By Joel Hall
For one day, drivers on Main Street in Jonesboro could witness the familiar Jonesboro sign on the side of the Road to Tara Museum replaced by a sign for Texarkana, Ark.
On Friday, the City of Jonesboro welcomed a few dozen "Smokey and the Bandit" fans participating in the 2008 Bandit Run.
For the past two years, The Bandit Run has taken hundreds of die-hard fans of the 1977 Burt Reynolds' film, and American muscle car aficionados, on a nostalgic caravan across the country. Each year, the group has taken a one-day detour to Jonesboro to view the places where "Smokey and the Bandit" was filmed.
"The weather as been good ... and the traffic this morning has been very forgiving," said Tyler Hambrick, organizer of the Bandit Run Movie Tour. "Not as many people wanted to take the tour as we thought, but that's OK, because it lets us have more fun and spend more time at the scenes."
On Friday morning, about 30 riders from the Bandit Run viewed the Lakewood Fairgrounds in Atlanta, where the filming of the movie started and ended. Afterward, riders headed to downtown Jonesboro, which was used as downtown Texarkana in the movie, and to the area once used as the house of "Snowman," the character played by Jerry Reed. The area is now an empty lot behind the BB&T Bank in Jonesboro.
Around noon, the riders stopped at Butch's Chicken House in Jonesboro to take a break, mix with the locals, show off their cars, and enjoy old-fashioned southern cooking. While Burt Reynolds did not make a personal appearance, riders and locals posed with a cardboard replica of the actor in the restaurant's parking lot.
Butch's owner, Gail Glancy, said the buzz created by the Bandit Run is good for Jonesboro, as well as the restaurant.
"When you get this kind of publicity, it lets people know that there are things here of interest," said Glancy. "I think it's going to be a big momentum builder for the city."
Bandit Run participants from all over the Midwest and the eastern seaboard chatted over lunch with locals, who shared their love of "Smokey and the Bandit," and Pontiac Trans Ams.
Brady Scott, of Clarksburg, West Va., a first-time Bandit Run participant, said going to Butch's was his favorite part of the tour. "I actually got a cheeseburger and an ice tea just like in the movie," said Scott. He was surprised that many of the places from the movie are recognizable 30 years after the movie was filmed.
"In front of Snowman's house ... that little house across the street ... that really jumped out," said Scott. "It's exactly the same, from the outside at least. It definitely makes me excited to watch [the movie] again."
For the last two years, Jake Calvert, of Crossville, Tenn., has participated in the event with his father. Between the two of them, they own four Pontiac Trans Ams, two Camaros, two Pontiac GTOs, and three Pontiac Firebirds.
He described the stop at Butch's as a chance to bond. "It's like a family environment," said Calvert. "It's a place where everybody on the tour can sit down and discuss cars. It's not like the hustle and bustle of the city where everybody is rushing to get their food."
Cathy Howard was one of several Jonesboro residents to join the riders for lunch.
"This is something that 30 years later, people are still excited about," said Howard. "It's nice that so many people came from all over to come together and do this. Now a few more people will know about Jonesboro."