Big: First things first, in about every conversation I’m in, and your name comes up, or Ken Squier or Dave Dion or any other long time racer, the question always is, “How old is he?”
You turn 69 in May and you’ve been battling a health issue the past few years, what is it, and how are you feeling?
Tom: “A few years ago I was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) the specialist I saw told me I should be on oxygen 24/7. I told him that he needed to give me either a pill, or, if I was destined to go on oxygen, I told him to buy me a one way ticket to Miami, buy me a pair of white loafers and a little round hat and ship me to Florida with all the other old men!
“There is no cure for COPD and it is a progressive disease. I have recently been ‘downgraded’ to chronic pulmonary fibrosis or something like that, but those are just the cards that are dealt and I deal with it the best that I can. I am learning to slow down a little with lots of insistence from Darla (Hartt, Vice President/General Manager of ACT and Thunder Road).
“Everyone in life is going to face some health issues as they get older. The only thing you can do is accept them, and try to live your life enjoying what you most like to do, one of which for me is obviously being involved in racing.”
Big: The question for the past few years has been when will Tom Curley call it quits and turn Thunder Road and the American Canadian Tour over to someone else? You’ve tried a few guys as race director in the past decade or so yet, for the most part, you’re still the guy calling the shots. What will become of Thunder Road and ACT when you decide to stay by the ocean soaking your feet (Tom has place on the coast of Maine) instead of traveling hundreds of miles to the next race?
Tom: “The only person who, according to his continual self-proclaimed unquestionable ‘know it all’ attitude and the person who probably should take over the whole operation is a guy named Andy Boright. But so far he has been timid about sending in a) the application for the job, b) the check for purchase and rights to ‘walk his talk’. I don’t expect anything soon.
“We have been working for several years on transition for both Thunder Road and ACT operations. It is a difficult business to just walk into, as everything is pretty specialized and interwoven with dependency. Obviously the failure rate running race tracks is pretty high on a national level, and we want to try and be careful that we find the right combination that will help Thunder Road and ACT survive well into the future.
“Until we find that person or group, or of course the obvious best option that Boright will put his money where his mouth is, I am lucky to have a supportive and dedicated team, and incredible race teams, that will continue to help me for a few more years.”
Big: The Late Model rules have just been released. It appears you’ve made some changes on how you police the rules about chassis. What’s that about and why now?
Tom: “There have been a lot more changes for 2012 than just getting the chassis rules straightened out. As I realize that my ‘clock is ticking’, I wanted to try and get the ACT Late Model rules more in line with the original philosophy of what we started 20 years ago. Back then the mission and business plan was to have a universal set of rules. The philosophy would allow local and touring competitors to have a cost-controlled level playing field and, if successful, create a system that would encourage continual growth because of parity within the system, rather than the constant need to spend excessive money on motors, shocks and tires with limited growth resulting.
“The 2012 rules will see some weight rule changes, percentage of left side weight changes, qualifying and teching changes, motor changes for Chevrolets, transmission rules, and several other updated items, all at little or no cost to the teams.
“Our basic chassis rules were originally the NASCAR perimeter chassis rules from the early ’70s. Builders have made some changes on their own, some have been made with the introduction of ABC bodies, etc. It was time for some clarifications and additions. The challenge was in trying not to penalize those teams that bought chassis which would not be in compliance with the 2012 updated version. With over 300 teams in the ACT system, we have tried to include ‘grandfather rule clauses’ that will allow all cars to continue to compete at a very minimal correction cost. Nearly all the ACT teams have reportedly been happy with the results of this lengthy process. We also had remarkable input from various teams and builders in getting things done efficiently and fair to all concerns.”
Big: It wouldn’t be a Q&A from me if I didn’t bring up the handicap system. I understand with 150 (give or take a car or two) different drivers showing up for a Tour race the past few years the ACT +/– is the best system. But have you thought about tweaking it a bit so if a guy wins a race he can’t start better than around 10th for the rest of year?
Tom: “My problem is that when things are really working well for ACT like in 2010 when we had several first-time winners, penalizing them by not allowing them to start in an ‘earned handicap position’ may not be in the best interest of what we provide as a race experience. I really don’t see any up side to this for fans either.
“Guys like Miles Chipman, Jeff White, or youngsters Austin Theriault, Patrick Hamel, Ben Ashline or Dave Farrington should not be ‘penalized’ within a handicap system when they knock off their first win. I feel it should be fair for all competitors equally, champions or first-timers.
