Thomas Michael “T-Bone” “T” Curley, a proud and much-loved Irishman, passed away peacefully at his home on the grounds of his beloved Thunder Road Speedbowl on Friday, May 5, 2017. He was 73.
Born on May 10, 1943 in Auburn, Maine, Tom’s journey was the real life equivalent of a mesmerizing story. The second of two children of Richard and Bettie (Brown) Curley, the murder of his mother when he was just 3 and subsequent estrangement of his father, led to an upbringing by his maternal grandparents Stanley and Adria (Carville) Brown. Throughout his life, Tom’s experiences in prep schools and his beloved summer sessions at Camp Moosehead provided camaraderie and adventure and developed an appreciation of risks and rewards which would guide his personal and professional life.
Tom’s attention to detail and presentation were fostered early, and as a young boy, a bout with polio and an extended hospitalization exposed him to radio broadcasts of Red Sox baseball games, which remained a passion throughout his life. Painting a picture with words became an important theme in later endeavors. Trips to Fenway Park were a summer highlight, and tumbling into the back of a pick-up with neighborhood friends to travel to Oxford Plains Speedway introduced him to stock car racing and its intoxicating excitement. His first destination as a newly-licensed 15-year old was Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine. As a young cadet sequestered on campus at Norwich University, radio broadcasts introduced him to Thunder Road and its founder and the voice on those broadcasts, Ken Squier, who would later become his long-time partner in some business ventures. Inspired to field a race team with friends and fellow students, Tom soon earned his nick-name, “T-Bone”. Always willing to adjust, Tom realized that driving stock cars wasn’t his strong suit, but gave him insight which proved invaluable in later years.
Tom was a 1966 graduate of Norwich University, a military school which provided Tom with his infamous embrace of structure, timing, attention to detail, and respect of tradition and pageantry. Like his adored grandfather, Tom embraced an unwavering work ethic and was never willing to ask for more effort than he was willing to make himself. With his positive attitude, every experience in life provided him with a reward, and during his year-long expulsion from college for organizing a panty raid, he spent time in New York City developing his appreciation for dining, theatre and his beloved opera music.
Throughout his career Tom’s many business ventures were under his constant analyzation and reinvention, always applying lessons learned to the benefit of participants and patrons. Following a brief, but important stint teaching at the high school level, he embarked on a career in business that gave his incredible life force free rein. A natural leader, Tom’s enthusiasm for the project at hand led to the conception and nurturing of several successful entrepreneurial ventures, including a pub in New Hampshire, followed by a locally famous steakhouse and Dixieland Jazz club with his friend Ken Squier -- “T-Bone’s” on Mallett’s Bay in Vermont and sister location on the North Turn of the original beach track in Daytona Beach, Florida. Always up for the next challenge, various businesses later included a trading stamp enterprise in the North- and Southeast, and a marina and campground in the Champlain Islands of Vermont.
Tom’s life’s work came into focus when he agreed to again partner with his friend Squier. In 1978 Tom took over management of Catamount Stadium in Milton, Vermont, and in 1979 became the Director for the newly formed NASCAR North Tour. Designing and fostering the organized travelling show, he set a standard for the new era of touring series across the country, and was a constant source of information and advice to others. Following a disagreement with NASCAR and their subsequent withdrawal from the Northeast, impassioned pleas came from several of his drivers which convinced him to found the American Canadian Tour –- ACT--, continuing with the philosophies that he had employed to bring his NASCAR North Tour to its national prominence.
Tom’s ability to identify and address issues in real time was one of his many strengths. Working in the off-season for various television enterprises, he was very proud to have been the man in the truck, choosing the shots on the first-ever live flag-to-flag broadcast of the Daytona 500. While tv crews familiar with the Superbowl and golf broadcasts focused in on a Richard Petty checkered flag, it was Tom in the truck with multiple monitors who directed the cameras to catch the action he anticipated on the backstretch. Familiar with the characters and flavor of racing, it was Tom’s savvy that provided race fans with the infamous fight scene involving Cale Yarborough and the Allisons, which thrilled fans and broadcasters, and remains an iconic clip in racing archives.
Tom continued to shepherd tracks throughout the Northeast and Quebec directly, and across the U.S. and Canada indirectly, during his nearly 40-year career in short track stock car racing. His unique skill set resulted in organizing, promoting, and presenting stock car events in innovative ways and provided him with industry-wide respect and recognition throughout the U.S. and Canada. His infamous Irish temper, limitless energy, thirst for innovation and unequalled visionary talents made Tom a sought-after adviser, confidante, partner, competitor, cheerleader and critic for track owners and series organizers for decades. His charm and dedication to the value of his product took him successfully through some of the biggest boardrooms in Canada, with resulting sponsorship entitlements the reward for his efforts.
