Things You May Not Know About Tom Curley: A Daughter’s Eulogy

I punched a girl square in the nose for calling my Dad four-eyes. We were in sixth-grade, she was a bully and I’d had enough of her bad-mouthing my father.

Growing-up, the truth is that I spent a lot of time defending my Dad and I know that my brother Seamus did too.

People didn’t understand our lifestyle.

In the country, my parents threw Gatsby-esque parties that went on for days at their big stone house with the Amityville-like, attic windows.

When we moved to suburbia, the lettered-up pace cars in the driveway, cases upon cases of sponsorship hats, t-shirts, beer, coolers and golf towels in our garage were the talk of the neighborhood for the kids and great fodder for disgust for their parents.

It seemed exciting and wild from the outside but inside, it was tough being Tom Curley’s kids. Unlike many who were paid to love and adore him, we just did. We loved and adored him because he was our Dad and because that is what kids do. It’s supposed to work that way.

Doesn’t it work that way for you…?

What you might not know about my Dad is that at his core, the man was a survivor. The universe aligned in weird ways to make this—him—happen. In many ways, he should not have even lived.

You might not know that my Dad’s mother, my grandmother, was murdered. She was murdered by her ex-lover, a police officer who shot her the night she told him that she wanted to go back to my grandfather to try to make it work. The cop shot her, he shot himself and he left behind a wife and eight kids.

This was too much for my grandfather who, after receiving the news, left town and his kids. My father was three-years-old.

My Dad and his older sister were sent to live with their maternal grandparents. My father adored his grandfather; my great-grandmother despised my father. Both parts to that part of Dad’s story are important: I believe that my soft-spoken, humble, great-grandfather imparted my Dad’s work ethic and incredible generosity of spirit and that my Cruella De Vil, great-grandmother gave him his tyrannical, totalitarian, all-consuming drive.

Perhaps Dad’s grandmother blamed him for her rebel-daughter straying. Maybe it was because he reminded her too much of her son-in-law—a bumbling lawyer with a photographic memory, who chain-smoked Lucky Strikes and disappeared into the underbelly of the streets of Boston only to be found years later in the room of a boarding house, near the dog tracks, by a private investigator, hired by my mother, against my father’s wishes—not so lucky with all his strikes…

In between trips to Boston twice yearly to be measured for new clothes, my father was left in the hands of an abusive governess, was diagnosed with Polio, and was shipped-off to boarding schools and summer camps as soon as possible, for as long as possible.

You might not know that my Dad thought his mom died in a car crash…

One night, at summer camp, sitting around the fire it was suggested to my then, teen-counselor dad, that he learn the truth of his mother’s death. So, he snuck out of camp, hitch-hiked to the library, made his way to the basement and found the hard facts in the soft glow of microfiche.

I believe this moment forever changed him.

What you may or may not know about my Dad is that he had many other interests—loves—other than racecars.

His first love was a girl named Sally who died of Leukemia. A couple of years ago, he shared with me in a letter that he never fully got over losing Sally. He still considered her to be the love of his life.

Dad’s next love was a German Shepherd dog named Heidi who made both business and pleasure trips with my Dad up and down the East Coast from Mallet’s Bay, Vermont to Daytona Beach, Florida. Loyal Heidi, rode shot-gun in the chocolate-brown Corvette, never complained about the heat or the cold or the music and, I imagine, easily sat in the percolation of my Dad’s thoughts and silence for hours at a time.

Heidi was the perfect companion for a guy like my Dad.

My all-consuming love for dogs probably stems from Heidi, who once saved toddler-me from the farmer’s combine after I crawled out the screen door, crossed the road and slipped into the cornfield one hot, harvest day.

When Heidi died, Dad was bedridden with grief for days. He was inconsolable even by another one of his loves—my mother.

He married my mother because she was hot and smart and it was the summer of ’69. My mother married my father because he was cool and because her mother hated him. Also, my mother didn’t want to marry the doctor she was engaged to. And, like I said, it was the summer of 1969.

