There was an entirely different column preparing to be posted when I heard the news of Tom Curley’s passing and it didn’t seem right to continue with that.
That piece will come in due time, but I sit here, trying to collect my thoughts of a man who shaped my opinion of short track stock car racing since I was 10-years-old.
I quickly learned when I started going to Thunder Road weekly with a family friend that there were three parts to Thunder Road’s entertainment – the on-track action, Dave Moody, and Tom Curley.
As a 10-year-old, I probably heard things that I had no comprehension of. But it was entertainment.
Good wasn’t good enough. And on more than one occasion when a division was throwing up a stinker, he’d pull the entire division off, read them the riot act, and put them in timeout. It didn’t matter who you were. Nothing was going to mess up the show.
How Tom ran a show and constructed his track made everyone there better. And when I began my short-lived racing career, I wanted to be better. After two years of racing at White Mountain, I bought a Street Stock to begin racing at Thunder Road.
Dream. Come. True.
It was everything I imagined and so much more. And I was right – everyone there was better and it made me become better. It challenged me to my fullest extent to be able to achieve what I did in that first year.
Now, year two didn’t go so well and ended my racing career, but I knew I was racing against the best. And that’s all a testament to Tom Curley and the system he created.
As I transitioned from behind the wheel to behind the keyboard, and someone just starting out as a journalist, Tom was kind of an intimidating figure. But, I stayed out of the way, tried to stay off the radar, and let my writing and reporting do my talking for me.
It was there that I got to see the magic of Tom Curley…and his legendary pit meetings How many other promoters and series directors would break out toy cars and beat them around in a teaching moment that grew chuckles that would get your knuckles slapped with a ruler if you were in grade school. Or a pink flag that signifies you were being a hog on the race track, but there was definitely a bigger underlying meaning there.
I posted a pair of columns a few years ago that was highly critical of all our regions race tracks and touring series titled “What Is Wrong with Racing” and indirectly criticized each track and series. No tracks were left untouched and the pieces were highly popular with our readers. Only one promoter reached out to me about my columns.
It was Tom Curley.
Tom wasn’t mad at what I wrote, even though I did have some items in that column that came right from Thunder Road. But he wanted to offer a different viewpoint on why some of things I mentioned as “wrong” did work, or why some of the items I offered as suggestive improvements wouldn’t work.
He could have easily called me an idiot, but he didn’t.
He ended his response to me by stating that I had a bright future in this sport. That meant a lot to me now and still does to this day. Even more so now. It’s something that I’ll never forget.
Tom wouldn’t back down from a fight and I’m sure over the next few days and weeks, we’ll hear and read about many battles he fought – from NASCAR to Bob Bahre to Tom Mayberry and everyone in between – and in recent years making mends with many.
Tom Curley shaped an entire generation of stock car auto racers and how it is contested. He built the ladder system at Thunder Road that has seen many of the current crop of Late Model stars start in the entry level Street Stock class.
There were and are so many that worked Curley’s ladder system to success — Nick Sweet. Jason Corliss. Eric Badore. Scott Payea. Bobby Therrien. Mike Bailey. Jamie Fisher. Joey Becker. Derrick O’Donnell. Jimmy Young. New Thunder Road co-owner Cris Michaud.
Only to list a few.
Curley’s positive influence will have and does have long lasting effects. He created a system that allowed many drivers to become regional stars and achieve greatness. He set the gold standard for many items relating to short track stock car racing promoting for the fans, developing race car drivers, and putting on a great show.
Tom always ended his driver’s meeting by telling his drivers to have a good ride. It was the finality of putting everything he has presented in his monologue that could last over an hour. But you received a message and in that, you felt his passion for stock car racing.
He lived it. He pioneered it. He asked “why not”? He risked it and it paid off. Big.
Tom, thank you. And have a good ride.