20 Questions with Tom Curley
How long have you been involved in motorsports?
Fan for 55 years, competed for 8 years in 60’s, management for 26 years.
What is your earliest memory in motorsports?
I went to Oxford Plains with a neighbor when I was five or six when it was dirt and Beech Ridge, when it was clay, in the 50’s.
Do you see motorsports gaining in popularity or will it start to decline, as people get bored with it?
I think stock car racing has reached a plateau at the Winston Cup level after a phenomenal 20 year growth span, other forms of high visibility are not as well received e.g. Formula I and CART type, but I think the short track industry is on a bit of a rebound in recent years. Some of this is due to the control of costs that most short track promoters are aware of, and I think we have benefited from the huge exposure and visibility NASCAR had provided over the last 10 years. I think if races and divisions are done correctly at the short track level, there should be little “boring” about racing at the level I enjoy.
What is the best race you have ever seen live?
2002 Thunder Road Milk Bowl that Dwayne Lanphear won. I believe 5 drivers were within 3 points of each other going into the last segment and there were some incredible strategic moves made throughout the race. Dwayne obviously lends a certain amount of “unequalled enthusiasm” to any race and victory lane celebration!!!!
(The Phil Scott-Tracie Bellerose Milk Bowl was a close second for me and I have thought about all the great races from all the Tours...so a tribute to this current group of teams!)
Do you think NASCAR running Winston Cup races has an effect on the attendance of local short tracks across the USA?
I think there will be some tracks affected by this apparent new scheduling policy, but I don’t think it will dramatically affect the tracks we are affiliated with. If there is a Dodge Tour event scheduled at one of our affiliated tracks I am hoping people will show up and “tape” the Cup show.
If you were in charge of NASCAR, but could only make one change, what change would that be??
First, the chances of me being in charge of NASCAR are about as good as my beloved RED SOX winning the World Series!!!!, but that all aside, I would only implement one new rule which I think has taken Winston Cup from what was a great racing series to nothing more than a marketing instrument for them and big owners.
GET RID OF MULTIPLE TEAMS, blocking, testing etc. Only one team per owner, less schedule like 24 races in National League and 24 in the American League so companies could afford to put money into the “middle” teams. You could have your “BIG” Feb. race between the two divisions, but it would give a lot more people the opportunity to compete. Combine the Busch Series with the Winston Cup to get enough teams to fill both fields. They have 16 NFL games on Sunday afternoon being televised...you certainly could have 2 NASCAR races on the same afternoon and you would be able to use the time zones to even make it more attractive. There would be more money from television rights, as you would have another network bidding for one division or the other. Current multiple owners could have a team in each league. There are certainly enough tracks to fill that kind of schedule, and you should always keep a mix of the Super Speedways and the smaller tracks. The other benefit would be the crews would have a little more of a normal life to spend with their young families which today’s schedule does not permit. But then again, I would like them to bring back the open trailers and race because they love it not because they are all getting millions t do it!!! Eventually if it stays the way it is gong it will be just like the NFL, NBA etc. … all about who makes and spends the most money. I guess that is why I like short track racing; it is still about the thrill of winning and the sport of it all.
What advice would you give to a young driver looking to get into racing?
Buy a Tiger Sportsman and race as many laps as you can at Thunder Road and Airborne and fix your own car every time it is wrecked. Use your own money and respect the sport and the people in it. Do this for 2 or 3 years and then decide if it is something you want to do at a different level. Then get the best advice from as many veteran drivers, promoters, writers, and fans as you can and develop a plan with those people and hopefully they are on their way.
How did you get involved in motorsports?
I was attending races at Maine based tracks when I was very young...around 6 years old. I got my first car, a flying tiger in 1963 for $75 complete. I raced it every opportunity I got, Thunder Road, Catamount, Fair Haven and Vergennes on dirt. Later in the late 70’s I got involved with promoting and managing. The rest is, as they say, history.
In your honest opinion.... what is the best race track in the world? What is the worst?
Without question Thunder Road is the best because of the fan base and the competition.... the worst is any track that went to a shopping mall!!!
Do you think the internet has helped people get information about racing or do you think it is just a vast wasteland of sites full of rumors and lies??
I think the Internet serves a worthwhile service to our industry. Unfortunately, there are always going to be rumors and lies, but that has and will always be a part of our sport. I think it is brought about because race fans are remarkably passionate and, unfortunately, quite often not that well informed sometimes about the facts that they base their comments on. There are information forms on the internet, which are very informative and eventually there will be much more productive use of the internet.
You can have dinner with anyone in motorsports (living or dead), who would you chose? Why?