Dad and my mom ran off to Ireland to elope just six weeks after he hired her as a waitress for his steakhouse called T-Bone’s that he owned with Ken Squier—another one of Dad’s loves of the brotherly kind.

His mother and Sally’s deaths were just the beginning of a long line of tragedies and fabulous events in my Dad’s amazing life that created the man you think you knew.

And then, there were the stories…

Dad was a great storyteller. A true Irishman blessed with the gift of the gab, he could hold an audience of one to one thousand. He was fanatical and fantastical. He told stories about hitch-hikers he picked up on the way to Montreal who threw drugs out the window before coming up to the border. He shared grizzly accounts of what he thought was trash all over the road turning out to be body parts from a Hell’s Angel hit by a semi-truck. At Thanksgiving, he held court at our dining room table in front of the entire University of Vermont hockey team (and at least three large, turkey carcasses) while he told stories about the panty raids and drill sergeants at his alma mater.

Gory stuff and racy stuff—Dad told every kind of story. Some of his stories were absolute bullshit! And, you knew it. But, he was so cunning and so deliberate in his delivery that his wrath of authority took hold of you like a soft noose that tugged at your neck attached to your heartstrings. Always a tough critic of his audiences, god forbid you should smirk or have heartburn or shift your weight from one ass cheek to another. He’d single you out and let you have it.

If you were smart, you locked-down and you listened. Period. It’s what you did.

Particular and suspicious, he thought everything was a conspiracy. Everything. Including if a favourite pen went missing from his desk. “Who took my god-damned pen?” he’d bellow. Everything would stop and we’d all look for his pen. It would turn up in his briefcase.

Perhaps someone did take the pen. And then, snuck it into his briefcase while the rest of us searched and he ranted. Perhaps…

If you are reading this, you probably know that Dad was a character. He was righteous about being right and all about fairness. And, he was incredibly unfair, uneven, irrational and sometimes, unkind.

He loved sailing, beating the system, breaking the rules, gambling, The Kentucky Derby, driving fast, little kids, the ocean, loud opera, blazing his own trail, that my birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day and dogs. He was a hard-core, dog lover and a lover of the under-dog.

He was enigmatic, mercurial and a big dreamer who made dreams comes true…

I want you to know that Dad told me he had no regrets. I know that some of you reading this cannot believe this is true but, I’m his kid and I’m telling you that it is because I saw that it was so in his beguiling-blue eyes.

For me, as his daughter, hearing that he was regret-free was both extraordinary and admirable—a relief to hear this from a man who had really and truly lived and experienced life to the fullest.

And, upon his passing, knowing this also leaves me incredibly sad and mystified…

In my teens and 20’s, I spent a lot of my life honing my skills to be more like him. And then, between estrangement(s) from him about which I will never fully understand (like, perhaps, is the case for some of you), I wielded the distance to learn from his mistakes and to wrangle in some of my own. As a business woman, a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister and a daughter, I think of him all the time in terms of what to do, what to stop doing, what to NEVER do and what to keep on doing…

When we reconciled several years ago at a lunch on the U.S. Canadian border, I asked him if he was proud of me.

“Am I proud of you?” he said throwing his hands up in the air. “Of course, I’m proud of you! You are a mini-me and I’m proud of me!” he added as he poked his finger deep into his heart…

I am honored to call Tom Curley my father and I am grateful for the gifts that keep giving. I loved and adored him. Thanks for reading and for being a part of his life and, therefore mine. I appreciate it and you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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78 thoughts on “Things You May Not Know About Tom Curley: A Daughter’s Eulogy

  1. Wow Cait, wonderfully written, I truly enjoyed my days working at the race track. On many occasions while working at the tracks I had the opportunity to visit with your dad time to time. Such a wise respectful guy that I truly admired. Tom will truly be missed by many, however his legacy will live on.

