing competition to the other lane. I also understand a bump to show affection or resentment, but not as a style to pass. To me, racing is who can out-drive the other, not who can drive through the others, or drive them into walls or fields. NASCAR’s “Have at it, boys” mentality is a marketing tool to try to bring excitement to an otherwise broken product. I’d prefer to see the product fixed.
With your recent health scare, the ACT family is wondering about your current health, and your plans for the season?
With Darla’s help I am just about fully rehabbed and feel fortunate to have gotten through the January experience in as good a shape as I’m rapidly getting to. I still know I have to slow down and I am certainly prepared to do that, but with all the new announcements the design is to still be actively involved in seeing this transition hopefully completed by the end of this season. I look forward to seeing everybody at Lee for the opening weekend.