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The American Canadian Tour (ACT)is a longstanding series led by Tom Curley. In this interview, he had some really insightful perspectives on crate racing. Read on to learn more.
CI: For those who may not be familiar, what are the basics of your series? (Car type, surface, engine, region)
TC: ACT runs Late Model race cars with ABC bodies. We run at 16 different tracks throughout the Northeastern US and Canada. We are an asphalt series that runs on all size oval tracks from ¼ mile to the mile at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Tracks we race at are as high banked as 18 degrees and flat with reverse camber. The series runs exclusively with the 603 GM crate engine, and a comparable SRJr Ford engine, which I would consider a ‘spec’ engine, not a crate. (Note: In my opinion there is a very loose use of the ‘crate’ terminology. Crate motors originally were ‘out of the box’ stock GM engines. Many now have the ‘crate engines’ taken to builders and various parts are replaced. By definition this would be a ‘spec’ engine, not a crate engine.)
CI: Tell us how you came to found the American Canadian Tour series
TC: In 1979 we created the NASCAR North Tour that raced under a NASCAR sanction, but was funded and managed by our organization located in Vermont. We raced throughout New England, Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes of Canada. Eventually, we raced at the Dover Downs Int’l Speedway. Those motors were high compression (14:1) engines and were costly. We closed the NASCAR North program at the request of NASCAR in 1985.
The American Canadian Tour (ACT) was begun in 1986. In 1987 motor costs were getting out of hand and we knew that Rex Robbins in the Midwest was experimenting with using 9:1 engines with much success. These engines were produced at far less cost than the motors we ran in the East. The switch was phased in during 1987 and 1988. Those motors served us well for many years until they also became cost prohibitive…(beginning to see a trend here!!).
We then optioned in a 10.5 compression steel-headed motor. Shortly, because of the tremendous cost savings, it was the standard motor for touring in the region. As usual, eventually those motors became too expensive for short track racing. The original ACT series was closed in 1995.
In 1996 we took a very healthy weekly division at a track we owned and started the long way back to having a very successful regional weekly premiere division for many tracks to exploit. We also were able to create two series (one in the Northeast US and one in Quebec) using virtually the exact rules as weekly tracks, thus providing a huge pool of cars and continual aftermarket which has been very successful, now going on nearly 20 years.
The foundation of our current success has been based on three essential components…the first is a successful CRATE—not spec---motor program that we started in 1999. It took two or three years to reach respectability, but in my opinion it revolutionized the asphalt short track weekly programs, and allowed enormous opportunities for weekly racers to compete equally with touring teams when they raced a couple special long distance events at various weekly tracks in the region.
The crate motor program only works if the cost conscience philosophy is backed up with cost restrictions on tires and shocks. Those three elements- crate engines, tires, and controlled shocks - have been the basis for any success we have enjoyed over the past twenty years.
CI: How do your rules align with other similar series?
TC: We have a unique formula that involves a dozen tracks and two touring series in our region. There are no other groups who try and serve both the weekly and touring series. As mentioned above, that simple cost efficient formula has proven to be responsible for our success.
CI: What has been the biggest challenge?
TC: There have been two major challenges.
First, it was very difficult to get teams to ‘buy into a crate program’ when it was originally introduced. Interesting fact was that we had 7 teams willing to purchase the crates in 1999. Only three of those teams actually raced with the crates….the others put them in the corner of the shops and used the ‘wait and see’ attitude. We eventually received tremendous support from over hundreds of teams in our region, and in less than three years, we had converted the majority of teams to the crate motors in weekly and tour racing. There has been a need for many checks and balances to be introduced and we had to have a very cooperative group of regional race teams to be able to accomplish this conversion to crate motors.
Second major challenge has been to maintain a level and equal playing field for all competitors. The reality is that teams will spend whatever is necessary to gain an ‘edge’. It remains and has always been a part of the stock car business. It has been a constant challenge to retain the overall rules as they were originally intended. We remain diligent in how we monitor and inspect the crate motors, shocks and tires. Unfortunately, the desire to out-compete and ‘push the envelope’ by skilled teams is an inherent part of our business. In racing, often the sense that the challenge is stagnant or the grey area is just too inviting to pass up, making a change is always going to create a burden for those that want to keep the playing field equal for all.
CI: What is the one thing that people misunderstand the most about your role as the Series Director?
TC: I think that the most difficult part of being a Series Director is the ability to find the necessary balance between challenging your veterans to set examples, guidelines, and a positive attitude for the constantly evolving young teams entering our system.
Most people don’t realize that a Series Director has the responsibility of the whole, not the individual. Decisions that are made are generally never made for a single individual team, but to try and stay within a philosophy that will best suit all those that wish to take part in the program. That is not a criticism, just a fact. Each race team has a large investment in his operation; the unfortunate part is that no fans are going to pay their money to attend a race where just the top five teams appear every event. They are as dependent on the next 15 teams as they, 5-15th or 20th teams, are on them are on them. Without each other there would not be any successful series, the same goes for weekly racing. In other words the challenge is to sell everyone that we are all in this together!!!
CI: What is your view/opinion of the future of Crate Racing?
TC: The most important element is to be able to define and accept the difference between ‘crate racing’ and spec racing. Crate racing must be controlled to continue to be successful. It takes a lot of work on the part of management and technical team. Spec motors are actually the same as a built motor. They require vigilant inspections to be sure everyone is on an equal playing field.
The history of crate motor racing has taught us that there are two kinds of short track racing. Pure crate motor racing is ‘momentum racing’; spec and built motor racing is generally ‘horsepower racing’. Bottom line is that horsepower costs money!!! The difficulty is first to convert veterans used to horsepower racing to accept momentum racing, and second to take young teams, many of whom grew up in go carts, legends or 4 cyl racing and help them to understand V-8 crate racing is just an extension of that skill level they already have.
For more information, you can visit ACT’s website at http://www.acttour.com/