MotoringFile at The Dragon 2011
The MINI community is the one fantastic accessory you won’t find on the Configurator. It’s free-of-charge, but it requires participation. That community has its online elements like MotoringFile or MotoringAlliance, but if you really want to experience the community, you’ve got to attend an event like MINIs on the Dragon. I experienced this first hand this year, as MOTD 2011 was not only my first time at The Dragon, it was my first real MINI event.
Attending MOTD meant two solid days of driving â€” motoring from the Twin Cities, overnighting in Chicago, and finally arriving at Fontana Resort in North Carolina. I headed out Wednesday morning from south St. Paul and met up with Gabe just outside Chicago some seven hours later. With some pizza and brew consumed, Gabe and I talked cars and the road to come. It was easy conversation, since we have such similar tastes in cars. He’s excited to be taking delivery of his M1, and with good reason. He also sent his greetings to everyone at The Dragon. With our powers of MotoringFile united, I set off the next morning for Fontana.
As far as I’m concerned, the brilliance of the MINI is its blend of premium performance and economy. With premium gas running me as much at $4.85/gallon, I wanted to emphasize my R53′s thrifty capabilities on my nearly 2,200 mile round trip. While there are plenty of extreme hyper-miling techniques available, I decided to go simple and trade speed for economy. I knew there were plenty of driving thrills in store for me on Hwy 129, so I stuck with the speed limit for my 1000 mile leg to The Dragon. My economy was fantastic â€” nearly 35 mpg when I exclude the stop-and-go nonsense I encountered in Chicago. More than that, I really enjoyed embracing the journey, rather than just pining for the destination. When you’ve got two days to do, you’d better relax. Keeping to the speed limit actually helps, believe it or not. But be warned, driving the speed limit will not help you make friends on the roadways.
Because I’d come through Chattanooga to visit some extended family, I actually drove The Dragon for the first time just to get to Fontana Resort. Better yet, I got to drive it at night. For those who’ve never driven US-129, it’s an amazing piece of road. It’s more than 300 turns in fewer than 12 miles, and these aren’t just little bends. We’re talking massive 180Âº switchbacks, winding chicanes and constant changes in elevation. But where many roads in America today are flat, crumbling pothole minefields, US-129 is not only smooth, but those switchbacks are banked at angles to make a speedway proud. At nearly midnight local time, my R53 and I wound our way through the darkness taking it easy in the bends. The last thing I wanted to do was wrap myself around a tree on the side of a smokey mountain in the middle of the night. But despite my caution, simply arriving at MOTD was an absolute blast.
If you’re going to get the full MOTD experience, I say you simply have to stay at Fontana Resort. This sprawling campus of cabins and lodges is the kick off point for everything. More than that, there’s something about sharing one huge campsite with several hundred other MINI owners that really brings the week to life. Being onsite also makes it easy to party hard and know that at worst, you’ll only have to stumble up the hill to find your bed. Waking up Friday morning (and yes, it was still morning), I made my way down to the main vendor area. The whole area was buzzing with MINIs, vendors and people sampling the buffet of MINI-focused merch. Everything from accessories, to graphics, to performance parts was within 30 yards walk. What’s more, there were numerous installations going on all the time. Everything from sway bars and supercharger pulleys in the Detroit Tuned tent, to roof graphics and bonnet stripes in the DMP Productions tent. It felt much less like a trade show than one big MINI club garage day.
That low-key attitude is pervasive throughout the entire event. Nothing about MOTD is wound up. Everything is laid back and casual. There’s little or no cell phone signal at Fontana, the scheduled events are very come-and-go, and despite the frequent growl of MINI exhaust, nobody ever seems in a hurry. It’s an event that forces you to let go of your over-scheduled daily routine, if you’ve got one. It forces you to unplug and chill out. No wonder so many people take MOTD as their one big vacation trip each year.
Wandering through the vendor paddock, I heard a familiar voice. Detroit Tuned founder and fellow WhiteRoofRadio host Chad Miller was rallying his crew for the day’s installations. To date, Chad, Todd, Gabe, DB and I have spent hours on conference calls recording the podcast, but until Gabe the day previous, Todd was the only one of the group I’d actually met in person. It was great to finally meet Chad, who quickly showed me around his makeshift traveling auto garage. High storm winds the day before had trashed his tent, which was now cleverly MacGyvered back together and secured on one end to the team van full of tools and MINI parts.
