They had a long way to go and a short time to get there. And when they got there, not everything went as planned.
The plan for the 2015 “Bandit Run,” an annual gathering/road trip for Smokey and the Bandit fans and their Trans Ams and other movie-friendly vehicles, was to end this year’s Albuquerque-to-DFW journey with a showing of the movie on “Big Hoss,” the nearly 20,634 square-feet screen at Texas Motor Speedway.
If you’re not familiar with the 1977 movie — which was the second-biggest hit of that year, behind Star Wars — here’s the not-hard-to-follow synopsis from Internet Movie Database: “The Bandit is hired on to run a tractor trailer full of beer over [state] lines in hot pursuit by a pesky sheriff.”
Yes, kids, there was once a time when Coors, the beer in question, was only available in certain states and a bet over an illicit shipment of it could fuel a movie. The movie starred Burt Reynolds as the Bandit, and a black Pontiac Trans Am that did all it could to upstage him (three Pontiac Trans Ams, actually; they took quite a beating in the stunt-filled movie).
But as more than 100 Bandit Run Trans Ams and other vehicles — including a semi modeled after the one Jerry Reed’s character, Cledus, drives in the movie and Pontiac Le Mans like the one Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice uses — began pulling into the Big Hoss lot on Thursday event, something strange happened: The procession began to reverse direction and leave the speedway.
Seems there was a tornado warning. One had just been spotted in Boyd, a mere 18 miles west of the speedway. So, no movie. Laps around the speedway were also cut short by rainy conditions.
This video by Star-Telegram photographer Paul Moseley tells the story well. There’s more below, but the video has fewer words and more cars.
David Hershey, who co-founded the Bandit Run in 2007, said Friday afternoon that the Runners had encountered rain off and on Thursday en route to the speedway, where they arrived around 3 in the afternoon.
“We had a hail scare,” said Hershey, who’s also vice president creative services/online promotions for CBS Dallas-Fort Worth. “We went through some really bad stuff including hail, high winds and tornado warnings. We drove through the rain. With these old cars, rain’s OK, it’s the hail and stuff like that that scares people.”
The Runners did manage to get onto the racetrack — briefly.
“We got the cars out there, I think we did a couple of groups of laps, and then we got a massive downpour and they shut down the track,” Hershey said. “When the track was shut down, and it’d take an hour to dry, we thought we’d just start the movie. So we started the movie, and that’s when that tornado warning came out ... and the raceway said, ‘Look, we gave it our best shot, but we don’t feel right keeping you guys here and possibly keeping people in harm’s way.”
Hershey praised the way TMS handled the event, and said they weren’t charged for use of the track.
After the speedway visit, the Bandit Runners gathered at a hotel where they found a nearby parking garage, and paid $25 for all the cars to park under shelter till the storms passed. “It’s a whole new set of challenges, weather-wise, when you drive cars like this.”
Overall, though, the Bandit Run was a success. And there was a bit of a makeup day Friday morning as the drivers visited AT&T Stadium.
Things will wrap up Friday afternoon and evening night with a party at Gas Monkey Bar and Grill in Dallas (Gas Monkey empresario Richard Rawlings, whom DFW.com’s Cary Darling profiled recently, once went to great lengths to do a Smokey and the Bandit-inspired episode of his Discovery Channel show Fast N’ Loud).