Tommy Joe was a drag racing, Bass fishing, poker playing, guitar
strumming, carpenter extraordinaire. He was also a free spirit and my
best friend. I always thought Tommy was a blood relative of Foghorn
Leghorn. He spoke with the same accent and volume.
One morning at the job site Tommy Joe announced he was going to
Atlanta in two weeks. I said, "Cool, TJ. What's up?" He
informed me he was going match racing. I thought this was a little odd,
as I had just crawled over his broken Chevy II the past Saturday while
retrieving my trolling motor. He said he would bring his racer by the
job site Friday and make a couple passes for us. Now this was a secure
job site, but not enough room to race around in. He told us not to
Friday morning he arrived and we noticed his dilapidated trailer wasnít
hooked to his dilapidated pickup truck. He walked up with a two-foot by
three-foot box under his arm. Tommyís eyes were wide like a kid on
Christmas morning! "Go ahead and look in the box, Gonz! Tell me, I
said, tell me what you see." I peeked in and what I saw looked all
the world like a candy apple red Craftsman belt sander! I looked a
little closer and saw one of those labelmaker embossed strips on the
back that read "True Grit" UBS/X.
While the guys and I were checking out True Grit, Tommy was busy
placing 4x8 foot sheets of plywood end to end. Then he nailed a two by
four along the length of each outside edge. He told us we were about to
see something we couldnít imagine in our wildest dreams. Something
told me he was right.
Tommy set True Grit down at the edge of the first piece of plywood.
He coiled a twenty-foot extension cord very carefully behind True Grit,
turned the breaker off, and plugged the extension cord into the
receptacle. I asked him if he was gonna do a long smoky burnout for us?
He got that pained look on his face and said "Dang it, Gonz. If you
see a long smoky burn out it means the dad blamed racing surface is on
fire!" I said "Oh yeah, I forgot."
Tommy told me what you wanted to do was just to haze the paper and
come out as quick and fast as you could. Tommy had several different
numbers of grits he could put on to get the best bite. He said, "Awright
you knuckle heads, hunker down here! I said, get down, boy!" He
told me to imagine another racer sittin' next to True Grit. I squatted
down and tried to visualize Dyno Donís blown vacuum cleaner there but
it wasnít happening.
Well, Tommy hit the switch and True Grit blasted off, trailing a
rooster tail of sawdust behind! As the sander reached the end of the
extension cord, it pulled it right out of the receptacle! True Grit came
to a safe upright stop. Tommy gave me that "Just how, I say, just
how impressed are you now, Gonz?" I squatted there stunned as if
Big Daddy had just blown down the plywood himself.
Well, True Grit did great up at the "Unlimited Belt Sander
Experimental" nationals. It made it through the first three rounds
before being put back in its box by "Sandy" a nasty Makita out
of Chicago. Belt sander racing didnít really catch on as quick as
Tommy Joe thought it would. It was sad to see True Grit back on the job
site, trimming sticking doors and such.
Footnote: True Grit eventually met its untimely demise beneath the
wheels of a concrete truck. Tommy took the battered remains to the top
of the forty-story building he was working on and placed it on the edge
of the trash chute. I blinked my flashlight once for staged... once for
go... and True Grit made one last, quick pass down the chute into the