MINIs On The Dragon 2007
By Molly Nolte
This is full & unedited, as well as slightly revised, version of the article I originally wrote for MC2 magazine, plus many more photos.
Imagine an idyllic place nestled in the foothills of a beautiful mountain forest whose only way in is down a delightfully twisty road…
Now imagine a place where everyone is your friend, and their homes are all within walking distance of yours…
And finally, imagine, the most wonderful part of this world:
There is a MINI parked in every driveway!
The Dragon, aka The Gap (also sometimes The Dragonï¿½s Tail and/or The Tail of the Dragon), is a small stretch of public road located at the border of East Tennessee and North Carolina near a little crossroads hamlet called Dealï¿½s Gap. The road actually started as a cow trail in the mid-1700s and for 200 years has had the name Deals Gap. This 11 mile section of Highway 129, with 318 curves and no cross streets, runs along the Western side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Forest and is now said to be Americaï¿½s number one motorcycle and sports car road. This particular road through Deal’s Gap has been a local motorcyclists’ secret as far back as the 70s. In early 92, a rider from Atlanta named Doug Snavely heard about the road, came to conquer, and fell in love with it (as did many who came after him). He met Pete Learey the owner of the hotel/store known at that time as The Crossroads of Time, and talked his way into a manager’s job there. They started a small club called the Dragon Riding Society which would gather once a month for dinners and merriment at the Dragon Works (the older building located up the hill from what is now the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort).
Why do people love this particular road and why do they come here? First and foremost, because its wonderfully curvaceous nature makes it a blast to drive. Of course, where you find a road that is fun to drive, you will find MINIs. Then, when many MINIs gather together at the Dragon they not only have the exhilaration of driving this road, but the wonderful camaraderie of getting together with other enthusiasts of the vehicle they love.
MINIs On The Dragon is an annual event that grows larger each year. The event began in 2003 with sixty cars. This was the fifth year, with some 470 registered MINIs attending, with the actual number probably higher. They converged on a large mountain resort in Fontana, NC., filling up every room and cabin and over flowing to neighboring areas. Everywhere you turned youï¿½d see a rainbow of MINIs.
Though the actual official organized event was scheduled for May 3-5, many MINIs from all over the country started arriving a week earlier so they could thoroughly enjoy the Dragon, as well as touring other twisty roads in the area with their beautiful mountain views. When not driving, and in the evenings, the attendees enjoyed the entire MINIsatuarated experience.
Some drivers drove the Dragon with abandon, over and over, again and again, testing and honing their driving skills. While other attendees cruised the road only once or twice, just to be able to say they did it. There is no pressure here: you drive in the manner you feel safe and comfortable, and enjoy yourself. Ed Mello, a first time Dragon visitor, said, “I ran the Dragon eighteen times, and still it was not enough. I’m hooked! My cabin is already booked for next year.”
The Dragon has a well known set rulesï¿½ or ï¿½Etiquette of the Gap: 1) stay in your lane/do not cross the yellow lines, and 2) be courteous and respectful of other drivers and riders.. A talk with the locals reveals a little secret: of all the car groups that visit the Dragon, the MINIs are by far the favorite of the locals. The MINI drivers are well known as being the most polite, friendly and respectful of the drivers that come to visit and play at Dealï¿½s Gap. The locals tend to avoid coming up to the Gap to ride their bikes on MINI weekend because of the increased traffic, but they do come to see the MINIs and take photos. Everyone enjoys seeing MINIs en mass. So, not only do the visiting MINIs have a good time during MOTD, the locals do as well.
During the three-day happening, there was a varied multitude of scheduled events for registered participants to engage in: Welcome Dinner, Cigar Sampling Salon, Dragon Parade, R56 Expo, Rocky Top BBQ, Dragon Brew Swap & Beer Olympics, The Dragon Drive-In, Autocross, Ice Cream Social, Lighting Clinic, Dragon Banquet, Monte Carlo Night and Midnight Run on the Dragonï¿½.. whew! But, you did not have to attend a single planned event to have an absolute blast during the weekend. Some of the best times were had informally and spontaneously. The cabins, porches, and lawns of Fontana Village were filled with people meeting old friends again, making new friends, or meeting long-time online friends in person for the first time and the fun went on long into the night, every night.
Friday evening, The Tar Heel MINI Club of NC and Michigan MINI Motoring Club joined together to present a drive-in movie to raise funds for a charity, Camp Carefree in NC. The movie, Cars, was preceded by a Hammer and Coop-a-thon. A total of $2000 was raised for the kids.
The Dragon is where wonderful new relationships begin and blossom. For example, Chad Miller of Detroit Tuned met Tori Lucier for the first time at the Dragon two years ago. During this yearï¿½s MOTD, at the Brew Swap event, Chad purposed to Tori in front of a very happy crowd of well-wishers.
Adding to the MINI paradise aspect were the many MINI related vendors offering goods, services and installations during the event. It was a chance to look over products in person and purchase that perfect addition for your MINI. People who live far from experienced MINI mechanics took advantage of this time and had work done on their cars. Probably nowhere else is it possible to see so much MINI paraphernalia in one place, talk with the manufacturers and vendors of the products, and get the opinions of customers who have purchased them.
This is a part of the country where the weather changes quickly and over short distances. Rain is a tradition at MOTD and this year proved no exception, but even a little rain could not dampen the spirit of the event and most people proceeded on with their MINI holiday barely noticing the rain on Saturday.
MOTD has grown since it’s humble beginnings with 60 MINIs, no actual planned events and no vendors, but even with it’s growth, the true spirit of the event continues to be present: MINIacs getting together for a wonderful time and creating their own little piece of MINI heaven.
The gallery below contains just a few of the photos I this fun yet soggy MINI On The Dragon. I hope you enjoy them.
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Click on the thumbnails below to view the full photos and commentary.