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GENERAL LEE MECHANIC TOM SARMENTO
General Lee lead mechanic Tom Sarmento is coming to the Fleetwood Country Cruize In in London Ontario June 3rd and 4th 2017. He will sign autographs and greet classic car owners. He will be there with other celebrities including several Dukes of Hazzard cast members, Custom Car Building Legend Gene WInfield, and Linda Vaughn ( Miss Hurst Shifter ). The following is an interview between SST Car Show Host Rick Walker, and Tom Sarmento. Edited for brevity.
RICK WALKER INTERVIEWS GENERAL LEE MECHANIC TOM SARMENTO
Q: The first thing I would like to ask is are there a lot of misconceptions about the number of vehicles that were destroyed during the making of the TV series?
A: Oh yeah. If you look it up on the internet it says 230 or something, but I was doing this Chrysler show in Canada ( Moparfest ) and they said whoever guesses closest get this hat. There was this little kid there and he said "do you know how there was"? I said "yeah...317". So he comes back a little bit later and he says "I didn't win there was only 237". I told him, "if there was only two-hundred-and-something I could have taken a couple years off that show".
Q: What does that work out to per episode on average?
A: Sometimes we didn't jump any cars. I mean we had one episode where we just had horses. We had some episodes where we did five jumps. Seveal cars were destroyed because it was like oops I didn't mean to hit that tree. We jumped the majority of em ya know. There were 317 destroyed. There were 17 that survived the show."
Q: You were the General Lee mechanic, so what did that involve?
AN AUTHENTIC GENERAL LEE FROM THE TV SERIES
A: I stayed out on the set all the time, when we shot. We shot five days a week on the second unit with just stunts. The first unit shot six days. On the sixth day what we had on the second unit was a day to either go into the shop and pick up supplies, and check over the cars coming in. It wasn't a day off, it was a chance to try to get everything ready for the next show coming up."
Q: As the mechanic was it your job to keep the cars running or did you also help them rig the cars for jumps?
A:"Both of that. It was my job to make sure they were up and running. I used to go out there on the weekends on my own time and I would take the kids out there, so I could be putting stuff together so we would have stuff to shoot with on Monday when we got going again. There were several days I didn't have a car left out there that was running. It looked like a junk yard sometimes".
Q: We are seeing Dukes style jumps at some car shows even today to attract crowds. Why do you think that stuff still works as an attraction?
GENERAL LEE MECHANIC TOM SARMENTO
A: When we did them in Nashville and we had the original stunt guys from the Dukes show we drew 80-thousand people to the shows there. I mean we go well over 200 feet with the car. These other ones they are just little bitty ones. We are the professionals. We have gone well over 100-further feet over their best jumps. I mean we are the ones who designed it, and we are the ones who came up with all the ideas and stuff. You got everybody out there trying to do some stuff. In my opinion they should just leave it to us, because someday somebody is going to get hurt. We do some pretty good size shows when we do em.
Q: Is insurance a big hurdle to overcome to do these jumps?
A: Well, when we look for insurance they come back and look for the reputation on these stunt men. I mean you can't get anybody better than they are. They are not uninsurable let's put it that way, and liability it is not that hard for us to get for us to do a show."
Q: Any chance you might do a jump in Canada anytime soon?
A: No I don't think so. I am getting up there. We just did one up in Maine last year for a big show. It was a ten day carnival event, and we went up there and did that with a Roscoe car and Corey came up and it was the first time he had ever turned over a Roscoe car. I think we are going to maybe call that our last one.
SARMENTO WILL BE AN GUEST OF HONOR
JUNE 3 & 4 2017
FLEETWOOD COUNTRY CRUIZE IN
CANADA'S LARGEST OUTDOOR CAR SHOW
Q: Dukes mania continues though and I guess that is continuing this year at the "Fleetwood Country Cruize-In Car Show" June 3rd and 4th.
A: Steve Plunkett has really put together a top notch show. We did one a couple years ago with them. We had Tom Schnieder, and Tom Wopat, and we had Rick Hurst there. I think that was one of his biggest attended shows there in London, and this year we are going to do it with Ben Jones ( Cooter ), and the three living Sheriffs, that were used on the show that would be Sonny Shroyer, Rick Hurst and Don Pedro Colley - Sheriff Little. I think we are going to have a great time up there.
Q: So what do people bring for you to sign when they come out to see you at the shows?
A: Yeah they bring all their stuff. The cast bring their pictures and I bring hats and shirts and stuff that we sign and you're sitting there talking with people. Seems like you get going with a couple people and the next thing you know there are a dozen or more around asking questions about the show. I like sharing stories about the show with people.
Q: Do you think there are still people watching the re-runs and picking up that "Dukes Mania"?
A: Yeah I do I think it's coming back a bit. I just got back from Europe where I was there for five weeks. I just did an interview in Ireland and we did a bunch of stuff in Holland. I did some newspaper stuff and some radio interviews and some photo ops. I was all over the place.
Q: With time marching on a rust taking it's toll those Dodge Chargers must be getting rarer and rarer.
A: Well they are a valuable car. We only wrecked 317, and you know between the 68's and 69's which were the two years we could switch around pretty easy, you know there were about 100-thousand or so of them made, and they weren't a very popular car. You know we bought em rotting off the street for like $500 a piece. You know maybe a really nice 440 R/T we would give up to a thousand dollars for one, but they weren't worth anything. If we hadn't painted them orange, put an 01 on the side and a flag on the top they wouldn't be worth a dime today."
Q: It's strange how things evolve.
A: Yeah like now for the 68 and 69 Charger they make everything for those cars except I think for the firewall. If you have a VIN number, and a title you can build a brand new one. In fact you can buy all the parts and set it on top of a new Challenger frames with the new Hemi motors. You can buy everything now, but if it wasn't for the "Dukes" you wouldn't be able to get all those parts.
Q: What do you think of all the collectibles on the market?
A: There's a lot of collectibles out there and there are some big collectors. When I was over in Holland there was a fella he had a car modeled after the series, and they did a couple of Euro Dukes fests.
Q: Well the car was one of the stars in the show. I think it was probably the wholesome family oriented nature of the show that keeps it going strong. Would you agree with that?
A: Yes I would agree with that. I mean the actors they were there and the car did it's part. I was there to make sure the car did its part. It wasn't an easy show to do. I mean those cars were made more for drag racing. It took me a season and a half to really get those cars to work the way they needed to. I had to try to make it reliable so they would feel comfortable in that car. As the show went on we got better and we didn't wreck as many cars by accident. Everybody got their own cars to drive, and if we needed to wreck something we would wreck something that maybe didn't handle as well.
Q: Well we look forward to everything to come in the future from you and I am sure we will see you at the Fleetwood show and other car events too in the years ahead.
A: I told everybody that comes to Steve's event with a car I will sign it for them. You know he has a great event in London, and he has Linda Vaughn coming, and he has Barry Meguiar and Gene Winfield. He has a great group of people coming up.
Q: How big do you think the Fleetwood event will get? It already is an Automotive Extravaganza like no other.
A: Yeah! Steve has really stepped it up with that show. I think he will have about five thousand cars there this year. It's guaranteed to be a great time, and it's one of the best shows I have ever been to.