  2. Back in the late 80’s, I worked for Tom as an ACT and Thunder Road Official. I recall working an Enduro at Thunder Road, one of those typical hot August days. Although the event didn’t start until early evening, our day began mid-morning registering cars for the race. So, after working somewhere in the vicinity of 12 to 13 hours, I had the privilege of accompanying Tom to Cayuga Speedway for a big ASA race the next afternoon. Now, for those of you that aren’t familiar with Cayuga, it is located in Ontario about 8 1/2 hours from Thunder Road. So we jumped into one of the ACT vans and Tom drove us down to Whitehall where we stopped for a slice of pizza. Then I took over driving so Tom could get some sleep in the back. He wanted to be well rested to meet with officials from GM Canada about a sponsorship deal. I distinctly recall going down I-90 seeing that sign for Buffalo – 328 (miles). Thankfully, we made it to the Speeedway safely in plenty of time, Tom got his deal and I’ve since caught up on my sleep. We had a saying back in those days – “sleep fast”. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything and it exemplifies the dedication Tom had for racing while instilling a belief in all of us that had the privilege to know him. God speed, Tom.

  3. I just want to say”thank you”for such a delightful share. I did not know you father but your discription reminds me of someone I know and adore. You write wonderfully. William Collier

  4. Cait,
    I didn’t know your father personally, but yet he was such a big part of my life! At 10 years old I discovered Thunder Road and my life changed forever! I was hooked by the racing, by Dave Moody on the mic and your father race directing on the scanner! Racing became a passion of my fathers as well, and over the years we travelled thousands of miles together following the ACT tour. I idolized your father and I have him to thank for bringing my father and I so close together over these past 30 years. I will always cherish those memories and will never forget Tom Curley. Thanks for sharing a side to your father that I never knew.

  5. It sounds like your dad over came a lot and lived a full life. I’ve met your dad through my dad – Dick Blake – the man behind the wheel of the wrecker that has been there for over 50 years. I was sorry to hear of your loss. It sounds like you learned alot about life from your dad. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  6. Cait,
    This was a beautiful eulogy for your father. I have known him for many, many years as a huge race fan, and also worked as a scorer for 8 years. That was some of the best times I had. It helped me understand some of what it takes to run a program, and I have so much respect for what Tom did with ACT and Thunder Road in particular. I had great times coming back from Canada and stopping for dinner. Hearing his stories, true or fabricated, kept me in stitches. There was a race at one of the Canadian tracks where I was scoring, and we had a break. Tom was sitting in a spare room in the tower, and I came in limping. He asked me what happened, and I told him I thought I broke my toe that morning before I left while I was chasing my cat through the house. He said I had to come up with a better story than that to tell my husband, Greg. So, of course, he came up with one – “Tell him there was an issue with scoring, and some of the drivers got angry and starting fighting with us. You kicked on of them and that’s how you broke your toe.” I had to agree it was a much better story than the truth, and we both laughed about that. My husband and I will miss seeing him at the tracks, but know he will be there in spirit. Our condolences to you and your family.

  7. That was such an awesome read! It’s nice to hear about the story of a legend. I’ve been going to Thunder Road for years upon years and your dad will be truly missed by all that had an opportunity to know him. It really sounds like he had a great life and raised you in a great way! So sorry for your loss! RIP Tom!

  8. I was a 17 year old kid dating a Norwich Cadet named Tom McCarney when I met your father. It was his first summer of racing for Fran and Paul Lackey in #44. He drove and Fran, Paul and Tom Mc did the grunt work. He drove like a maniac just as he lived. It was so fun for all of us. We were all just kids what a great time. We all grew our separate ways but your Dad was forever a memory of mine. Your stories make me both happy and sad. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I had some up’s and down with your dad.. but the day I was defending him with andy boright was some thing i’ll never for get. your dad lightly grab my should and said thanks but you do not need to. then he said you will want to hear what I have to say to him..i will not repeat it
    unbehave of the ben lynch team and the owner’s of wmmp it’s a big losse to you and all of racing

  10. I only new Curly for going to Thunder Road the last few years. I respected him and all he did. Most of the time I really liked him. Sorry for your loss.

