Curley Preaching Regional Cooperation

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

As little as a year ago, American-Canadian Tour President Tom Curley was talking openly about the day - not so far away - when he stepped away from the sport of stock car racing and moved full-time to his home on the coast of Maine.

Now, it looks like those plans are on hold.

This week, the ACT President said he has been “energized” by the success of his traveling ACT Dodge Tour, and has rededicated himself to the task of unifying Late Model rules around the northeast. Last month, Curley traveled to southern New Hampshire to speak to racers at the Lee USA Speedway about the ACT spec engine; which Lee management will mandate for its Late Model class in 2003. That decision -- combined with the warming relationship between ACT and Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway and increased interest by track promoters in southern New England - has Curley once again dreaming of a unified Late Model landscape; something he tried and failed to achieve more than a decade ago.

“If you look at the numbers, they add up,” said Curley. “Between Thunder Road and Airborne, we’ve got 75 Late Model teams. There are 25 or 30 more in the province of Quebec, 30 more at Oxford, and between Lee, Waterford (CT) Speedbowl, and Seekonk (MA) Speedway, there are another 50 or 60 cars. Get all those tracks on the same page rules-wise, and there’s a great deal of potential.”

Curley said recently instituted cost-cutting measures - spec engines, tire rules, and the abolition of tire softening compounds - have earned the attention of track promoters throughout the region, many of whom have recently begun looking for alternatives to their more sophisticated divisions; divisions that are beginning to price themselves out of the market.

“Lee announced recently that they are dropping the Pro Stock division next season, and Claremont (NH) is doing the same thing,” he said. “In both cases, the problem was low car-counts and high purses that the promoters could no longer justify. Our style of Late Model car is affordable, but still attractive competitively. And when you consider the possibility of having 150-200 cars around the region, a Touring Series like ACT becomes extremely attractive.

“Most promoters have never visualized a weekly division that also works as a Touring Series. In their mind, it’s one or the other. But if we can get Thunder Road, Airborne, Oxford, Lee, Waterford and Seekonk all on the program, each of those tracks would have an opportunity to book a major special event pitting their local drivers against the best drivers from around New England. Right now, there’s nothing like that out there.”

The concept of standardized regional rules has been tried before. In the 1980s, Curley attempted to bring many of the northeast’s Pro Stock tracks under a single umbrella, and nearly succeeded. Maine’s Oxford Plains, Beech Ridge, and Unity Speedways all combined to promote a “Maine State Championship” series, and a number of other tracks watched the project with interest. Unfortunately for Curley, Beech Ridge inked a NASCAR sanction the following year, and the partnership crumbled.

Now, however, the ACT President has a second chance to make his dream come true.

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At some point in their lives, everyone says something they wish they could take back. For former President George Bush, it was, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” For Curley, his verbal faux pas came last season.

“If the ACT Dodge Tour hurts weekly racing at Thunder Road and Airborne, I’ll shut down the Tour,” vowed the ACT President last spring, only to drop the Late Model class from the weekly programs at Airborne Raceway after car counts dropped.

Curley admitted this week that he “wished (he) had that one back,” while simultaneously defending his decision. “We gave the Late Model drivers an opportunity to support Airborne on off-weekends for the Dodge Tour,” he said. “We put forward a series of added-purse Late Model special events, but the drivers declined to support them in any significant numbers. The Tour had nothing to do with that. It was a simple case of the Late Models not supporting the track.”

Now, however, Curley said he considers his decision to drop the Late Models a mistake, and hinted that if he’s running the show at Airborne in 2003, the Late Models could find themselves back on the docket.

Speaking of Airborne, Curley reiterated his pledge that the Plattsburgh oval will open in 2003, with or without ACT management. Curley confirmed a conversation with Adirondack International Raceway owner Paul Lyndaker about selling or leasing the track, but said no headway has been made since then. He also confirmed speaking to "two or three other parties" about operating the speedway or purchasing it outright next season, and while he declined to identify any of the potential buyers, he did say action could be forthcoming in the very near future.

"I can't name names, but you should be hearing something very soon," Curley said. "We're already halfway through November, and if anything is going to happen, it's going to happen within the next couple of weeks."

The ACT President said that he will require potential buyers or lesees to continue the same racing divisions at Airborne "for at least the next couple of years. There are probably not a lot of people out there willing to be dictated to that way, but I feel a responsibility to the racers to guarantee them a bit of stability, at least in the short term."

Should a sale or lease arrangement not be worked out, Curley said he has already interviewed a number of people interested in working as officials at the embattled Plattsburgh track next season. In addition, he has met with both the New York State and Plattsburgh City Police Departments about what he feels has been a lack of attention in recent years.

"We pay our taxes every single year, and in all honesty, I don't feel we have gotten our due in terms of assistance from the police," he said. "I want the people of Plattsburgh to see that track as an asset, not a liability, and to make that happen, we need the police to step-up and give us some help.

"I'm encouraged with the conversations we've had to date, and hopefully, we can work something out to make Airborne a bit more orderly in 2003."

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Short (Track) Subjects…

…Quote of the Week - Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart, on his rocky adaptation to NASCAR racing. In his words, “You don’t get an instructional video. They don't give you a pamphlet saying, 'This is what your life is going to be like, this is how you do things, this is what is going to happen to you in the garage area.' None of that is explained to you. It is trial and error, and Lord knows I've had enough trials and errors.

…Recently crowed NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Mike Bliss will drive a Joe Gibbs-owned Chevrolet on the NASCAR Busch Series in 2003, sponsored by Rockwell Automation. Joe Gibbs Racing will also field the #18 MBNA-backed Chevrolet, with Gibbs’ son, Coy, replacing veteran Mike McLaughlin.