Tommy Smith


Tommy Smith
Photo courtesy of Wayne Guy

Tommy Smith was born on July 3, 1929, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the son of Gordon and Judith Smith. He shared his birthday with his inseparable friend and another Beech Bend Legend, Larry Graham. Tommy and Larry attended College High School, a training school for teachers operated by Western Kentucky State College, now Western Kentucky University, all the way from kindergarten through high school.

Tommy Smith, Lt. Dick Kyle, and a 1952 ChevroletTommy, like Larry, had a love of fast cars which led the two of them to stock car racing. Tommy drove F-38 which was built and owned by Hugh Porter Causey. Later, he drove an Olds 88 for Groves Garage of Woodburn, Kentucky. His last race in this car ended when he hit the pilings surrounding the track at Hopkinsville as he went for a fast time trial.

Larry Graham tells a story about Tommy that illustrates his determination on the track and unwillingness to back down. The incident occurred at an out of town track featuring some of the top drivers from Nashville and southwestern Kentucky. Nashville’s top driver was a short fellow, also named Smith. He was known as “Smitty” and had a reputation as a hothead. At the end of the race, Smitty felt that Tommy had been a little too aggressive on the track, so he came charging over to Tommy’s car after the race, yelling in somewhat salty language that Tommy had better get out of the car! Tommy responded in kind to Smitty and rapidly climbed out of his car. As Tommy straightened up to his full six feet six inches, Smitty hesitated, turned on his heel, and stomped off.

Southern California ChampionNineteen fifty-two was a big year for Tommy as he graduated from Georgia Tech. He entered the U. S. Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant and was stationed in San Bernardino, California. Although he was in the military, fast cars were still in his blood. He took his 1952 Olds 88, souped it up, and with the sponsorship of the base service station, began a drag racing career. He set a new speed standard with his performance at Pomona, California on April 4, 1954, and was written up in Hot Rod Magazine for his heroics. Later, after he returned home, Tommy was instrumental in convincing Charlie Garvin to add a drag strip to the Beech Bend Raceway, a track that continues to operate to this day.

After his military stint ended, Tommy and his family returned to Bowling Green where he joined the Gordon Smith Company, a business his father had built based on inventions and patents of unique compressor heads. Tommy ultimately became vice president of the company, working with his father until his untimely death in 1960 at age 31, leaving behind Mary Jo, and three children: Elaine, age 6, Carolyn, age 4, and Gordon, 3.

Mary Jo later married Wilson Cook of Bowling Green, who proved to be a wonderful stepfather. Mary Jo and Wilson had a daughter of their own. Mary Jo confided that “Tommy would be very proud of his children.” There is no doubt that Tommy’s children are also very proud of him, one of the legends of Beech Bend.

 

 


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