Fairbury's Matt Curl was literally in a fog when it came time to make his first major decision as the new director for the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series national tour.
Just 26 laps into the series' 50-lap opening night main event on Feb. 14, a dense fog rolled in on Volusia Speedway Park, a half-mile dirt track located about 30 minutes west of Daytona Beach, Fla.
Armed with up-to-the-minute weather data and reports from some competitors about increasing visibility problems, Curl decided to call the cars off the track for the remainder of the night, handing a weather-shortened victory to New York driver Tim McCreadie.
"It was rough for the drivers and it was an easy decision to make when you saw the amount of water and condensation on their helmets," Curl said this week. "The safety aspect of the decision was a no-brainer. We took a picture seven minutes after we called it and you couldn't see the backstretch from the frontstretch."
No-brainer or not, anyone who's been around the sport for any length of time will tell you that few if any decisions are met with unanimous approval. This one was no exception with a smattering of grumbling from drivers who thought they could have improved their finishing position with just a couple more laps and fans who pay the full price at the gate and want to see an event run to its advertised completion.
Curl knows that "comes with the territory" as he embarks on a job that somewhat entails trying to find a way to get everybody pulling in the same direction. Everybody includes the World of Outlaws sanctioning organization and the individual tracks on its 56-night late model schedule, as well as the sponsors, series parts suppliers, drivers and — most importantly — fans.
"Like herding cats" is a well-worn phrase that comes immediately to mind, considering that all of the above have a variety of reasons for being involved in dirt track racing. It's also easy to find a fairly wide range of opinions on how things ought to be run.
Curl's background leaves him well-suited to see things from a number of perspectives.
A Fairbury native, Curl, 41, fell in love with the sport as a kid while attending races at Fairbury's American Legion Speedway (FALS). He knows what the track prep crews go through after picking up a shovel as a teenager and joining in that effort at FALS. He was on the flagstand at Fairbury for a few years before moving into race control. From 2013 to 2017, he was able to see things from a promoter's perspective while serving in that capacity.
In between, he gained hands-on knowledge of what drivers and crews go through by turning wrenches for the successful modified effort of his younger brother, Jeff.
"All of that made him an outstanding candidate for the series director position," said Tom Deery, the World of Outlaws president and chief operating officer. "His organizational grasp of the (dirt track racing) industry from different angles was very, very appealing."
In a phone conversation with The Pantagraph, Deery added that he's been impressed with Curl's ability to hit the ground running.
"Everything happened pretty quickly and fortunately fell into place," he said.
Indeed, Curl had little time to ease into the position. He was hired in November and wrapped up a few loose ends at FALS before representing the Outlaws late models at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis in December.
Curl succeeds Chris Dolack, who remains with the organization and will focus on event promotion as the late model series director of marketing. Dolack has played a key role in easing Curl's transition into the series director's post.
Having been with the World of Outlaws on both the sprint car and late model side since 2005, Dolack is on a first-name basis with dirt track promoters from coast-to-coast and was with Curl in Indy.
"Matt wasn't familiar with many of the existing promoters in the series, so Chris helped with the introductions," Deery said. "They then worked together from early December into January to finalize the schedule."
When February rolled around it was time to go racing.
While the World of Outlaws is headquartered in Concord, N.C., Curl remains in Fairbury, where he lives with wife, Jayme, and their 4-year old daughter Jesslyn.
On most weekends from now until mid-November, he'll leave Fairbury on Thursday morning to arrive a day in advance for a two-day World of Outlaws event. At the track, he'll oversee a traveling staff of seven that will work with the local promoter toward ensuring a smooth-running event.
The final three nights of the annual DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia in February received high marks following the weather-shortened opener.
The series will hit the track again on March 23-24 with the 11th annual Illini 100 at Farmer City Raceway.
Curl relishes the opportunity before him, after working with the Outlaws over the past several seasons to transform Fairbury's annual Prairie Dirt Classic into one of the "crown jewels" of the late model tour.
"While interviewing, I really loved sitting with Tom to discuss a vision for the sport," Curl said. "Being from Fairbury and having experience with the World of Outlaws and UMP, I had seen how their organization worked. It's a good match for myself, my family and the interest I have in the (dirt track racing) industry."