Tom [Curley]’s Take On… by Mike Twist
ACT’s Top Man Talks About Short Track Racing
Tom Curley has seen just about everything in short track racing.  He’s headed the old NASCAR Northeast tour.  He’s co-owned and promoted Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT) for years.  He’s headed up the American-Canadian Tour both as a Super Late Model-based series in the 1980s and 1990s, and after it was reinvented as a Late Model tour using sealed crate engines and spec shocks today.
On short track heroes…

“One of the things in short track racing that we are lacking is that we have lost that hero status.  20 years ago, there were guys with reputations in different regions.  It was 30 years ago when in Northern New England, we knew who the Richie Evans and the Jerry Cooks and the Ed Flemkes were.  We knew who Bob Senneker, Mike Eddy, Mark Martin and Alan Kulwicki were.  You could follow that and everyone knew on Monday who won in other parts of the country.  Over the last 20 years, we’ve lost those regional heroes.”

On why that is the case…

“It was because of the rise of NASCAR and their dominance.”

On the momentum that a good finish at Oxford will bring a tour team…

“If you can do well at Oxford, it will carry you for a month.  By the time that you get to Airborne in three weeks, they’ll still be talking about who finished third at Oxford.  That helps all of our individual tracks.”
Tom Curley (L) talks with racer Dale Shaw (R).  (51 Photo)
On Ben Rowe racing in ACT…

“When Ben came in last year, it was huge for us.  He was highly competitive [right away].  If he had come in and floundered around, it would not have done anything for us.  But he came in and was competitive right from the get-go.  That brought a lot of our guys’ games up.  They wanted to run with him.” 

On NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Racing…

“How much fun is it to watch a Cup race at Martinsville when you literally see everyone go around in a line?  Where if someone is fast they whack a guy, go by and wait until you whack the next guy?  Short track racing is supposed to be who can get around someone once in awhile.”

On the advantage (or lack thereof) of new tires in an ACT Late Model feature…
On too much parity…

“I do think that you can get it too cookie-cutter.  I think that has been a knock on us and it has been a fair knock on us.  If you give everybody the same cars, you are asking for a not-very-exciting format.  We’ve almost gotten to that point.  We’re close and we can’t restrict stuff any more.  We need to leave it alone.”

On adjusting the rules to keep someone form winning too much…

“There is a tendency to want to do something if this guy or that guy goes and wins four races in a row.  But you have to realize that it is because they are experienced drivers with experienced teams.  Not because they have a better motor than everyone else.  You have to let it go.  That’s the way that it is.  If you put more restrictions on them, so they can’t win four or five races a year, than you end up hurting the series.”
On this weekend’s ACT Late Model race at Oxford and how the tour regulars stack up…

“People who we have [on the Tour], who we think are top-five guys, are very tentative about Oxford.  The Oxford guys have a huge edge in qualifying.  We get our edge when the race gets to about lap 60 or 70.  That is when you can tell the difference between the sprint racers and the long-range racers.  Unfortunately, now we’ve been racing there so long that the weekly guys have figured this out and gotten their games up.  I think that this is the best of both worlds.

On the mix of fans and competitors expected at Oxford…

“I think that you are going to see a lot of green [Vermont] plates, a lot of Quebec plates and a lot of Massachusetts plates.  It will be a lot like the old Oxford days.  It is going to give an added dimension for the race.”
“Guys were testing at Airborne and running 40 or 50 laps on the tires that they ran at the Milk Bowl last year and they were only a tenth off.  Even if we allowed tire changes in the races, nobody would do it.  You don’t need them.  You’re not just buying tires for the sake of buying tires.”

On the business model of ACT Late Model racing…

“Our whole business design from the beginning was to make this a driver’s series again.  Let’s get rid of the money and the technology and make it about the drivers and the guys who know who to set a car up.  I think that we’ve been successful at that, now we just have to keep on it.  We need to make sure that the parts and pieces are the same for everybody. 

On parity and cheating…

“It’s not fun if you are complying with the rules to get beat by someone who you know isn’t.  These things are so close that anything that you do to beat the system is going to give you a magnified edge.  If you have a $40,000 racecar and a $40,000 motor, there’s a pretty wide margin [to hide in], when everyone is equal, it comes down to the drivers.”
But Curley has probably never quite seen the pre-season buzz around his series that ACT faces this year.  This Saturday, the tour will starts its year off at Oxford Plains Speedway and there is plenty going on.  Oxford has dropped their weekly Pro Stocks (Super Late Models) and elevated their ACT-legal Late Models division to the top of their racing card this year.  With that change comes the evolution of the TD Banknorth Oxford 250 to a Late Model race. 

Meanwhile, the ranks of the ACT Late Model regulars keeps getting stronger.  Young talents like Joey Polewarczyk Jr, Scott Payea, Ryan Nolin and Mark Anzalone now call the tour home.  Former NASCAR Busch North/Busch East competitors Brian Hoar, Jamie Aube and Kip Stockwell are returning to their roots with full-time efforts in the series.  Record car counts are expected throughout the 16-race schedule.

Curley has never been accused of not thinking things through or being shy about stating his opinions.  Earlier this week, he gave his thoughts on several topics heading into the ACT Late Model season.  We rolled our tape recorder, and tried not to interrupt, as Curley discussed everything from Late Models to short track heroes to the Boston Red Sox.