No sooner had Chad shown me ’round, when another familiar voice rolled up in his MINI Cooper S JCW GP. Our man Todd Pearson had his DMP Productions tent set up right next to Detroit Tuned. I was glad to see Todd because not only was I looking forward to hanging out with three-fifths of the WRR crew, but my R53 needed its silver stripes put back on. As I continued to wander the paddock, I met tons of people familiar to the show or who I knew of in other contexts such as MotoringAlliance or OutMotoring. What’s great about The Dragon (and I’d wager any MINI event) is that you won’t be a stranger for long. Misanthropes had best stay home.
Friday carried on for me with a mid-afternoon trip down The Dragon. I needed to head back down to civilization to make a phone call, but more than that, I was excited to run the road in the daytime where I could actually see deeper into the corners than just what my xenons would illuminate in the night. The experience was surreal. Even when driven leisurely, The Dragon is a challenge in any car. In my R53 though, it was hammer and nail. It was as though the MINI was made for this road and vice versa. With each whipping turn and each heal-toe shift, my MINI growled and zipped its way through the mountains. It’s like driving a go-kart down a roller coaster.
Friday night at The Dragon is one of its quintessential events: The Brew Swap. A huge group of beer enthusiasts gathered in the main lodge hall where tables were set up and an incredible variety of beer and soda could be had for the simple exchange of a bottle. The place was bustling when I arrived. People take this event very, very seriously. One guy had dozens of beers only found in Germany. Others had rare, obscure brews from their local areas. Samples abounded and everybody soon had new flavors on their tongues and new brew in their boxes. That and a handsome new Dragon Brewswap tumbler from the fine folks at Detroit Tuned. Brew soon turned to song as the karaoke cranked up and an increasingly lubricated crowd sang their way into the night.
Friday night ended for me the way most nights at The Dragon did: at the fire pit. Just down the slope from my cabin was a Stonehenge-looking fire pit with stone benches all the way around it and ominous looking stone pillars. While campfire company is great in most any setting, hanging around the fire pit at The Dragon was especially enjoyable because there was something we could all talk about: MINIs. It wasn’t the only topic of conversation, obviously, but having so much in common with everyone ’round the fire was as fun as it was comfortable.
Saturday morning came comfortable and foggy. I made my way down to the main vendor area. Todd was slinging vinyl. Chad was turning wrenches in the Detroit Tuned tent. Aaron from OutMotoring was selling MINI accessories left and right. The whole row was bustling with activity â€” MINIs coming and going. One particular MINI of interest pulled up outside the DT tent. It was a Countryman All4 Chad had customized in the weeks leading up to The Dragon. The night before, at the fire pit, Jill (the owner) had offered to let me take her R60 down The Dragon. With several good runs under my belt in my R53, this was the perfect opportunity to contrast the newest (and largest) addition to the MINI family against the car that helped make the modern MINI famous.
I’ll be writing a more in-depth review of the Countryman All4 on The Dragon in the coming days, but I can say this. The R60 is 100% MINI. Sure, it feels taller and it’s got more mass, but chucking the All4 through the switchbacks and sweeping turns of The Dragon convinced this MINI owner once and for all that the Countryman absolutely deserves to wear the MINI badge. Unfortunately, my evaluation had to be cut short, as the twists and turns of The Dragon (and a lack of a real breakfast) actually gave me motion sickness behind the wheel. I was in good company though, Chad did the same thing earlier that morning. Thankfully neither of us spewed any vital fluids inside Jill’s Countryman.
Once I got some food in me, I went down the hill to do a load of laundry. By the time I finished, there were MINIs lining up all over Fontana. It was time for the group panorama photo. Why not? Once the line got moving, I pulled my MINI in a few cars behind a couple fellow Minnesotans whose MINI was done up in blue and yellow like a flag of Sweden. The line-up coordinators got everybody set up and parked in radii around the photographer, a rather unpleasant fellow barking orders over a megaphone from a bucket crane. I was glad to be a part of the photo, but after thirty seconds of this guy talking to us all like middle school students, I had my mind made up that he wasn’t getting any of my money. Here’s hoping those who bought the photo enjoy their print though.
For most, Saturday night is the final night at The Dragon. The plan was to attend the farewell dinner, but our man Todd pulled me into the lodge bar and kept buying me drinks. How do you turn that down? Dinner in Fontana’s lodge restaurant followed and the party inevitably led back to the fire pit. We told each other stories, talked about our cars, and regaled each other with tales of our impending trips home. I had two days of driving in front of me, but it didn’t matter. The week had been so much fun, spending a couple more days with my car sounded great.
