What makes you a legend are not the stories you tell, but the stories that are told about you. On Friday evening following the sad news of long-time racing promoter Tom Curley’s passing, many stories were being told by racers, fans and others within the industry.
Curley, 73, passed away on Friday night after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Although he may be gone, he will certainly never be forgotten by those who knew him and those involved in the tight short track racing community.
Curley was a rare breed when it came to auto racing promoters. He spoke his mind and never shied away from sharing exactly how he felt. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, you’d walk away from a conversation with him saying, “Well, I don’t agree with him but it’s Tom Curley.”
Curley’s experience as a short track racing promoter took him all over the country, but his primary focus was always on the Northeast. Throughout his career he promoted tracks and series such as NASCAR Northeast, the NASCAR North Tour, Oxford Plains Speedway, Airborne Park Speedway and of course the American-Canadian Tour and Thunder Road, a track he recently sold.
During his career Curley earned many accolades including the 2013 Promoter of the Year on Speed51.com and the RPM North American Promoter of the Year in 2004. He is also a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Maine Racing Hall of Fame and Vermont Sports Hall of Fame.
Following the announcement of his passing by his daughter Cait Lynch on Friday evening, the short track racing community joined in unison to remember one of the all-time greats in our sport.
“I don’t even know where to start when it comes to talking about Tom Curley. Without him my racing career wouldn’t be what it is today,” Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. said on Facebook. “He allowed me to compete on his tour at a very young age and took me under his wing. He was happy when we did well, but he was also the first one to let me know when I did something wrong. New England lost one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever known when it comes to short track racing.”
Brian Hoar, an eight-time champion on Curley’s American-Canadian Tour, might have shared more memories with Curley than any other driver. On Saturday morning he spoke to Speed51.com and reminisced on an emotional moment he shared with Curley prior to his last race before “hanging up the helmet for a while.”
“When I made the decision to get done racing it was an emotional one, a very emotional one when I wanted to go talk to Tom Curley and tell him. It took me right until the moment and I knew going in a couple weeks before the race what was going to happen. I didn’t have the heart to tell anyone until the day before race day and in his case race day in Thompson, Connecticut. This is the second to last time I even saw Tom, I’ve only seen him one time since then,” Hoar stated.
“I waited until the driver’s meeting was done that day and I went over to tell him and (car owner) Rick Paya joined me. He was sitting on his golf cart and he had just finished the driver’s meeting. I said I needed to talk to him and it was just the three of us. I told him I was going to hang my helmet up for a long while and I remember him breaking down. I remember him breaking down and me breaking down and this was a tough Tom Curley that most people didn’t see. Tough as nails, almost a John Wayne in his day, but I watched him tear up and break down. I had a moment and then I remember in his own way he wiped his eyes, looked back up at me, pointed at me and started shaking his finger, which he was known to do. He started shaking his finger and in a broken voice said to me, ‘There’s only one thing left to do. You know what you’ve go to do. You’ve got to go win this race tonight.'”
During his career, Curley also developed great relationships with the media, including many of us here at Speed51.com. Some of our current and former staff members reflected on their experiences with Curley.
“Tom Curley loved the sport of auto racing,” said Bob Dillner, Speed51.com Executive Editor. “He was great for the sport as well. We will miss his passion dearly, but it is my hope that he will liv eon through the lessons he taught us all. He was one of the true contributors to short track racing. He was a racer. RIP friend.”
“The racing community has lost a great leader tonight as Tom Curley will move his promoting duties to Heaven,” said Kevin Ramsell, formerly a Midwest Editor at Speed51.com. “I first met Tom at a Promoter’s Workshop probably ten years ago. Every time I saw him at a promoter’s workshop or at a track, we always had the most lively and thought provoking conversations. His knowledge and wisdom showed through the success of the ACT Tour and Thunder Road in Barre, VT where he co-owned it with Ken Squier until last month.”
“The setting was New Smyrna Speedway. It was a hot afternoon in Florida as the American-Canadian Tour geared up for another night of racing in 2015,” Speed51.com Editor Brandon Paul began. “I was standing near our Speed51 TV trailer when Tom approached me on his golf cart. The first words out of his mouth were, ‘I just want to tell you that you’re doing a heck of a job on the broadcasts.’ He then went on to explain how after each night of racing he would go back to his hotel and watch the night’s broadcast on demand. I really didn’t know what to say. For me, someone who didn’t have a lot of experience in a TV booth at the time, that meant so much coming from one of our sport’s most well-respected figures.”
Justin St. Louis, currently a columnist for the Times Argus in Vermont, shared many memories with Curley in many different roles. He raced for Curley, he worked for Curley and he played the role of a journalist/broadcaster at many of Curley’s events.
“I’ve raced for him, I’ve worked for, with, and against him, and I’ve learned so, so much from him,” St. Louis said on Facebook. “I don’t think we were best friends, but I think I was fortunate enough to have earned his respect – even if it was only because I never backed down to him when we both knew I was right. I tried my best to put into words what Tom Curley has meant to me, and right now I just can’t do any better than this.”
TJ Ingerson, the Editor of the website VTMotorMag.com, also shared his memories of Curley and a particular email he received from the respected promoter.
“I wrote two columns a few years back titled “What’s Wrong with Racing” that indirectly pointed out problems I felt many local race tracks had, including Thunder Road. Only one promoter reached out to me after I published those articles — Tom Curley,” Ingerson stated.
“He didn’t flat out say anything I wrote was wrong, just that he had a different viewpoint. But, he ended it with that I have a bright future in this sport. I never have and never will forget it.”
ARCA racer Austin Theriault, who raced for Curley during the early stages of his career, also shared his thoughts on the racing legend.
“We lost a pillar of New England and one of the best race promoters we’ve seen,” Theriault said. “Tom Curley took me under his wings in 2010 when I first joined the ACT Tour. He helped me become the racer I am today.”
Scott Payea, another racer who has spent many years racing for Curley, expressed his sorrows as well.
“Words cannot express the loss the racing community has suffered today. Tom Curley was an exceptional promoter that shaped the face of racing in the Northeast. We will forever be grateful. If you never experienced a driver’s meeting where Tom pulled out the cars then you missed something special. He used the bumper on that Home Depot car more than (Tony) Stewart.”
Many tracks, series and promoters throughout the Northeast region also expressed their gratitude for Curley and all he has done for the sport of short track racing.
And as former Maine racing journalist and announcer Kalle Oakes said, “If there’s racing in heaven, they’re about to have one hell of a driver’s meeting.”
-Text by Speed51.com Staff. Photo credit: Speed51.com