What started out as a class project has turned into a labor of love for collision repair technology students at Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock, AR.
Earlier this year, Scott Romine, special events coordinator for Special Olympics Arkansas, asked instructor Ken Leslie and his students to assist with a special project: the restoration of a 1969 Dodge Charger to replicate one of television’s top cars of all time, the General Lee of “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Romine, a 10-year veteran of the North Little Rock Police Department and a fan of the popular television show since it originally aired on CBS from 1979 to 1985, personally owned another General Lee replica and had organized a General Lee fan club to benefit the Special Olympics.
“We held our first full-blown fundraiser last May that featured James Best – Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on the show – and stuntman Corey Eubanks,” Romine said. “It was a huge success.”
“For our event this year, Corey suggested that we recreate a General Lee like the one on the series, and he volunteered to drive it in a mock ‘hot pursuit’ and to allow folks that made a donation to Special Olympics to ride with him.”
A man named Jeffery Remy of Laredo, TX, helped turn the idea into reality, Romine said.
Remy donated a 1969 Charger that had been parked for years in a Texas field to Special Olympics and arranged to have it delivered to Pulaski Tech in late January.
“The car was in the worst possible shape,” instructor Leslie said. “A tremendous amount of collision and rust repairs had to be made. The students also needed to apply body filler to the entire car.”
Students Tyler Pearcy and Anthony Hicks took the lead on the project, along with team members Nick Jones and Travis Tucker. Eventually, all of the students in the class became involved.
“It was a complete restoration project,” Pearcy said. “We had to repair a lot of damage caused by others who had tried to fix the car. That was our greatest challenge.”
“The car was covered in rust patches,” Pearcy said, adding that the entire roof was covered in rust and required extensive repair work.
“The most difficult part of the restoration was trying to fix other people’s mistakes,” Pearcy said. “Most of the body parts didn’t match. The hood and the trunk were different. The doors were different. We had to deal with a lot of layers and colors.”
The students completed the bulk of the restoration project in February, Pearcy said, adding that he and Hicks worked on the project daily.
In early March, Pearcy, Hicks and the other students painted the car its signature orange color in a live broadcast of a local television morning show.
Tom Sarmento, chief mechanic for the hundreds of General Lee’s that climbed their way to history on the back roads of Hazzard County, is set to install the engine and build the cage.
After the mechanical work is finished, the students will complete the transformation with the application of decals and final touch ups in time for the Dukes Day Special Olympics Arkansas benefit May 6-7 in Little Rock.
“The project was fun and frustrating at the same time,” Pearcy said. “It’s exciting to know that we finished something that should have taken a year to complete in little over a month.”
“The students have worked hard to bring the car back from the dead with the help of donations from O’Reilly Auto Parts,” Romine said.
“The General Lee was recently voted the number one car in the world, and this car and its special connection to the students and Special Olympics is a shining example of what the ol’ General is capable of.”
Leslie said the project has been a great learning experience for his students at Pulaski Tech. In addition to the General Lee replica, Pulaski Tech students are working simultaneously to transform a 1970s Dodge Coronet into a Hazzard County Sheriff’s car to be used in the “mock pursuit” at the Dukes Day event.
“Our goal is to prepare students for employment in the professional auto collision repair and refinishing industry, using a variety of the most current technological methods and equipment,” Leslie said. “Projects like this also help our students learn and utilize communication, problem solving and human relations skills.
“They are benefiting from the application of their technical skills and helping the Special Olympics in the process. They really seem to be wrapped up in the project.”
The Special Olympics General Lee will also participate as a lap car in Dukesfest June 4-5 at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, TN.
“This unique opportunity has brought together a lot of people and will undoubtedly create a lot of smiles at upcoming events,” Romine added.
Bo and Luke Duke would be proud.
For more information about the Special Olympics Arkansas General Lee replica, visit www.pulaskitech.edu/programs_of_study/general_lee.
Story and photos by Lennon Parker
Lennon Parker is a Web communication specialist at Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock, AR. He is a 2004 graduate of Pulaski Tech with an associate degree in information technology and enjoys Web site design, photography and collecting celebrity memorabilia.