Tom Sedivy Enjoys Being a Racer and isn’t Slowing Down
About twice a day a carriage or golf cart full of tourists rides by the pink late-Victorian house that was the setting for Crimes of the Heart, filmed in 1986 in Southport.
The tour guide makes no mention of the man living therein, and that’s fine with Tom Sedivy, the house’s owner. He prefers to lay low.
Sedivy bought the home because he liked the way it looked, and it suited his needs for a home base while he traveled. It’s close to the marina where he keeps his cabin cruiser, and it’s only a couple of hours away from the garage where he keeps his collection of street cars and racers.
It is, however, a long way from Prague, where Sedivy grew up. His journey from there to Southport is as worthy of a movie as the house he lives in.
In 1968 Sedivy was a 26-year-old with a degree in mechanical engineering, a good job, a wife named Vera and a 2-year-old son named Robert. Then the Russians invaded, and leaving the country was impossible.
“The communist won’t give you any [passport] so nobody traveled to the West,” he says. “You had to ask permission to go to Poland or East Germany.”
Sedivy’s sister was friends with the girlfriend of a secret-service agent who was able to supply the young family with false but believable documents. They escaped to Austria.
“I was very rich leaving [Prague],” he says. “I had $20 on me. I don’t know how I did it. When you look back, it was insanity, but you’re driven by ‘Let’s get out of this mess; let’s start living better, hopefully.’”
After several months, with the help of the Australian government, the family traveled to Australia. “The Australian government was happy to get more immigrants,” he says. “They didn’t have skilled people.”
Unable to speak English, Sedivy got a job sweeping at a glass company while he learned the language. That led to a job as a draftsman. He says his family enjoyed Australia and has been back many times for vacations and to race. While working and improving his English, Sedivy applied for emigration to the United States. It took two and a half years, but he came here —legally, he emphasizes — in 1971.
Landing in New York, he found a job as a machinist and later was able to get back into engineering, working for other companies before starting his own business. “Here we are in America. You have to start your own business,” he says. He started Tomsed Corporation in 1981, making security equipment such as revolving doors, turnstiles and gates.
As Sedivy led the company, his son graduated from West Point and then, after completing his military commitment, from The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Robert joined the company in marketing after graduation. His experience in the South led to many Southern family vacations and the discovery of Southport as a great spot for the family boat. It also led the family to seek out manufacturing space, which they found in a 300,000-square-foot abandoned furniture mill in Lillington. In 2002 they moved the family business to Lillington. By 2005 they were able to sell to a Dutch company. “Our effort paid off handsomely,” Sedivy says.
His work successes allowed him to take up the hobby of racing. His skill and determination resulted in wins that allowed him to join the professional ranks. Sedivy raced in Club Formula Ford as a pro for several years, winning most of his races and setting the track record at two.
He was also one of the owners of Legacy Sports, a Formula One racing company that finished well in several races with a promising driver who left the business after having his second child. The company had hoped to race Indy with the driver, but Sedivy understands the strain of the dangerous occupation.
Incredibly, at 75, Sedivy still races. Not as often, but he will race this fall. “I always do Lime Rock Vintage Festival in Connecticut,” he says. “It’s one of the biggest in the U.S.” To prepare, he says he’ll probably go to Virginia International for practice runs.
When Sedivy started racing in the late 1970s, he was running Club Formula Ford. “Most of those cars have Ford motors,” thus the name. “Then with some success, you reach for higher goals and more expensive and quicker cars,” he says. He went all the way up to pro racing after that, beginning the pro circuit in the late1980s. “You have to make some money to afford it. It’s expensive stuff, and sponsorships don’t cover the cost. You always have to put some of your cash into it.”
Joining forces with two others, Sedivy raced most of the tracks in the U.S. and Europe. The courses are closed circuit with turns: Virginia International, Watkins Glen, Seabring. Races can last from one hour to 24 hours, and drivers work in pairs. He holds two course records at Lime Rock.
In vintage racing, which he prefers, cars can be from the 1930s through 2000. “It’s a popular sport,” he says. “A lot of people go to see the old cars that you normally don’t see. They’re museum quality cars. There are cars worth $10 million dollars running and fender bending.”
Sedivy’s prize car is a 1968 Dodge Daytona, one of only 500 built. It was in the International Hall of Fame for two years. To purchase it, he had to also purchase six other cars from the previous owner. He occasionally drives it on the street. “People are happy to see it. Most of the time you see them in a museum. Here they can touch it. I’ll drive it because I want people to enjoy it as much as I do.”
Despite his age, Sedivy isn’t ready to stop racing. He travels extensively in the United States and abroad, but he’s always looking forward to a race. “I know a lot of racing guys who keep going as long as they can. It’s a special breed of people. They don’t fade away. They’re very active. You have to train. You can’t do one race a year because you want to do it. You’ll die. You have to be in physical shape. You can’t be a big dumpling.”