Photos by Patty Fantasia
It was early evening on October 23rd when the “Las Vegas Star Cars” formed an unusual parade as it proceeded to an enclosed area in front of the 1st Street Stage at the Freemont Street Experience. Produced by Paul Casey Entertainment, the event features some of the most well known and beloved automobiles ever shown in television and motion pictures including: the Back to the Future DeLorean, Starsky & Hutch’s Torino, Herbie the Love Bug Volkswagon, Magnum P.I.’s Ferrari 308, Star Wars H-Wing Transporter, a replic of Elvis’s 1959 Cadillac, the Camaro from Transformers and the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard. Vintage, hotrod and classic car owners also participated in the event displaying their rides the next day following an official opening ceremony with the Las Vegas city council and a presentation from the Nellis AFB Honor Guard. Offering free attendance to the public, the festival was set up to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, a nationally recognized charity assisting children and their families.
The Cars weren’t the only stars on hand for Friday’s VIP reception, however. Casey took the stage wearing Clayton Moore’s Lone Ranger hat courtesy of the Gene Autry Museum and was flanked by two Las Vegas showgirls as he announced the famous vehicles riding in and taking their places like modern day heroes made of chrome and steel. Then he introduced the invited celebrity guests including: Elvis Presley’s personal manager and close friend Joe Esposito, actress and former Knight Rider cast member, Catherine Hickland, film legend and movie car customizer, Mike “Movie Mike” Walsh, Love Bug car builder Doug Lovegrove and stunt driver and actor James Smith. A short while later the group assembled upstairs on the balcony of Gold Diggers inside the Golden Nugget Hotel, where there was a great view of the cars below. Once dusk turned to darkness the high powered wattage of the Freemont Street canopy above covered them with its dazzling brand of shine, which is unique to Las Vegas.
Precision driver James August Smith sat at a table against the glitzy backdrop explaining how he’d recently constructed a 12’ camera crane to assist with shooting some of his action sequences. Perhaps best known for performing ski stunts with cars including the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard, James is also an actor. For those unfamiliar with the term “ski”, Wikipedia defines it as an automotive driving stunt where the car is driven while balanced only on two wheels, which can be either the pair on the drivers or the passenger side of the car. On Smith’s website (www.skicarstunt.com) he shares how he became fascinated with stunts in the 70’s and 80’s watching the action generated in shows like “The Dukes of Hazzard”, “Knight Rider”, “Fall Guy” and “The A Team”. Years later he was lucky enough to become friends with some of the stuntmen and coordinators from these shows. Aside from his on the edge driving, Smith also takes great pride in his company Smith Brothers Restorations, which specializes in the Dodge Charger and the General Lee in particular. Their work has been profiled in Muscle Car Review and unlike other restorers, The Smiths have developed friendships with the original Warner Brothers mechanics that created and preserved the original General Lees: Tom Sarmento, A,J. Thrasher and the late Rich Sephton. As if these activities weren’t enough to keep James busy, he’ll be appearing in an episode of the TNT hit series “Leverage” this January, in which he’ll have a hot scene being burned in a fire.
Celebrity guest “Movie Mike” Walsh’s production credits are numerous, but one unmistakable favorite is the red and white Torino from Starsky & Hutch the Movie. Mike actually began customizing cars as a child when he modified his first Hot Wheel to make it stand out from all the others. Greatly influenced by his father, who was also a car enthusiast, Walsh was taken to car shows and racing events at an early age, but it was while working as a car wrangler on the set of “Murphy’s Romance” in his 20’s, that he began his lifetime association with the entertainment industry.
The show’s producer, Paul Casey is also a musician, Elvis impersonator and owner of the Las Vegas General Lee. This isn’t the first major car show he’s brought to Las Vegas this year in order to raise funds for charity. Back in March he brought the Knight Rider Festival to Freemont Street, which was also free to the public. That festival featured replicas of Kitt and was attended by Knight Rider alumni producer Glen Larson, Catherine Hickland, Rebecca Holden, Justin Bruening and Deanna Russo. Paul explains that what makes his events so special is that “regular car shows just have cars. Here we have screen used cars known for being on TV shows and movies.” Gauging from his success with these events it’s probably more than a rumor that sequels are being planned for next year.