Appreciative trucker climbs aboard movie star Bandit Rig

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Updated Apr 9, 2018
Capturing creative event photography in the Charlotte NC area.
Capturing creative event photography in the Charlotte NC area.
Gary Johnson at the wheel of the 1973 Kenworth W900 Bandit RigGary Johnson at the wheel of the 1973 Kenworth W900 Bandit Rig

It’s not every day you get to meet an icon. But, that’s what Gary Johnson, a driver from California did.

Johnson, who has been driving for more than 17 years, was able to get behind the wheel of a truck made famous by the most successful of all trucker movies, Smokey & The Bandit. He drove a replica of the 1973 Kenworth W900 and 1976 Hobbs trailer with the elaborate stagecoach holdup mural from the 1977 movie.

And, it couldn’t have happened to a more appreciative guy.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” said Johnson, an owner/operator leased to Combined Transport, a family-owned glass hauler located in Central Point, Oregon. “It was an absolutely euphoric event.”

The 36-year-old Johnson said he grew up around the transportation business. His grandfather was an owner/operator and he had uncles who drove trucks and female relatives who were bus drivers. To top it off, Johnson said his “all-time favorite movie is Smokey & The Bandit.”

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was the result of Johnson winning a photo contest sponsored by the RoadPro Family of Brands. The contest — which attracted more than 450 entries — celebrated the 40th anniversary of the film starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason, and which capitalized on the popularization of the CB radio as used by over-the-road truckers.

Johnson, who lives in Fresno, California, won an all-expenses-paid trip to Charlotte, North Carolina. There the former company driver of many years and his wife Cindi and daughter Brittney met Brad Wike, of BPW Transport, who owns the Bandit Rig and who also stages the annual Southern Classic Truck Show at his place in Lincolnton, North Carolina.

Gary Johnson and the Bandit RigGary Johnson and the Bandit Rig

In addition to owning the Bandit Rig, Wike owns the 1960 Peterbilt 291 that menaced Dennis Weaver in the 1971 movie Dual, as well as the red 1970 Plymouth Valiant Weaver drove in what was Steven Spielberg’s first film.

The trucks from Smokey & The Bandit and Dual will once again be on display on Hollywood Hill during this year’s Southern Classic Sept. 8. Those two trucks will be joined by the 1980 Kenworth K100C from the TV show B.J. and the Bear and the Rubber Duck 1970 Mack RS731LST from the 1978 movie Convoy.

Johnson, who got his CDL in his early 20s, knows a little bit about Hollywood himself. A singer, he made it through the first round of auditions for America’s Got Talent and appeared on Deal or No Deal with Howie Mandel.

When he’s not driving iconic movie trucks, Johnson drives the 2017 Freightliner he bought late last year.