Tom’s sense of fair play demanded his development of new approaches to rules, event structure, and competition. Providing a “level playing field” was important for participants, with the biggest goal to provide race fans with the best entertainment, and the best value possible. His knowledge and “feel” for race tracks led him to head renovation projects at his own and other facilities, and to consult on construction and reconstruction of several tracks in the U.S. and Canada. From his experiences listening to sports on radio he appreciated the importance of character and characters in his racers, and encouraged respectful but passionate competition, and he spent countless hours of discussion, encouragement, critique, and philosophy mentoring many announcers and reporters. His hellfire and brimstone pit meetings prior to each race are legendary in the industry, and drivers and teams often enjoyed Tom’s demonstrations with toy car props to illustrate the dos and don’ts of racing etiquette. His ability to impart lessons contained in a well-crafted, succinct speech with equal parts instruction and inspiration have guided and polished thousands of racers, and racing enthusiasts. His passion was infectious and the responsibility and reverence he felt for the sport of racing was absorbed by spell-bound attendees. His joy for racers’ accomplishments was genuine, and his caring and encouragement of young racers was so important to him.
Tom was humbled and proud of the many accolades he received for his dedication to motorsports, among them: 1991 Winner Don MacTavish Award, 1992 Trackside Magazine Promoter of the Year, 3-time RPM Northeast Promoter of the Year, 2003 Lowe’s Motor Speedway Short Track Promoter of the Year, 2004 RPM North American Promoter of the Year, 2009 New England Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee, 2014 Vermont Sports Hall of Fame Inductee, 2015 Eastern Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame Inductee, 2017 Maine Motorsports Association Hall of Fame Inductee. As a native son, inclusion in the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame was especially sweet, and as his health prevented him from accepting the honor in person, he asked to share his appreciation with the gathered celebrants: “It has been a great ride and I am glad I had the opportunity to spend my life contributing to what I loved”.
The most recent honor bestowed on Tom came to him on the morning of his unexpected passing. During his youth in Maine, Tom loved to sail, and was an accomplished sailing competitor. During summer breaks from Norwich, he used those talents to teach sailing on Malletts Bay. He was ever proud of “his kids” – the young boys and girls who he taught to sail and coached in competitions, resulting in life-long friendships with many of them and their families. With the building of the Community Sailing Center on the Waterfront in Burlington, “his kids” gathered to recognize the impact of his sailing and life lessons, and the “T Curley Observation Deck” overlooking Lake Champlain will be dedicated in his honor later this year.
Tom’s love of adventure and travel, reverence for tradition and heritage, compassion, honesty, and loyalty, and appreciation of hard work, allowed him to enjoy a very full and satisfying life. He was proud of his accomplishments, treasured special relationships with friends and colleagues gathered over a lifetime, and he was content that racers and race fans always enjoyed the very best experience he could provide. With the fast pace of his business life, he was happiest on his deck in Maine, reclining in the sun, with a good Red Sox game on the radio. A diagnosis of COPD several years ago was met with characteristic resolve and dignity, and Tom remained in charge, in spite of each new challenge.
Tom leaves behind his adoring and dedicated partner of many years, Darla Ripley Hartt of Waterbury Center, Vermont and Scarborough, Maine; his children Cait (Curley) Lynch & husband Derek with granddaughter Lila of Warwick, Ontario; his son Seamus M. Curley & wife Jennifer, with grandsons James, George, Kevan, Cyle, and Glenn of Underhill, VT; his very special sister Susan (Curley) Maher & husband Peter of Stratham, NH, and several nephews & nieces. Tom enjoyed many special times with his nephew Peter Maher, and nieces Merrill & Grace Woodruff, and Liliana Conoscenti, as well as Darla’s extended family, who held a special place in his heart. Tom’s sense of family also included many of the wonderful people he worked with over the years, to whom he was as devoted, and were as devoted to him, as any blood relative. His love of dogs--with a special place in his heart for German Shepherds--provided him with much joy and comfort throughout his life.Tom’s life was guided by a quote familiar to many who heard him speak at banquets and special events over the years. Delivered by Bobby Kennedy at his brother’s funeral, Tom embraced and exemplified these favorite words:
In accordance with his wishes, there will be no formal services, but his ashes will be returned to his beloved Higgins Beach in Scarborough, Maine--his very favorite place--where he was comforted to know he would travel with the tides, returning each day to the seawall of the home he shared with Darla, with the occasional trip to his ancestral homeland of Ireland.