On last Sunday’s ACT Practice Day at Airborne…

“That place dries out real well.  I think that we had an interesting practice.  A couple of Canadians came down.  Brian Hoar came over.  Jean [Paul Cyr] was there – late as always.  Brian had been to Seekonk to practice a few weeks ago.  He was the only one who had already been on a track this year.  He was wicked fast right when he unloaded.  Everyone got all nerved up and then Jean came in and kind of saved the day.  He got right down there with Brian.
“It was the fastest that I’ve seen them go there.  [At the end of the day], there were about six of them that got down to within a tenth of each other.  It was a good five-hour session.”

On Oxford Plains Speedway making Late Models (under ACT rules) their top division and the future of the ACT-type Late Model in the region…

“As far as Oxford, I think this is the defining moment of a revolution in the Northeast.  I don’t think that it could happen without Oxford.  We’ve worked hard to get something together that is right for the times.  I’m not naive enough to think that seven years from now, someone won’t come up with a better can opener.  But for now, this is the right thing for the economy and the right thing for weekly racing.  This is the right thing for fans.  I think that the prices are right.  I think that having guys like Mike and Benji [Rowe] and the Oxford competitors is right.  That makes for a much more exciting business model. 

On ACT Tour drivers mixing it up with Saturday night track regulars…

“It gives you the best of all worlds.  It revitalizes weekly racing and also gives you the flavor of the old times at Catamount and Oxford when guys would come in from all over.  You might not know them, but you knew their reputations.  You knew that they would be pretty good.  We face that a little bit now on our Tour when we go to Quebec.  We go to Ste. Croix and there are five or six guys from there who are tough to beat.”
Ben Rowe celebrating one of his ACT victories.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
The ACT Late Models run in close copmany at Thunder Road.  (51 Photo)
On the changing of the guard…

“We needed to get some youth in this game.  As promoters for years, we didn’t realize that.  The Mike Rowes, the [Dick] McCabes, the [Dave] Dions, the [Robbie] Crouches, the [Bobby] Dragons and the [Jean Paul] Cabanas are gone.   They’ve had their day in the sun.  They’ve given us this sport for 30-something years and we weren’t very good about giving the new generation a platform to race.”

On the fact that Mike Rowe is still racing, and winning, on short tracks across the country…

Mike [Rowe] is still around, but he’ll be gone by the time I’m done with him [laughs].

On the young drivers, and teams, in ACT and how they perform at Oxford…

“We’ve had some of the younger teams asking about coming to Oxford.  Well, if you want to become a Late Model star in the Northeast, you have to perform well at Thunder Road and Oxford.  That is where the focus nationally and regionally is.  That’s not taking anything away from our other tracks, but those are the places where people know if you do well, you’ll do well anywhere.  It’s like the song “New York, New York.”

On what momentum means to a young driver starting out the season…

“I look at some of our young kids and know that if they have a good opening day, it could make their season.  No matter how many disappointments come in the next month, they can ride that wave a long way.  You might go to Thunder Road next and not get in.

“I have to pat the guy on the butt and say, ‘Don’t worry, Cyr didn’t qualify or Ben Rowe didn’t qualify.’ It’s a numbers game.”

On the system of heat races used to set the field for the TD Banknorth 250…

“If you get 120 or 140 cars to show up, everyone is even until you draw [for heat race
positions].  There are going to be 80 guys going home.  There are going to be some very
long faces from guys who should be in it, but will be going home.  On the other hand, you’re
going to have some kid get into the race who today, his odds are so bad, but tomorrow his
dream is going to come true.  There is not a driver in New England who is thinking about
what they are going to do in the 250.  They are thinking about whether they can get a lucky
draw and if they can get in.  Right now, anyone can get in that race.  You don’t even have to
be very good.  If you hang on for 20 laps, you can get in.”

On qualifying this weekend at Oxford…

“If we get 50 or 60 cars this weekend, we are going to send half of our cars home.  There’s
nothing wrong with that.  It shocked and prepares people.  It gives them that fire in the belly.”

On drivers “barnstorming” racing at different tracks….

“I think that we have developed phenomenal opportunities for that.  I’ve lost a bunch of Tour guys to the Oxford Challenge Series.  I’m talking good ones who have run with us for 10 years.  The guy who finished second in points the last few years is not running the Tour anymore.  He’s running the Oxford Series and Thunder Road…and he’ll pick and choose the Super Series races that pay well.  He’ll still run the equivalent number of races, but he can mix and match them a little bit.

“You’ll see guys stopping in on an off Saturday night at Oxford and Thunder Road.  We have more cars than we need at Thunder Road on a weekly basis, but it’s good for business.  When you have guys who come through that gate and it’s not the same ones, fans get a little buzz and it gives the show more of a meaning.  That is how short track racing ought to be.  It’s how Dion and the Vermonters made their mark 30 or 40 years ago.  If you came over and you were halfway decent, you built a reputation.”

On the Quebec Series teams that plan to run ACT races in the United States this year…

“There are some good Canadian teams.  Guys that you haven’t seen in some time who have a lot of laps in these cars now.  They’ve been racing at 10 years at fast racetracks.  That’s healthy.  That is going to be dynamic.”

On the Boston Red Sox sweeping their recent series with their archrivals, the New York Yankees…

“What a weekend huh?  Wow.” 





Side-by-side ACT action.
Joey Pole is one of the young drivers on the ACT Tour.  (51 Photo)