'Dukes of Hazzard' devotees gather to celebrate the hit 1980s TV show
At 'DukesFest,' hundreds display their General Lee cars, dress up as Boss Hogg and Enos, and tell tales of a simpler South.
Stuck in what he calls "the Northeast corridor," Billy Shaffer can't turn his back on the three generations of family who have lived in New Jersey. His life is, and will remain, in the North, he says. Yet his heart longs for the Southern red clay roads presided over by the General Lee.Skip to next paragraph
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Maybe Mr. Shaffer never would have known better unless he'd sat down on that Friday night in early 1979, when a car shot across the Georgia landscape, a Dixie horn sounded, and the world changed. Like so many devotees of the hit 1980s TV show, "The Dukes of Hazzard," Shaffer's interest only grew after the show went off the air in 1985, as its iconic pop elements lingered – not the least of which was a 1969 Dodge Charger named for the Confederacy's greatest general.
Last weekend, Shaffer, a county park ranger in coastal New Jersey, joined thousands of devotees at DukesFest 2008, a carnival-meets-carshow held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway here in Hampton. Hollywood stuntmen launched late-model cars off ramps and old-car buffs displayed their homebuilt General Lees – some of which cost $35,000 to create, but have made the owners mini-celebrities back home.
After rushing to finish his own General Lee vehicle in time for the show, Shaffer looked around at the four-barrel-carburetor atmosphere and pondered the stubborness of the Dukes' appeal. Typical among the fans here, he traces his interest in the show to the hard-living travails of good ole boys, the search for redemption from crooked laws, and, more personally, a bond between himself and his grandfather that grew out of a fictional place of swamps and mountains called Hazzard County.
"It's a different type of people in the North, and even though I grew up in New Jersey, I feel like a transplant. I don't belong there, I belong here," he says, looking out over a racetrack peppered with nearly 200 '69 Dodge Chargers, all painted red-orange with a Confederate battle flag on the roof and "01" on the doors.
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"The Dukes of Hazzard" riffed on well-trampled stereotypes of the South – Daisy Duke and her Daisy Dukes (denim shorts), Uncle Jesse's moral (and moonshine) stewardship, the hapless law embodied by Roscoe P. Coltrane, Waylon Jennings's narrative baritone, and the car that was the real star. But it ended up turning stereotypes into archetypes.
Taken from a true-life story about two bootlegging cousins from North Carolina, the Dukes always followed the same Robin Hood story line. Bo and Luke Duke, the cousins, were on probation for running bootleg liquor, and they always seemed to find themselves in the middle of trouble even when they weren't at fault. They were either going to jail or getting out of jail and chasing around Hazzard County – and sometimes the "big city" of Atlanta – to clear themselves of trumped-up charges and catch the real bad guys.
"It was good ole boys, plain and simple," says Rusty Cash of Chattanooga, Tenn., who came to DukesFest dressed in the blindingly white tuxedo of Boss Hogg, the hapless county boss whose outlandish corruption the Duke boys always stymied. "The law was always after them, but they were always good ole boys. It wasn't nothing about prejudice, it was always about Uncle Jesse saying, 'If it ain't done right – Southern with a Christian attitude – then don't do it.' That's what the whole story is about – doing what's right."