The year was 1977 and the biggest box office draw in the world starred in a film that would not only spawn sequels, but also birth a car craze that goes on 42 years later. The biggest box office draw was Burt Reynolds. The movie was Smokey and The Bandit. The car was the 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Monday over 150 cars, mostly the same style Trans Am from the movie made their way through Mena and eastern Oklahoma for “The Bandit Run 2019”. This event was started in 2007 by Dave Hall and David Hershey and is held annually ever since. The Bandit Run is a reenactment of the journey taken by Reynolds, “Bandit” Darville. Sally Field’s run away bride, “Frog” and Jerry Reed’s “Snowman” in his Kenworth 18 wheeler with western motif painted on the trailer sides. All the while being chased in hot pursuit by the hapless Sheriff Buford T. Justice and his son “Junior”, in what must have been the world’s toughest Pontiac Le Mans.
Some years the run goes from Texarkana to Atlanta, Georgia. This year The Bandit Run began its journey in Dallas/Fort Worth with stops at Texas Motor Speedway and Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas before heading up Hwy 259 in Oklahoma and the Talimena Scenic Byway to Queen Wilhelmina State Park and into Mena before stopping for the night in Fort Smith. The run began in 2006 as an idea when Hershey purchased a 1977 Trans Am from Dave Hall’s shop, Restore A Muscle Car, a company in Lincoln, Nebraska specializing in bringing back to life old muscle cars from the past. The company then worked to make the weeklong event happen and has ever since.
The cars travelling through our area, though mostly of various years of the iconic Pontiac Firebird Trans Am other makes and models were along and are welcomed. A new ZL-1 Camaro and a Dodge Charger Hellcat driven by two ladies are also along for the run. This is truly a special event that participants have an emotional bond to. Some of that bond is because of the movie, some because of the cars themselves. Their dedication to making the run can be seen in the distances driven to take part. The license plates show cars from across the U.S. One man travels from Canada every year in his Trans Am to drive the run.
When I spoke to Hall he mentioned that Burt Reynolds had participated in a couple of The Bandit Run’s and this years run is dedicated to the man who made the Trans Am famous.
I’m sure somewhere up in Heaven Burt is sitting at a “choke and puke”, having Diablo sandwiches and Dr. Pepper’s with Jackie Gleason. Both with a smile on their faces knowing what they were a part of something
that keeps smilesn our faces down here.