BROWNSBURG, Ind. — Tom Patsis left his job building NHRA drag racing cars five years ago. He builds metal art full time from mostly used race car parts, which are stacked and stowed all over his Cold Hard Art workshop in Brownsburg.
Making trophies, including the NHRA championship awards, is about 80 percent of the business. But Tom also makes sculptures, car model replicas and anything else out of metal you and he can think up. A rocking chair made out of a race car seat and a model tank made out of supercharger parts are just two examples in the workshop. Tom set off July 4th fireworks using the tank.
Patsis appreciates the final products he creates.
"A feeling of accomplishment - even if it's art or if it's welding or repairing something, you're theoretically fixing someone's problems,” he said. “If someone says, 'Hey, I need to make something for my husband who has it all,' that's my problem to fix for him.”
Patsis was contacted in October by Liz Smith, the wife of NFL quarterback Alex Smith. Liz wanted to turn her husband's leg brace into a surprise Christmas gift.
"I finally went onto social media, and I did a hashtag search for metal artists, and I came across so many amazing artists,” said Liz. “But definitely Cold Hard Art had drawn me in."
Alex led the Washington Football Team to the playoffs after an injury two years ago and multiple surgeries to save his leg.
"My wife tells me, 'You know, it's NFL. It's football,’” said Tom. I was like, 'That's a different world.' Racing is huge. It's big. But NFL is it.”
Most of Tom's work is somehow connected to racing. He didn't even know who Alex Smith was when he was contacted by Liz.
She was thinking about a phoenix design. She said her husband is like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
But after Tom dismantled the leg brace — called an external fixator — he didn’t think there was enough material for a phoenix sculpture. He was reluctant to add outside metal to the piece of artwork. He researched Alex’s comeback story and suggested another idea.
"That man shouldn't even be able to walk right now,” said Tom. “He's walking, and that's a win. But he's playing football, and that's like a super type win. And any football player that steps on the field, their goal is to win the Super Bowl. No matter what team you're on, that's the goal, right? So, then it was like, 'Oh, let me make the Super Bowl trophy.'"
Tom spent about seven hours turning the brace of aluminum halos and titanium fasteners into a metallic look-a-like of the Lombardi Trophy.
The trophy was delivered to the Smiths just a couple days before Christmas. Alex was surprised.
"He had no clue, and it was from the kids and I,” said Liz. “It was like the last gift he opened that morning. It instantly hit what it symbolized, and he knew the intention behind it. He got really emotional. Hard times, all of a sudden it was turned into this beautiful piece of art that symbolized triumph."
Tom did not charge the Smiths for his work, but instead traded the trophy for two autographed Alex Smith jerseys, one for his wife, Amanda, and another for his two-year-old daughter, Luna.
Alex starts at quarterback for the Washington Football Team Saturday night (8:15 p.m. NBC, WTHR) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.