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-Below is the interview Tom Sarmento and Rick Walker of the SST Car Show-


Rick: We are at the Fleetwood Country Cruize In in London Ontario with Tom Sarmento, General Lee lead mechanic. Great Show?

Tom: It's fantastic. Look at the weather.

Rick: Couldn't ask for better. You've got a General Lee right here.

Tom: Got a General Lee here and Rob Murphy brought his in here, so we had a nice back drop. We're just having a great time here.

Rick: So you're meeting the fans today, signing autographs. People probably come here with a million different questions but they must always want to know about those infamous jumps?

Tom: The number one question is where's Cathy, let's hear the horn? (laughter).

Well Cathy's not here and the horn we hope we don't hear too much. But the infamous jumps yes. Al Wyatt Jr. he went 237 feet back in the day. Granny Annie was the episode. When he jumped he had flip flops on, he had a pair of shorts, helmet, neck-brace and he went that kind of distance. Nobody has gone that far yet other than Al Wyatt.

Rick: So how do they do that? Is that just the car or they using some sort of slingshot or what are they doing?

Tom: It's all car. It's all car, ramp and the biggest thing is the stunt driver. He believe the car will go that far. So we build him a car he is very comfortable in. They do not like to hear any noises. They're very superstitious but if you do that for them, let them do a couple of approaches, they're comfortable in that car, they'll make that car sale.

Rick: So when these things jump, it's like a one time thing because after they've gone through that you're not using that for much else.

Tom: It's done, we only use them one time. They were expendable. They did more damage then we could buy a new one for and it's already written off on the show. And the liability, there are other things

that could have gone wrong that we couldn't see. So that was the standard. The car was used once and charged off on the show. The next step we move the safety equipment, tires and batteries and went to the crusher.

Rick: How do you prepare a car for a jump like that?

Tom: Well I give myself a good 440. I like the 383's also but Al Wyatt preferred a 440 engine. He preferred 14 inch tires rims on the front. 15 inch on the back. Most of the guys didn't care for the console shifter. They would rather have it right there on the column where they could actually see it and pull it into gear. It's just making them comfortable because you're strapped in that car and then your waiting for roll camera's. Camera 1, 2, 3, 4 and possibly 5. You're sitting in that car waiting for that and then all of a sudden goes Camera 4 Jam, so everything comes to a stop. You're still buckled into that car and they start it all over again. You want to get out of that thing as soon as you can. I mean your heart rate is definitely up. I don't care who you are or anything. Then once it's all over it's you know what I could have gone a little faster (laughter).

Rick: It sounds a lot like launching a rocket?

Tom: Yes it is. It's just a glide and the car comes down and you try to make them land a little bit on the nose so that actually absorbs all the shock before it hits the driver.

It's just like in Nascar. Those cars are made when they hit a wall, they crumble up first before it gets to the driver. Even back in the 70's and 80's, that's what we used to do.

Rick: So you put a roll cage in them but did you engineer crumple zones into the front then?

Tom: No we didn't have time to do that. AJ Thrasher built these cages and they were very stout. We checked the cages once they were done to see if there were any kind of a flaw which we didn't have.

Come to think about the superstitious thing, AJ used to chew tobacco. He's a big ol' guy and he used to chew that tobacco. He'd take a wad of that tobacco and put it right in the middle of the dash and it would be dripping down there and it would just get hardened and dry. Not one of the stunt guys would remove that tobacco (laughter).

It would be bad luck. Other things that we did was each one of the ramps had horseshoes. AJ put a horseshoe on the ramps for the stunt guys. Our pipe ramps, our jump ramps and everything like that.

There's a lot of superstition in that. You figure we've been doing it for 6 years and sometimes 2 or 3 jumps in one episode so there was a lot to be said about that.

Rick: Even if it's something psychological with the driver, that helps too. How much of the factor was the driver in these jumps? Was it all mathematics and physics or was the driver a factor?

Tom: The drivers a factor. He could overall anybody if he wanted more or less weight. He usually went with what we decided and there would be a group of us with Paul Baxley making the final decision on the weight. When we're talking about a final decision on the weight it might be a difference of 50 pounds.

Allan, he was a little bit bigger so we had a little more weight in the trunk. Corey Eubanks he's about 165-170 pounds, Allan 250 pounds. So it makes a little bit of a difference and you got to take in the motor torque.

(Dukes of Hazzard horn)

Rick: There's that horn (laughter)

Tom: Now where's Cathy (laughter).

But the motor torque because it's going to want to go over to the right. And when you're sailing that far but our guys were very good. When they left that ramp they were off the throttle.

They didn't blow them up in the air. A lot of them had blue smoke but that's from the oil filter and the front hitting the K-frame and sharing off and the oil going back on the exhaust, you'll see a blue smoke.

As far as I'm concerned they have a lot of talent. I just give them the car that they want, the talent and the jump is up to them.

Rick: Not just talent, those guys are brave.

Tom: Well they are because those guys are going to be sore. We're not going to hurt them, we're not going to draw blood. No broken bones but they got to work the next day so we try to give them the safest car as possible and make them feel as comfortable. Then once that's over then it's all time for the auto boys.

Rick: I've heard a lot of guys online saying it's terrible that they destroyed all those cars

because now we're not going to be able to buy any and now they're too expensive. What do you have to say to guys who complain about you having destroyed that many. Like 317 General Lee's.

Tom: Well there was like 100,000 of those cars made. There was more people killed in drunk driving in those cars than we would ever wreck. As far as the popularity, if it wasn't painted orange and had an 01 on it, it wouldn't be worth a dime. Those cars we could be for $500 a piece on the street.

Rick: So what are you doing now? I know you've been on the road sometimes. The show on television might be over but the dukes Legend lives on. The mania lives on. The fans are still out there and you're still greeting them and I think still on occasion you're jumping a car.

Tom: Nope jumping's gone, that's done. I did my last one in 2009. I was a little sore on that, fractured my spine. That was the last one cause I'm 70 years old now. I just got back from 5 weeks in Europe. I was over in Ireland. I had a car in Northern Ireland, one in Ireland, one in Germany and one in Holland. So we did a photoshoot with a castle in Trim, Ireland. It had this fantastic archway.

6 years ago we did it and we were going to film in that archway but it rained. We were going to tear up all there lawn and stuff and they were nice enough to do it. We got a permit to go ahead and bring the car in and do another shoot. So we did that shoot and it should be in a magazine in Auto Los Angeles

either the end of the year or next year.