Shasta Speedway's Tony "Big T" Montgomery
By Virginia Reeter
The near deafening roar of engines, the aroma of burnt rubber, high octane fuel and the up-close-and-personal seat at Shasta Speedway keep Tony “Big T” Montgomery coming back year after year as a race track official.
Auto racing is his passion and soon he will signal the cars onto the track during the 2013 Speedfest on Oct. 18-20 at the Shasta District Fairgrounds as another season of racing winds up in Anderson.
“I have the best seat at the track, as far as I’m concerned,” says Montgomery, a key official at the track for 18 years.
He feels fortunate to be alive doing what he loves the most, as the 56-year-old Anderson High grad survived 23 strokes in three days only seven years ago. “I shouldn’t have lived, but I did, thanks to a special Stanford surgeon and a lot of people who supported me during that time,” he says.
He was at work at O’Reilly’s Auto Parts the day he had a dizzy spell, but didn’t seek medical help until a day later. After an initial CAT scan didn’t show anything, the news was pretty earthshaking when an MRI scan revealed he had a blocked carotid artery and two blocked veins in his brain that landed him in a local intensive care unit for three weeks.
“My doctor knew of a surgeon who did specialty surgeries so he sent me to the Stanford Medical Center specialist who did an experimental surgical procedure,” Montgomery explains. The two veins were extracted, the blockage removed and the veins were re-attached. The surgery was nothing short of a miracle as it took care of the problem.
Montgomery missed a couple racing seasons, but he was soon back in the saddle again at the track. “The guys held a fundraiser for me to help with medical expenses and it was awesome,” says Montgomery, holding back tears of appreciation. “I still get choked up at what they did for me.”
His Speedway career began working for race official Dick Blake in the track’s infield. It wasn’t long before the big man with the big heart for racing and his family was tagged “Big T.” The name stayed throughout his Speedway years.
“Later I took another post, riding a quad runner for five to six more years,” he says. “I was a flagger for one night only because it was too nerve-wracking trying to keep up with all the action all over the track.”
About eight years ago, he became the main man re-entering cars onto the track and he’s been there ever since, donning white pants, a pair of safety gloves and a red official shirt. He coordinates the race track action on radios with the flag man.
When there’s a spinout on the track, Montgomery goes into action, helping the flag man slow the pack down and regrouping the cars so racing can continue.
“It’s been an awesome experience all those years working for five different race promoters,” Montgomery says. “I’ve loved it all, anywhere I worked at the track.”
There have also been Speedway changes, with the smaller oval track giving way to a larger one a few years ago. And of course, the cars and drivers change, too.
The race season generally starts in April; race night begins at 7 pm and includes heat laps, trophy dashes and main events.
Once the pit crew starts the lineup, Montgomery takes over, signaling one car after another onto the track. If there is an incident, crash or other mishap during the race, the yellow caution flag goes up and Montgomery goes into action, giving the drivers signals as they make laps around the track.
He’s seen his share of crashes along the concrete wall that sent him reeling for safety a time or two. But, he always comes back for more of an action-packed sport. •