“I am planning to discuss various handicaps in a commentary on our web site over the next couple weeks. I am sure you will have some additional thoughts on my views regarding the benefits and disadvantages that various handicaps provide.”
Big: Dave Dion made an appearance at the ACT banquet last weekend, how’d that come about?
Tom: “The head of Ford racing, Mike Delahanty, could not attend the ACT banquet. Dave Dion was visiting his brother Roger in Hudson, NH. Bruce Bernhardt, owner of Wayne Helliwell Jr.’s cars, and winner of the regional Ford Blue Oval Challenge for 2011 is also from Hudson and a former crew member for the Dion Bros. racing. Bruce called me Friday and asked me if Dave could present the award. It was one of the highlights of the night having Dave Dion at the banquet.”
Big: There’s talk of a new division at Thunder Road this summer. Is there a chance Joe Race Fan can just show up and get to drive a race car provided by the track?
Tom: “Now that the rules, schedules and banquets are completed, our attention will turn to some additional promotions for 2012, the Rough Rider division being one of them.
“I have already had an initial meeting and am getting excited about this concept division. Without question, fans, and even ex-champions turned media scribes will have a chance to run one of these ‘thrash and crash’ rigs. I actually might entertain having Andy Boright strap in to see if he can improve his performance from his years as a ‘class D+ racer’.
Big: I’m an ex-racer turned media scribe not an ex-champion and I’m sure wife Julie will be glad to hear I may get to take a spin around the high banks. My last time was in 1992.
Next week look for some more Q&A with Tom.
When Cale Yarborough found out he was going to be inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, he called Ken Squier and asked him if he’d be the one to induct him. When Mike Joy introduced Ken, he said, “To induct Cale, is another giant of our sport, he founded Motor Racing Network Radio for Bill France. He brought this sport into hundreds of thousands of living rooms and car radios each week and then convinced CBS to televise The Daytona 500 flag-to-flag.
“And when you saw that fist pump after winning the 500 from Cale, it was followed by a thank you CBS and he was thanking the man I’m about to introduce. By far, the greatest story teller in the history of broadcasting this sport on radio and TV – Ken Squier.
I’m a tad biased, having known Ken all my life, but I say it’s time NASCAR placed Ken in the Hall of Fame.
Pembroke earlier this week confirmed Dan Keene, owner of Lamoille Valley Ford, Twin State Ford and Quick Lane, has bought a PASS car from Kendall Legendre which was driven by Steven last season.
The plan as of now is to race both PASS races at WMMP and maybe Riverside and also at Oxford the night before the 250.
Dave also plans to race his own car at Thunder Road this summer looking for back-to-back championships and his third over all. He was King of the Road in 2007, also.
A source very close to the 26VT team tells me John will not be running the ACT Late Model Tour this coming season. The plan is to run for the Thunder Road championship plus the two Tour events at The Road and the 250. A race or two may be added.
Late last season, Donahue ran some PASS races for Sally Bolduc, but nothing has been made public at this time.
Thunder Road Schedule
The Road released their 18-event 2012 schedule, which will include the 50th running of both the Milk Bowl (Sept. 29-30) and the Memorial Day Classic (May 27). Also on tap are two ACT Late Model Tour events, the 14th running of the Merchants Bank 150 on April 29 and the 34th Bond Auto Labor Day Classic on Sept. 2.
Two Sunday twilight events on June 10 and June 17 will run just before the Thursday night schedule begins on June 21.
For the entire schedule go to http://www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com/
VT State LM Championship Series
Officials from Thunder Road and Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven have announced a Vermont State Late Model Championship Series for the 2012 race season. Four long-distance events, two at each track, will determine the Champion.
The ACT Late Models race at 15 different race tracks and two regional touring divisions.
Thunder Road will present the historic 50th anniversary Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic and Vermont Governor’s Cup 150 as part of the series. The new owners of Devil’s Bowl Speedway, Mike and Alayne Bruno, have joined over a dozen regional tracks by incorporating the ACT Late Model rules as a part of their NASCAR weekly racing program.
Devil’s Bowl will host two 100-lap events, one on June 8, the other on Sept. 16. The two tracks will post over $10,000 in point fund money for participating teams.
Until Next Week
Every day find someone or something that makes you laugh.