The uber MINI event that is the Tail of the Dragon has officially ended for 2005. For those curious about the event and what it’s actually like to attend, here’s an account from a Dragon newbie that was just sent in by long time reader Deb (aka Nekowoman):
Remember summer camp? Remember college? Making new friends that last a lifetime, partying and having fun without supervision? Now imagine a business convention with lots of events and dinners. Throw in a few roads that rival (and beat) the world’s best roller coasters. Add that all up together with the most wonderful group of people you can meet and do it in a MINI. That about sums up the Dragon. It’s so hard to describe, I’d almost say you have to go to understand it. This was my first time and it was just about the most fun I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to go back. It is a pilgrimage that all MINI owners should make at least once.
The inspiration behind this massive gathering of MINI lovers is a very special road. ‘The Tail of the Dragon’ is the nickname for a stretch of US 129 that winds up and down a mountain between North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s famous for having 318 turns in 11 miles. It is the kind of road that MINIs were built for.
The 3rd Annual MINIs on the Dragon was held May 5th-8th 2005 in Deal’s Gap, North Carolina. People came from all over the US, Canada and even Australia to drive the twisties. Four hundred and eleven people registered, but it’s hard to give an accurate headcount or car count. Most folks stayed at the Fontana Village, which is a collection of cabins, motel rooms, hotel rooms and campgrounds, but others filled up area hotels and B&Bs. MINI folks packed the place solid. Everywhere you looked or drove, there were MINIs. Not one MINI was identical to another. Everybody waved, every time.
The Dragon is quite the event, four days of shared meals, driving and having fun. Most people rolled in on Thursday. Just to show how nuts we all are about our cars, the car wash station was packed, in the rain! The Welcome Dinner was good ol’ southern BBQ followed up by lots of raffle prizes and a cigar saloon. Friday started out with a social gathering at the Fontana Dam and a leisurely first run at the road known as ‘The Dragon.’ Then folks broke out into their chosen activities, cruises and rallies, before meeting up for a panoramic picture of nearly everybody. Come evening, the Recreation Center was packed for the Chili Cook-Off and Pot Luck Dinner. The evening’s entertainment was Creeper Races, a live band and lots more raffle prizes. Saturday offered more driving adventures, cruises in the mountains and impromptu runs on the Dragon with friends. The Farewell Dinner offered more good food and lots more prizes to be won. A bonfire, complete with s’mores, gave everyone a chance to enjoy the final evening together.
The final event, Midnight on the Dragon, was not for the faint of heart. The Dragon is an amazing, challenging road. Come dark, an inky blackness that you haven’t seen since you last went backcountry camping, the road is a whole new level of challenge. Even at the speed limit, I was overdriving my headlights. There are no street lights. There was no moonlight. There are no reflective markers. The road twists and turns, climbs and descends with no warning in the blackness. There is little room for error, as a Miata discovered the hard way that night. I found the Dragon challenging and scary in the daylight. At midnight, it was thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. The smell of hot tires and brakes will forever make me remember my Dragon runs.
The Dragon is about the people. The people here on MotoringFile. The folks on NorthAmericanMotoring.com and MINI2.com. The people in your local club. Folks you’ve never heard of, but who also love to motor in this little car. The MINI brought me to the Dragon, but the Dragon left me with a profound sense of joy. There are amazing people out there just waiting to become a friend. There are still wild places to go. There are twisties to be found and rode.