Andrew Dys

‘Smokey and The Bandit’ convoy coming to Rock Hill to raise money for veterans

Summer 1977: Cars were fast, and men drank and wore flare-leg jeans and big belt buckles and laughed a lot. Women had hair higher than skyscrapers.

The black Pontiac Trans Am and Burt Reynolds’ mustache hurtled off the drive-in screen, followed by a big rig driven by “Snowman,” carrying 400 illegal cases of Coors beer “East Bound and Down” to the red clay of Georgia. A foul-smelling hound named Fred sat in the passenger seat.

“Smokey and The Bandit” was not just a movie. It was a tribute to being alive before goodie-goodies wanted electric cars and fuel economy and no emissions. The heroes were Southern outlaws. The villains were fat, redneck cops.

The heroine left a bumbling groom at the altar, climbed into the passenger seat of that Trans Am and took off for adventure.

It was fast and loud, and 37 years later the truck made famous by the late, great Jerry “Snowman” Reed and maybe even a replica of Bandit’s Trans Am are coming to Rock Hill on June 6 – just in time for D-Day.

To raise money for wounded veterans, car-crazy Debbie Ciepiela of Rock Hill has organized the “Snowman’s Run” charity car rally and show, which starts Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla., and ends Friday in Rock Hill – with stops along the way in Savannah, Ga., Charleston and Darlington.

The event is being coordinated with the Rock Hill Cruisers classic car club and American Legion Post 34 in Rock Hill, with all proceeds going to help wounded veterans. People from as far away as Texas are expected to participate.

For Ciepiela, the idea was a natural. This is a woman whose husband, Mark, took her in 1977 to see “Smokey and The Bandit” at a drive-in – sitting in a 1976 gold-and-black Trans Am. They still have the car 38 years later. She has helped pull off the “Bandit Run” tributes around the country for the past four years.

“This is one of those experiences, to see the actual truck, that people who remember that movie never forget,” said Ciepiela, a member of the Rock Hill Cruisers club.

Reed – who played truck driver Cledus Snow in the movie and helped bring Southern music and comedy to the rest of the country – died in 2008. But his turn as “Snowman” and the song he wrote and sang about the race to get the beer to the thirsty – “East Bound and Down” – have found a permanent place in American culture.

Just like Burt “Bandit” Reynolds driving Sally “Carrie” Field in the Trans Am. And the late Jackie Gleason playing Sheriff Buford T. Justice, driving the 1977 Pontiac LeMans fastback cop car that gets mangled along the way.

A replica of that police car will be part of the motorcade, too.

The movie truck is owned and operated by “Smokey and The Bandit” super-fan Tyler Hambrick of Georgia, who will have it in Florida by the time the rally starts Sunday. Then the truck and other vehicles – Ciepiela knows one guy with a 1977 Trans Am that she hopes will join in – will head north.

The group will take some laps early Friday at the Darlington Raceway, then arrive in Rock Hill at the American Legion post around 5 p.m. for a 6 p.m. charity event.

“This is a way to have fun and raise money at the same time,” Ciepiela said.

Lloyd Comer, a disabled Vietnam War combat veteran active at Rock Hill’s American Legion and VFW posts, will ride from Darlington to Rock Hill in the semi as the guest of honor.

“I always loved ‘Smokey and The Bandit,’ ” Comer said. “I still watch it all the time. This is a real honor.”

Throughout his life, Reed was a proponent of veterans’ causes, said Tori Duncan, historian at American Legion Post 34, and to have Snowman’s Run arrive in Rock Hill in time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day is a great honor. The post will host a classic car show June 6, as well as music, food and more.

The public is invited to see the truck and take pictures – even inside the truck, where 400 cases of Coors are still inside.

Ciepiela hopes to make Snowman’s Run an annual event.

“Some things never get old,” she said. “ ‘Smokey and The Bandit’ lives forever, and here we are bringing it right here to Rock Hill for a good cause.”