Date: June 4th & 5th 2005 Location: Bristol Motor Speedway City: Bristol, Tennessee Attendance: 40.000 Organization: Ben Jones & Alma Viator
The Bristol Motor Speedway has seen its fair share of collisions, but none more spectacular than the crack-up that occurred last weekend when Jeff Foxworthy's best joke crashed into Ulysses S. Grant's worst nightmare. The place was swarmed by Southerners and surrounded by General Lees. Horns played "Dixie" at dawn. A cavalry of orange Chargers roared through town and endlessly around the racetrack.
Ten bucks - and a heaping helping of patience - bought five laps and the priceless opportunity to feel for a fleeting moment like Bo or Luke: the charge of the white lightning brigade. "Gosh, it was awesome," 22-year-old Kentuckian Dillon Faulkner said.
If you wait in line two hours to ride five minutes in a '69 Dodge w! ith a Confederate flag painted on its roof, you might be … A 9-year-old girl from Woodlawn, Va. A 63-year-old grandpa from Lincoln, Neb. A serious "Dukes of Hazzard " fan, most of all.
More than 40,000 of them descended on the Bristol Motor Speedway for CMT DukesFest 2005. Adults paid $15 to $25 a head for an event that proves that Robert E. Lee lost the war but won the battle. The PR battle, at least.
In 1979, CBS premiered a show that would carry Lee's name into the 21st century. On "The Dukes of Hazzard," General Lee didn't ride a charger. He was one - a bright orange 1969 Dodge Charger R/T, to be exact. Despite its Dixiecratic iconography, "The Dukes of Hazzard" is less about rednecks than the red-state values that Dukesfest so dutifully reflects.
The speedway's beer booths were closed last weekend. A makeshift park with inflatable jump-houses for kids was opened. Evidence of the new "Dukes of Hazzard" movie, a Jessica Simpson-Johnny Knoxville vehicle scheduled for release in August, was nowhere to be found. DukesFest organizer Ben Jones, who played ace mechanic Cooter Davenport on the TV show, said the bawdy flick is a disgrace to the wholesome series. "It's a scurrilous, slacker version with a lot of toilet humor," Jones said. "I've read the script. I tell people, 'Please don't make the mistake of taking your children to see it.'"
The Dukes of Hazzard" is a cornpone comedy about two handsome, young moonshine runners from rural Georgia. Bo and Luke Duke are rebels with a Robin Hood-like cause, alternately fleeing and foiling the inept, corrupt rule of Boss Hogg and his Straight Outta Hee-Haw henchmen. "It's a show the whole family can watch, and Hollywood doesn't make many of those," said Scott Gordon, a 31-year-old corrections officer whose wife and two sons drove eight hours to DukesFest from Abbeville , Ala. "I grew up on the show, and now my boys are too."
Los Angeles Times critic Howard Rosenberg , a Pulitzer Prize-winning! alumnus of The Louisville Times, originally said the show "wouldn't last past the first commercial break." He has been eating Southern-fried crow for 26 years. "The Dukes of Hazzard" played prime time for seven seasons and roosted in Nielsen's top 10 from 1979 to '82. Cable networks have rerun the show's 147 episodes for ages.
More than 23 million people watched the weekend marathon with which CMT (Country Music Television) launched its "Dukes" revival in February. "It's a testament to the fans who refuse to let this show die," said Jones, whose wife, Alma Viator , graduated from Louisville's Valley High School.
Nobody - not Rosenberg, not CBS, not even the show's stars - knew the Dukes would be such an abiding hit. The secret lies in a timeless formula, Jones said: "Fast is always fast, funny is always funny and good-looking is always good-looking."Hundreds of people stood in the June sun for an hour or more to take a brief spin in one of the 40 or so General Lees that roared in for the weekend. The speedway grounds were criss-crossed with endless lines of adoring, autograph-seeking fans. Only three members of the main cast were missing. Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse) died in 1997. Sorrell Booke , aka Boss Hogg, died in 1994. Tom Wopat (Luke Dukes) is acting in the Tony-winning revival of David Mamet's play "Glengarry Glen Ross ."