  11. Well I don’t know you, I knew your father thru the race track, down in canada, but I can tell you this. You are a incredible writer, a great storyteller like your father and that’s the most precious gift that he gave you… Take care of you and your family…

  12. What a great writer! I can only hope one of my kids would take the time to write something even close to this!

    Well done

  13. Beautifully written Cait… what a nice tribute to your Dad and thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry for losing your Dad, but I’m glad you reconnected with him again – I can so relate to some of it.

    Hugs,

    Athenée

  14. What a wonderful account of an awesome man’s life!! How lucky to have been his sweet, strong daughter and have been able to experience what you did!! Thanks for sharing all this with us! Sorry for your loss!

  15. Cait;
    What a wonderful eulogy about your dad and all you knew about him.
    Although I knew him well I just learned a lot more about what made him tick.
    I too am an Irishman and maybe that was why we got along so well.
    We enjoyed the whole summer of 1966 racing the New England circuit and beyond.
    The team consisted of your dad, Steve Carr and I, Bill Lyon.
    He was the driver and boss and Steve and I were the pit crew.
    I can’t tell you how much fun that was for a 18 year old kid. I can tell you a few stories about those times.
    Anyway we finished up the season sometime in October and I joined the Marines.
    Tom, Steve and many others gave me a going away party and as you can imagine it was an Irish treat.
    We all went our separate ways and our paths crossed from time to time. Steve was killed flying a helicopter in Vietnam in 1970, and I saw less and less of Tom.
    I did keep track of him and enjoyed the media about him and how he managed the races.
    It was a pleasure knowing him and I will cherish that time as long as I live.
    Sympathy to you and your family on your loss.

    Bill Lyon
    Northfield VT.

  16. Great tribute to your father who sounds like he lived life on his own terms. Seems like he was more of a rebel and adventurer than me, I would have enjoyed meeting him. What a refreshing change to read about a real person instead of the bland, tree hugging, politically correct do-gooders who are portrayed as celebrities today.

    Now I can see where you get your spark from.

    As one of the earlier comments stated, definitely another book in you Cait.

  17. Thanks for your honesty and perspective. I got a LOT out of your tribute. Wow. Thank you.
    Sorry about losing your Dad.

  18. I raced a strictly street 70 nova for Gary Clay in 89. The night I rolled my car onto its roof on the front stretch was the first night I true my first meet Me Curley for he was the first person at my window asking if I was ok. At that point I respected him an the way thunder road was run. To this day that night has been in my mind an always will be. He was truly a great man. Thanks Mr. Curley for my experience at Thunder Road. Tim Leavitt.

  19. Wow what a great piece !!! Congrats…
    I was Claude Leclerc s crew chief in the mid 90’s . And just could not wait until raceday !
    And of the reason s was to go to your Dad’s pit meetings ! To me he was like a preacher !
    If you would listen very carefully he was not talking about racecars / yellow flags / pit stops / or even victory… He was talking about life !!! Claude had this respect for your dad that was very true and honest…Yes they had a language barrier…But you could feel the bound that these two had ..It was beyond words…I learned alot in those pit meeting..
    Just goes to show,Your Dad touched many lives…He will be missed ! RIP Mr Curley ! x

    • Thanks, Frank! I hear you on the pit meetings…He was the very same in car rides and out for dinner too. My Dad was a classic example of how you do one thing is how you do everything…

      Thanks again for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

  20. So very revealing about your Dad. Honest to a fault. Thank you so much for telling us Tom’s story. He was so wonderful to my grandson, driving him around the track, encouraging his racing dreams. I cannot imagine Thunder Road without him and Ken, but time changes things for all of us. But for me, your Dad is Thunder Road and always will be. But now I know he is so much more. Thank you again. Your family will continue in my prayers. Just thinking I bet he is telling Dale Earnhardt what he did wrong all those years!!! Love to be a fly on the wall for those conversations! We will all miss him so much.

