In 1987, he aligned the ACT Tour with the ASA and the All-Pro Southeast series to form the Stock Car Connections. Many now-famous drivers came out of that union, such as NASCAR stars Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Bobby and Davy Allison, Rusty and Kenny Wallace, and short track legends Dick Trickle, Butch Miller, Mike Eddy, and Bobby Gill.
In 2011, ACT started its tour at the Speedweeks, World Series of Stock Car Racing event at New Smyrna Speedway in February with two 100-lap non-points races. ACT also runs the Canadian-based Serie Castrol Edge, formed in 2005.
This Labor Day classic was a tough one due to the weather. A heavy rain fell after practice and qualifying and after a delay of a few hours, the racing was on. I was able to speak with Tom Curley early in the day and I got a sense of his passion for his series and stock car racing in general. He was positioned right where it counted: in the announcer's booth overlooking all of the proceedings.
Directly behind that building was a series of three ômonumentsö honoring past winners of the three huge racing events held each year. The Memorial Day Classic, the Milk Bowl, and the Labor Day Classic winners are memorialized forever. This is just one example of how Tom shows his respect for the racers and what they have helped to build at this track and for his series.
Through Tom's influence, ACT has introduced many innovative and cost-saving rules to racing including a spec engine program started in 1999, one of the country's first, and the development of spec tires through a cooperative effort with Goodyear Tire. All of his hard work was rewarded in 2004 when more than 1,000 racetrack promoters voted him the Auto Racing Promoter of the Year.
A normal night's racing at TR includes classes for the Late Models, Sportsman, Street Stocks, and Junk Yard Warriors. On one typical race day, 26 Late Models, 28 Sportsman, and 29 Street Stock and JYW cars raced. Those are very good numbers.
The numbers of fans in attendance spoke to the magnitude of this race and racetrack. Supporting businesses put on huge displays and brought employees out to spend the day at specially constructed viewing areas. The stands were filled as were the pits. At the end of the day, I could see why racing in New England was so popular.
Tech inspection is of great...
Tech inspection is of great interest in ACT racing. Early on, the founders of ACT realized the importance of making the racing more affordable while enforcing the rules so as not to create unfair advantages for creative teams. Note that next to the car number is the designation for the state of origin. So, there can be two No. 57 cars, one VT (Vermont) and one ME (Maine), which there were, running the race.
Thunder Road has always attracted...
Thunder Road has always attracted large crowds and with the help of local business sponsorships, the interest will continue well into the future. A successfully run track meets the needs of everyone—racers, fans, and area businesses included.
Behind the announcer’s shack...
Behind the announcer’s shack was a memorial to the winners of past feature events at Thunder Road. Represented with their names etched in stone were winners of the Memorial Day Classic, the Vermont Milk Bowl, and the Labor Day Classic. This is a nice way to reward those accomplishments and the recognition carries on for a long time.
Northeastern Speedway--Bonus Track!
This now defunct, small 1/5-mile, racetrack located on Highway 18 just a few miles east of Saint Johnsbury was operated for only eight years. But in that time, it forged solid and useful rules and a model for sanctioning bodies that would influence many other racetracks and quite possibly set the tone for all of short track racing across the country.
The current owner of the property and primary catalyst for unearthing the track and holding the 50th anniversary celebration is Paul Bellefeuille and his wife, Lise. I met Paul at the track one day while staying in Saint Johnsbury and he showed me around the grounds. He told me many stories about the track and offered material and a video that told the history of this short-lived, but influential track.
On August 18, 1958, the Northeastern Racing Association was formed for the purpose of building a racetrack and the first President was Charles Ely. A parcel of land available for lease was located 4 miles east of town, and on July 18, 1959, the first race was run. By the time the last race ran in mid October of that year, 40 cars were competing and attendance rose to more than 3,000 spectators.
At that time in Vermont and New Hampshire, racing was very disorganized providing very little prize money, no association to represent the drivers, and no points system. Northeastern Speedway changed all of that.
Ken Squier announced the early races and he became so impressed with the operational efficiency he saw that the next year he and two brothers, the Cooleys, built the Thunder Road International Speedway, as it was called then, and asked NRA to run the program.
The opener at TR brought more than 5,000 spectators to the 3,000-seat track. It was an asphalt track and Northeastern was dirt. In 1961, it was decided to pave Northeastern so that the teams running both tracks would be able to equip the cars with the same tires and setups.
Strangely enough, along with paving Northeastern they erected a 3-foot-high concrete wall around the entire track. During that season, drivers threatened a boycott and wanted the track to tear down the wall due to excessive damage to the cars. It was removed after a few races, becoming even more like its sister track, Thunder Road.
Another innovation was the creation of a claimer class where any car that won three weeks in a row could be claimed for $75, less battery, tires, belts, and helmet. And, tech inspections were instituted where in the first season one car was suspended for having an illegal cam. Imagine that!
The track ended up having financial difficulties from spending so much on improvements. Meanwhile, being so successful in drawing spectators, it encouraged others in neighboring towns to build competing racetracks cutting back its attendance. Northeastern finally closed at the end of 1966 due to the money shortage and increased competition.
As a result of the forethought that went into the organization at Northeastern, we now have sanctioning bodies, strict rules to maintain fairness, decent payouts, and other innovations at all of the short tracks across not only the Northeast, but across the country. Now you know the rest of the story.
The track itself at Thunder...
The track itself at Thunder Road was a small, wide, and high-banked affair and didn’t have walls around it except for the front straight. This layout was copied by an early Vermont racetrack called Northeastern Speedway.
Northeastern Speedway was...
Northeastern Speedway was alive just eight years before its decline and death from, of all things, success, its small size and money woes. But, its founders developed a plan on how to run a racetrack well before anyone even knew how to organize these events. That plan has been copied many times over for future series, tracks, and racing organizations. Here we see the beginnings of a restoration project that uncovered this historic venue and evolved into a 50th anniversary celebration attended by some of the very same fans, drivers, and crews who ran here in the early 1960s.
One interesting observation...
One interesting observation we noted about a restored car that is on display, and that actually ran at Northeastern Speedway, was that the rollbar padding was made of burlap sacks tied to the bars. We’ve come a long way since then.