Bill France SR. He started it all and I think his philosophy of Universal rules and showmanship for the paying customer had been somewhat lost over the years. I would also love to hear him talk about what has happened since I knew him in the 1960’s after Daytona was first built.
What is your opinion on “bending” the rules and working in that gray area of a rulebook? What about out and out cheating, and disregard for the rules?
I think it is the responsibility of the organization to have a clear rulebook. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to have a rulebook without “gray” areas. I think it is the competitor’s responsibility to try and interpret the “gray” areas in his best interest. When there is conflict, I usually will side with the competitor and have the rules committee make an amendment change to explain their “intent” of a rule. Out and out cheats, who have total disregard for the rules should not be allowed to compete, and other promoters should be informed about that particular competitor’s activities and their lack of respect for their fellow competitors.
It’s the last lap of a dream race .... Who are the drivers and at what track would you like them to battle it out?
Robbie Crouch, Dave Dion and Dick McCabe at Thunder Road.
What is the one thing you wish more fans would know about motorsports? How could they possibly learn one thing?
I would like fans to have more knowledge about why certain decisions are made by race directors in the conducting of a race. I guess the only way would be to go to the Tower and spend a day observing and getting various explanations and questions answered. I would actually welcome that in any Tower I am working a race from, and have in the past actually required that a team member be picked at random to monitor the race directing to ensure that it is on the up and up. Most have left the Tower at the end of the day with a completely different perspective on how and why certain procedures are implemented during the conduct of a race
How do you think racing has managed to keep a somewhat wholesome image while other major sports have what seems to be endless scandals involving drugs, crime, etc.
When you are driving 180 MPH and you know you could die every time you go to work, you have a different perspective on life and what is important. I think that has a lot to do with how much respect for the sport most of the drivers who have high visibility in the marketplace have. I also think most of the premiere drivers know that they had best “keep their noses clean” as there are thousands of “drivers “ out there who are more than capable of taking their jobs. They also have multi-million dollar sponsors that will not allow their images to be tarnished with the kind of activity we hear about many of the NBA, NFL players. I also think that the large majority of today’s competitors in Winston Cup have “paid their dues” at a different level and have a greater appreciation for their sport than is prevalent in other major league sports.
What could be done in racing to get it more diverse
as far as minority involvement?
It always comes back to “show me the money”.... I think the only way you will see minority involvement is when some individual or company puts the money up to create a breakthrough. This is beginning to become more plausible with the entrance of the recent “celebrity” teams that are being created. Once started, I think the key to future success will be to have the right talent behind the operation in all areas, driver, crew and management. Actually this is not a lot different than the breakthroughs that people like Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, etc. had to make 20 years ago to break in. Most recently, it has been the sprint car group and the open wheel group. I think minorities, probably Hispanic, will come out of tracks like Irwindale, CA. and they will hopefully break the doors down.
What do you think about Imported car manufacturers getting into major league auto racing in the USA?
I think it is great. It certainly will open up some new marketing opportunities, the foreign car manufacturers have always been well prepared, and willing to spend whatever is necessary to become successful. Certainly the results of foreign manufacturers in Formula 1 and CART and Indy racing are well documented. They spend what ever is necessary and competition for the US “Big Three” is healthy. I am in hopes that some of the trickle down will reach the short tracks from the entrance of the foreign manufacturers.
Your choice...one ticket to a big league NASCAR race or a seasons pass to your favorite local short track.... which would you choose and why??
You must be kidding!!! Pick any short track in New England and I would chose that for a single race event over a “big league” NASCAR race..... (maybe with the exception of Bristol)...Seriously, most pure fans would take a season’s pass to their favorite short track over a NASCAR race unless they were involved in some way in a Nascar team or it’s marketing.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years as far as motorsports goes?
I see myself mowing lawns at Thunder Road, still getting excited at the beginning of the third segment of the 2008 Milk Bowl, hopefully still arguing with Dwayne Lanphear and Barney McRae, and figuring out how we can still build large fields of cars in each division at reasonable costs, and most importantly, finding the right formula so that Thunder Road and ACT fans believe they are getting the best value in motorsports for their dollar.
When you want a break from the world of motorsports, what are some of the things you like to do?
I love to travel, I enjoy warm weather in the Winter in the Caribbean, I used to play a lot of golf and would like to take that up again, I used to race sailboats and would like to take that up again, and I enjoy playing craps and black jack which is probably why I enjoy working with Dwayne and Barney!!!
I also am about to become a first time grandfather and I am looking forward to spending time with them sitting at home by the beach