  21. Wow Cait what a breathtaking read of a amazing man …. your father was a amazing man and a hero too many of us,,,,,he made many of our dreams come true as young men and young racers built a field of dreams for all of us to race play and live our dreams and enjoy many life memories that will never be topped and never be forgotten…. we miss you Tom. RIP

    Thoughts are with you Derek and family

  22. Thoroughly enjoyed. you will certainly have to write a book.. I have finished mine but don’t know how to publish. hopefully will figure that out on my own soon as I am reaching 80 years old. You are a gutsy gal and would love to know your name and face book address. Just lost my last dog.. have a chi.. but I have always had Dobermans.. and they have been my life. along with being my dad’s daughter. though he never said. this is my daughter. and like you in the end he finally did say I am proud of you.. that was huge.
    adrienne.1@live.com

    adrienne j venditti seekonk speedway

  23. Cait, He is a Legend. His legacy lives on in you. Your very clear description of him, wildly honors his life in the very best way a daughter ever could. You show his truth and through all he faced in this lifetime, his determination and perseverance. A life well lived, chasing dreams and overcoming obstacles. As my daughter says of my Dad’s life, perfectly Beautiful! Laurie

  24. Hi Cait,

    After racing 20+ years for your dad, I knew much about him at the track, but very little about him away from it, until now. Thank you for sharing.

    I was one of those underdog racers as well and your dad helped me so much. Late in the 2001 Season at Thunder Road, I lost an engine, an expensive engine that our team couldn’t afford to replace. We were approached that day and asked if we would be willing to test a new tiger spec engine the following season. I said most definitely. We ran the engine the entire 2002 season at both Airborne and Thunder Road, then bought it from him at the end of the season. He helped us out so much.

    I respected him so much and there was no other person I ever cared to race for. He was “the best. ” I’ll miss him so much.

    My condolences to you and your family Cait.

  25. Great job Cait.
    Charles may have said it best, Tom wasn’t always right, but he was never wrong. He seemed to thrive on confrontations but his ship was always tight and moving forward. His legendary drivers meetings, with his toy cars, showing veterans like Jr. Hanley and Robbie Crouch how to enter the corners without chopping someone, got the point across. All this from one of the worst race car drivers himself, but the racing was clean and competitive.
    His quest to control cost of late model racing has been copied around the country, and the reason T Road and ACT have been so successful. Love or hate him, he was the best at what he did.
    Rest in peace Tom.

  26. Thank you Cait for making people aware that your Dad was so much more than the person they encountered at the race track and giving some background to perhaps why he seemed bigger than life. You told it like he would want you to, brutally honest. He is even more proud of you now, I am sure. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Derick, Lila, Seamus and his family.

  27. Just wonderful and somehow I saw everything You lived !! He is very proud of You ! That we all know. I did not know him personally but I enjoyed living ion Vermont. Your Dad was a legend and the culture he gave us ! Thank You for writing !!
    This is worthy of a Movie ! Easier said then done I Know…jim

  28. This is an amazing tribute, Your story about your dad makes me understand why I was attracted to him ( as a father figure) and why we had e-mail conversations. I am nothing more then a fan of ACT but spent as much time listening to him on the scanner as I did watching the racing. When my dad passed your Dad reminded me of him, When I took care of him ( I am a nurse) and never Identified myself as the person who he was e-mailing about racing, It was an honor and privilege to care for him, about the only other person that fit that category was the Surgeon General when he was on my unit one time. He will be missed and my thoughs are with you.

  29. What a beautiful story shared…thanks Cait for your wisdom about the man everyone knew, but truly probably never really did. God Bless. I will always remember Tom and the many summers I spent with the ACT Tour. He was a great man. My condolences to you, Derek and the rest of your family. Always hold those memories close.

