With the recent passing of actor Burt Reynolds, several truckers wheeled to Texarkana on Saturday in tribute to "Bandit 1" (Reynolds' "Smokey and the Bandit" CB handle) as they traced the film's beer bootlegging path.
James Lamb, president and spokesman for the Small Business in Transportation Coalition, a trucking industry trade group, organized the event and he said he's delighted to not only celebrate the famed actor's life but also highlight the quintessential trucker movie while experiencing the 900-plus mile route the film depicted between Texarkana and Atlanta, Ga.
"I remember back when I was 8 or 9 years old, watching the movie on TV at my uncle's house," Lamb said. "For a kid my age, it was a great action-type comedy and adventure film that most kids my age loved back then. Back then, I never thought that 41 years later, I would doing something like this."
To add more spice to the occasion, the group managed to not only secure a 1977 Trans Am, similar to the one Reynolds used in the film but also a similarly aged Pontiac Grand LeMans police car used by Texas-based "Sheriff Buford T. Justice" (the late Jackie Gleason) who played the "Smokey" in pursuit of the Bandit.
Sean Bailey, who owns the Trans Am, said that since buying the sports car about three or four years ago, he's been participating in special events celebrating the movie all throughout the U.S.
"We are now doing this for the Burt Reynolds Institute of Theater and Film," he said.
Pastor Scott Sundby, of the Texarkana, Texas-based First Lutheran Church, lead an invocation in honor of Reynolds, who passed away Sept. 6 in Jupiter, Fla.
"I grew up watching many of of Burt's movies, and I eventually found out that he crossed that bridge to meet God by accepting God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ has his personal Savior," Sundby said. "By God's grace, I believe there is an afterlife for Burt—one which we can all have by asking for and receiving forgiveness from God through Christ. I want to thank Burt for all the fun and good times he gave to many people through his many films."
The tribute included a double mayoral proclamation designating Sept. 29 and 30 as Burt Reynolds Weekend—a pronouncement shared by Texas-side Mayor Bob Bruggeman and Arkansas-side Mayor Ruth Penney-Bell.
"Texarkana received a deer gift of notoriety from a movie like 'Smokey and the Bandit,'" Bruggeman said. "A few weeks ago, I remember seeing a rerun of the Johnny Carson show. Burt Reynolds was one of the guests, and I thought that it was odd that he passed away just shortly after I saw him on TV. 'Smokey and the Bandit' wound up being the second highest box office attraction in 1977, and that sure helped us."
For her part, Penney-Bell said that, even though the movie has Reynolds being pursued by a Texas sheriff, Reynolds actually had to get the bootlegged adult beverage on the Arkansas-side, since the Arkansas-side was the only side wet back in 1977.
"One good thing about the movie is that films like 'ET' and 'Jaws' have become two of the most celebrated movies in the country, and 'Smokey and the Bandit' joins them as another one of those great movies," she said.
At noon today, the truckers will be "eastbound and down" for Atlanta, Ga., and the public is invited to watch the departure.