In May 1977, a movie about three rebels — two men and a woman — facing off against oppressive forces, using a fast-moving machine, debuted in theaters. Little was expected of the movie in the beginning, but it became a phenomenon.
Yes, we’re talking about Smokey and the Bandit here. Well, there was that other movie, the one that took place in a galaxy far, far away, the one that became 1977’s biggest hit. Smokey and the Bandit, released two days later, became the year’s second-biggest hit.
And it was Smokey that David Hershey fell for when he was 8 years old.
“I was told the story that the reason my dad took me to see Smokey and the Bandit when I was 8 years old — I think the line to Star Wars might have been too long,” Hershey says. “That was the fork in my life that changed everything. ... I’m not even sure I understood the whole plot of the original. I just knew that it had a cool car, and they were out driving around doing crazy things.”
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Hershey’s love for the movie never went away: As an adult, Hershey — who’s now vice president creative services/online promotions for CBS Dallas-Fort Worth — was able to buy his own cool car: a black Pontiac Trans Am like the one Burt Reynolds’ character, “The Bandit,” drives in the movie.
“When I was younger, I couldn’t afford the car, but I would’ve loved to have had the car,” Hershey says. “My first car was a 1976 Pontiac Sunbird, the tiny little brother of the Trans Am. It was always broken down, and there was always something that needed to be fixed on it. You get a career, you get a good job going, and you think, ‘What’s a guilty pleasure that I am able to have?’ For me, it was the black Trans Am.”
That was in 2006, when he bought the car from a shop in Lincoln, Neb. Right after buying the car, he turned to his wife and said, “You know what next year is? Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the release of Smokey and the Bandit.” And he had an idea: a power tour for other Smokey fans. Other cars would be welcome, but the black Trans Am had the most cachet.
With help from Dave Hall, the guy Hershey bought his car from, the “Bandit Run” was born. The first one, in 2007, followed the movie’s Texarkana-to-Atlanta route. This year, the run started in Albuquerque — Hershey was calling from Santa Rosa, N.M. — and will culminate in DFW with a car parade Thursday night at Texas Motor Speedway, followed by a screening of the movie on the raceway’s enormous “Big Hoss” screen. There’ll be a wrap party Friday night at Gas Monkey Bar and Grill in Dallas.
At the time of Hershey’s call, he said that 130 drivers were registered and more were expected to join along the route.
“The first one we put together literally by putting flyers on cars at car shows,” Hershey says. “Back then was before Facebook was huge and Twitter and all that, so we were doing it by word of mouth, we were doing it by email, we put something on his website. The first day, we met in Texarkana, we were hoping, praying that maybe 10 or 20 cars would be there. When we got there, there were like 50 or 60 cars already there, and then we started out on the road, and every town we went through, another one or two joined in.”
By the time they were in Atlanta, they had more than 100 cars, and people started asking about next year — a question Hershey didn’t expect, because he was expecting the 2007 run to be a one-off event. Since then, it’s been annual.
“I just talked to a guy ... who flies in from Australia every year,” Hershey says. “They have the steering wheels on the right side of the car in Australia, but he flies in and rents a car. We’ve got people from England, we’ve got people from Germany. We’re from all different parts of the world but we have that one single thing in common.”
New York Times writer Dave Kinney even bought a Trans Am so that he could write about the Bandit Run in 2007.
“I wanted to attend, but I also wanted to arrive in the right car,” Kinney wrote. “So ... I bought a black 1979 Trans Am with almost 100,000 miles for about $10,000 at a collector-car auction in Branson, Mo. I had always wanted a black Trans Am and this was my excuse to finally fulfill my dream. I bought one like the car in the movie.” Kinney’s car had numerous problems, but he had people around him who knew how to help.
“His fan belt had broken,” Hershey says. “We were trying to buy him a belt, and you’ve got 60 people around you who know something about cars. So you’re at no loss for help. They’re old cars, and they’re going to have their issues and all, but we got him back on the road.”
Hershey, who lives in Keller, says his house is filled with Smokey memorabilia. “I’ve got a lot in my garage, I’ve got a lot upstairs, I’ve got a lot in my game room,” he says. “I’m literally wearing a black cowboy hat right now.” His daughters are along for the ride on this Bandit Run, and he says the movie is cross-generational, as original fans introduce their children to the movie. He’s often surprised by children as young as 5 who see his Trans Am at car shows and make the Smokey connection. But he’s less surprised as time goes on.
“It’s all about people with like-minded passions and a shared history,” he says. “That’s what we’re doing all week.”