Smokey and the Bandit - Part One

It began with the trippers -- the men who hauled illegal moonshine over the back roads of the South from January 16, 1920 to December 5, 1933 when it was against the law to manufacture, sell, or transport liquor in the United States. If nothing else, the boys learned to handle a car while being chased by men determined to catch them.

Bragging rights were important, and bets were placed on the fastest car and the best driver. They ran 'shine during the week and brought their skill and money to the track on Sunday. Some of the tricks learned outrunning the police came along for the ride.

The Lakewood (Georgia) track banned everyone who had been arrested. But nothing could keep these men off one of their favorite tracks. One night a car drove onto the backstretch during the race with the police right behind it. The race car and the police car completed several laps before the racer signaled the pits to open the gate. The next time around he came through the pits and out gate with the police car still in hot pursuit.

Another driver just released from the county jail for making and selling peach brandy
broke into the police compound, took his car, and raced that week end.

One driver rigged a pump that injected a fluid into the exhaust and set up a smoke screen. At the next race another driver installed a device that left an oil film on the car chasing him.

"But they could drive. I mean, they drove on back roads at night with their lights off, and they flew. Why, they could spin a car 180 degrees on its own length without backing off. Nobody would give an inch, and if you didn't get out of the way, they'd run over you. When the flag dropped you'd think war was declared. They went any place there was an opening -- down through the pits, in the grass, the infield, anywhere," Bill Tuthill recalls.The thin soil in the mountains of the South was not good enough for much except corn. By turning his corn into whiskey, a farmer in the 1930's and 1940's could produce enough 'shine in one night to equal his yearly income from farming. There was only one problem: the sale of untaxed liquor was illegal. The determination of federal, state and local governments to stop the traffic in 'shine gave birth to the tripper.

The tripper moved the 'shine from the still to the buyer. The trip car was a full-sized sedan with reinforced rear springs. It was stripped to a bare minimum and when fully loaded carried 180 gallons (approximately 1400 pounds) of 'shine. When empty the rear end sat high and made it easy to spot. All the police had to do was catch it!

Trippers knew every twist and turn of every back country road and took great pleasure in outrunning the 'revenuers. Many of the first stock car drivers honed their talent on nightly runs between the still and the nearest large city.

A revenuer could outrun a trip car going uphill, but when the road was downhill or level, the trip car could pull away. Some revenuers installed railroad tongs on the front of their cars. When the revenuer bumped the trip car, the tongs closed over the bumper and the tripper was caught.

The trippers countered by installing the bumper with wire. When the tongs closed, the tripper accelerated, the bumper came off, and the revenuer often lost his undercarriage, oil pan, drive shaft, or tires as he ran over it.

The revenuers tried firing buckshot into the radiator of the trip car. By the time the revenuer found the overheated trip car a few miles down the road, the tripper was gone, but the load was captured. As has often been said, one good idea leads to another, and the trippers moved the radiator to the rear, installed air scoops and hoses to drive fresh air to it, and fitted a steel plate on the front of the car.

Another trick was to use a second car as a blocker. The blocker straddled the center of the road between the trip car and the revenue car. When stopped, the blocker denied any knowledge of the trip car. Many early racers were accused of blocking on the race track.

If you watch carefully, you can still occasionally see the legacy of the tripper in modern stock car racing.