  30. Dear Cait, You’ve obviously put a tremendous amount of thought into this beautifully written expose’ of your Dad, an enigma to so many, as you correctly imply! This explains so much and I appreciate your having shared so deeply. May the love you have for your dad continue to bolster the amazing woman I’m certain you’ve become. We have been thinking of you and your family for these past days since Tom has passed and we are so sorry for you loss.

  31. What an amazing story… one we read with tears , admiration, love and respect for a man of many wonders. I am glad he left his legacy with no regrets… he touched many lives in different ways, but each of us can say he touched us as well within the heartstrings. Tom Curley will live on in all of us – he will always be remember at the high banks of TRoad and beyond.

  32. Tom was 1 of a kind…
    He gave my son Jason Lamoy the chance to fulfill his dream become a flag man. I will always remember the look on Jason’s face when Tom handed him a piece of paper on his 17th birthday July 3 which said happy birthday you have earned a spot as a apprentice flag man. My husband, daughter (ashley) and my self have worked at airborne for Tom. My daughter had to go to the track before prom to see Dorla, Tom and Heidi. Tom said “wow you really clean up nicely” so Tom. So many memories. Jason decided to leave his prom early to leave for Barre at 5 AM to flag at thunder road. Airborne has not been the same since Tom left and we have worked for everyone else…. RIP Thomas 😘

  33. Thank you – this really did a great deal in making me realize what made your dad tick. He’ll certainly be missed by all of us involved in the racing community.

  34. A very insightful, well written eulogy to your Dad. Thanks for sharing Cait and my condolences to you and your family.

  35. Cait, I fancy myself a bit of a writer. In my work, I am surrounded by writers and wordsmiths who have won national and international awards by the dozens. And yet, this may be the singular most outstanding piece of writing I have ever had the privilege to read. It’s is a stunningly honest, warts-and-all assessment of a complex man who could — at various moments — inspire fierce loyalty and abject hatred.

    As someone who stood beside your old man 3-4 nights a week for the better part of 30 years; soaking up the praise when it came and weathering the tsunamis of criticism, as well, you blew me away today. You should be very proud of what you have crafted here. I’m sure your dad is.

    • Wow. Thank you, Dave. That certainly means a lot coming from you. All the best, thanks for reading and mostly, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  36. Beautiful. I graduated from Norwich with Tom(or T-Bone as he was known by most of us). There were four or five us that hung together our senior year in 1966. As will happen we lost track of each other for a long time, but, reconnected by email a few years ago. I am sure he had many stories of his Norwich exploits. He was a legend there! I believe you have captured the true essence of the man as no one else could. Best regards,
    Bill Fisher
    NU ’66

    • Bill! Thank you for reading and for reaching out. Really pleased to hear that you had reconnected—history like yours is so important and so rare. Thanks again.

  37. Thank You,

    For taking the time to write this, I’m sure it was hard and came from the heart!

    Tom wasn’t always right but he was never wrong ! He affected all of us in different ways, a man I was truly glad I met!

  38. Wonderful job Cait – so very sincere and heartfelt. You really captured your dad in this piece, and your love for him shines through.

  39. What an amazing, beautiful, insightful and honest testimonial to the man, the myth, and the legend that was, and will for revere be, Tom Curley. Thank you, dear one, for sharing this loving tribute with me…with us. I “knew” him, loved him, and deeply admired him in so many ways.
    Peg (Griswold) White

  40. Thanks for sharing Cait. What a great story of a life well lived; not in perfection but for the zest and love. Take care A

  41. Thanks for sharing your father’s story. As a child he must have seemed bigger than life. You should right a book.

    Our grandparents and parents who shape us. Who impart to us qualities we love and those we wish we hadn’t been blessed with. All we know is we love them and want their approval and for them to be proud of us.

    I know there are really know words to soothe your broken heart. I will keep you in my prayers