Replica trailer to join Bandit Run in May

By ALEX McRAE When Coweta's Tyler Hambrick saw "Smokey and the Bandit" for the first time, it was love at first sight. But he never dreamed the 1977 box office smash starring Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed would influence his life forever. "I fell in love with that movie," Hambrick says. "It had action and comedy and a fast car, and it seemed really spontaneous. But I didn't know how much I'd get involved with the whole thing."
By 1981, Hambrick was driving the first of four Pontiac Trans-Ams exactly like the iconic muscle car Reynolds drove in the movie. He was so enthusiastic about the film (and the car) he began making and selling models of the "Bandit" Trans-Am. He made friends with thousands of "Bandit" enthusiasts around the world and was amazed at how many people were fans of the movie about Reynolds driving his Trans-Am as a "blocker" car for Reed as the two attempted to transport a truckload of beer from Texarkana to Atlanta in 28 hours. "I was astonished at the reaction to my models," he says. "People all over the world ordered them." In 2007, "Bandit" lovers took their passion to the next level when the first Bandit Run was organized. The event featured "50 or 60" hard-core fans driving vintage Trans-Ams from Texarkana to Atlanta to recreate the movie's plot line -- at a more leisurely pace -- and making stops along the way to show off their cars and visit with other fans. The second Bandit Run traveled from Columbus, Ohio, to Atlanta, and Hambrick says even more people joined the fun. But even as Hamrick's case of Bandit fever heated up, one disappointment remained. Hambrick had always been a fan of Jerry Reed, who not only had a successful career in country music, but played truck driver Cledus "Snowman" Snow in the film and its two sequels. In addition to models of the Trans-Am, Hambrick made and sold several models of the Snowman's truck, which sported a corner-to-corner paint job depicting a wild west stage coach robbery. Hambrick was donating a portion of his proceeds from truck model sales to his church, and in an effort to boost fundraising, he decided to see if Reed would autograph 10 truck models that were to be sold to raise money for the church. Unfortunately, Reed was in poor health and unable to sign. When Reed's wife contacted Hambrick to give him the bad news, the two became friends and have kept in contact since. When Reed passed away in September 2008, his health had prevented him from attending the first two Bandit Runs. Meanwhile, Hambrick got serious about redoing a full-size truck trailer like the one in the film to honor Reed and the vehicle. Last November, Hambrick saw an abandoned truck at a local industrial park. He contacted the owner, who said he didn't intend to sell it. Then Hambrick told the man his idea about restoring the truck for "Smokey and the Bandit" fans. Days later, the truck owner called and said he was willing to sell. Hambrick and two fellow Bandit Runners, graphic designers Gary Vassar of Michigan and Kevin Morgan of Pennsylvania, bought the truck and started making plans to restore the trailer to all its Bandit glory in time for the 2009 Bandit Run. Restoration work went on for months, and just weeks ago, Morgan and Vassar came to Newnan to do the art. The original film trailer was hand-painted and was abandoned after the film. The artwork for the restored version was digitally recreated from movie footage and is in the form of a "wrap," consisting of painted vinyl panels that are applied by hand. Local businessmen offered space for parking and use of an indoor garage to keep the wrap work away from wind and weather. Just days ago, the Snowman's trailer was on display at the corner of Bullsboro Drive and Old Jefferson Street. "It's amazing how many people recognize it and ask about it," Hambrick says. "It's been fun, but now I know how Noah felt when people asked what he was doing." An Oklahoma truck driver with a Kenworth tractor painted like the film original has agreed to haul the replica trailer on the 2009 Bandit Run, which kicks off May 10 in Branson, Missouri, and passes through Hot Springs, Ark., and Memphis, Nashville, and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., before arriving in metro Atlanta on May 16. Hambrick says having the truck on the 2009 Bandit Run makes the event much better. As a special treat, all Bandit Runners will have an opportunity to meet Reed's widow, Priscilla, and daughter, Lottie, when the group stops in Nashville. The so-called "trailer crew" of Hambrick, Morgan and Vassar will have a private meeting with Reed's family. The truck's doors feature graphics honoring Reed's career in film and music, where he delivered such hit songs as "Amos Moses," "When You're Hot, You're Hot," "East Bound and Down" and "The Bird." There is no charge for viewing Bandit Run activities or the truck. Donations will be accepted, however. Before his death, Reed was active in veterans programs and was a major supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. Any funds collected from viewing the truck will go to that organization. "We just do it because we love the movie and have a good time together," Hambrick says. "I never dreamed it would be like this, though. I don't know where we go from here. I'm just gonna let it happen."

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