Although I saw a handful of people on my way out the next morning, I said the majority of my goodbyes at the fire pit that night. I was sad to leave Fontana, honestly. It was so much fun to have so much fun with so many fun people. I’ll definitely be back next year if I can help it. My two days of driving home did little to diminish my renewed love for all things MINI. I wouldn’t have made the trip in any other car. If you can swing it, add The Dragon to next year’s plans. You and your MINI won’t regret it.
Written By: Nathaniel Salzman
Sort by MINI model
- MINI Reveals Future of Travel at London Design Festival
- MINI Celebrates its 55th Birthday at the International Mini Meeting (Gallery)
- Go-Kart Handling Put To The Test
- White Roof Radio: MTTS2014 Final
- Official: MINI to Field Four Dakar-style Cars in FIA Cross Country Rallies
- Chief Motorer Challenges All MINI Owners
- MINI’s Top Secret 300 HP All Wheel Drive Plans
- Faces of MINI Takes The States
- YoungDrive! Program Lets UK Kids Learn to Drive MINIs
- Q&A with MINI USA Product Manager Chris Potgieter
MotoringFile on Instagram
- BF Video Track Review: The BMW M4 at Road America
- Drag Battle: The Porsche Macan Turbo vs the BMW M3
- The BMW M4 Drifts Through M History
- Monterey Motorsports Reunion – Full Gallery
- The BMW M2 is Coming. Here’s What We Know.
- 1972 3.0 CSL vs 2014 M6 Competition – Does 40 Years Equal Progress?
- BMW Claims its Fourth DTM Win of the Season at the Nurburgring
- 2014 Legends of the Autobahn Gallery
- Video: Building the BMW C Evolution
- One of a Kind BMW i8 Fetches $825k at Auction
- Video: Building the BMW C Evolution
- First Ride: Vespa 946
- Video: The Vespa 946 Bellissima
- World Debut: The Vespa 946 Bellissima
- Corazzo Introduces Matching Leather Mens Jacket and Gloves
- Motorcycle USA Reviews the Suzuki Burgman 200
- Spoofing the Jean Claude Van Damme Truck Splits on Scooters
- Breaking: Genuine Recalling Stella 125 Automatics for Faulty ECUs
- Hands-on with the 2015 Vespa Sprint
- Scooter Cannonball Run: Day 10 & Wrap Up
MINI Model Cheat Sheet
R50: One & MC Hatch
R52: All 1st Gen MINI Convt.
R53: MCS Hatch
2nd Gen MINI
R60: MINI Crossover
R61: MINI Crossover Coupe
3rd Gen MINI
F55: Five Door Hatch
F60: MINI Crossover
Advertise with MotoringFile
MotoringFile Buyers GuidesR50 ('02-'06 MC) Buyers Guide
R53 ('02-'06 MCS) Buyers Guide
'12 JCW Coupe
'11 Fiat 500 Sport
'11 Tesla Roaster 2.5 '11 Countryman Comparo
'11 Cooper S Hatch
'11 Countryman MCS (FWD)
'11 Countryman MC (auto)
'10 Mayfair MCS (auto)
'11 Countryman MCS (ALL4)
'10 MINI E
'10 Tesla Roadster Sport
'09 Cooper S Convertible
'09 JCW Hatch
'09 JCW Clubman
JCW Stage I vs JCW Stage II
'08 Clubman S (Auto)
1st Drive: '08 MINI Clubman
'08 Smart Fourtwo
Comparison: '08 BMW 135i
'06 R53 MCS vs '07 R56 MCS
'07 R56 JCW (Stage 1)
'07 MINI Cooper S Long Term
'07 BMW Z4 M Coupe
'07 MINI Cooper & Cooper S
Audio: '07 MC/MCS at the Track
'06 JCW GP Long term
Reader Review: JCW GP
'06 JCW Cooper S Long Term
Comparison: '06 Lotus Elise
Comparison: '06 Mazda MX5
Comparison: '06 UK Focus ST
Comparison: '06 Civic Si
Comparison: '04 TVR T350
Comparison: '06 Nissan 350z
Comparison: '06 VW GTI w/DSG
Podcast: Cooper S Auto
Podcast: BMW 325i
Podcast: JCW MC Soundkit
'04 JCW MINI Cooper Tuning Kit
'05 MCS: One Month Review
'05 MCS Auto
'05 JCW S 1st Drive
'05 MINI Cooper
'05 MCS Conv. Long Term
'05 MINI Cooper S
'05 MCS Cabrio 1st Drive
'04 JCW MCS First Drive
'04 MC w/JCW Tuning Kit
BMW M3 SMG Vs. MCS
'04 MINI Cooper CVT
'02 MCS 3 year Review
Autocrossing the MINI Range