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MINIs On The Dragon – Streetsurfing in the Shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains

MINIs on the Dragon: For nine years now, hundreds of MINI fans from all states in the USA, Canada and recently Germany, have been meeting in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the Southeastern United States to get their annual fill of MINI together with like-minded people and to sample the delights of "street surfing" on wonderful mountain roads. But what makes this MINI event so special that one travels across the land of opportunity or even flies in from Germany? Are there really dragons?

A legendary stretch of US Highway 129 is what it's all about. This is no boring, dead-straight, 5-lane freeway that pilots would take for a touchdown if engines failed. No, we are talking, believe it or not, of 318 curves over the course of 11 miles. Gasoline junkies call this "The Tail of the Dragon" - on the map it looks like the tail of this mythical creature.

US Hwy 129 'The Dragon'
© Susanne Sauer

Tail of the Dragon sounds like drama, excitement and adventure, and this is exactly what the road is: on one side a steep mountain face with a stock of trees, on the other a wooded abyss. In between lies a mass of curves, hairpins, bumps, inclines and declines. This road is quaintly located in one of the oldest National Parks in the USA - which is also one of the most diverse. Breathtaking views of forests, valleys and water bodies adorn this asphalt delight. If this road could talk, every meter would tell of a different adventure.

MINI on the Dragon
© Susanne Sauer

Drivers can also talk of adventure when at the end of The Dragon the curve radii become bigger again and the street takes to following the banks of Lake Chilhowee. From North Carolina the Dragon curls high into the forest, and one has hardly passed the border to Tennessee when a wide grin starts to form. It's then that you dive into a regular rhythm of accelerating, braking, downshifting deep and taking corners at speed. Any MINI can dive straight through the accentuated curves into the tail motion in order to immediately glide over the wave into the middle of the road before the next curve. One quickly notices that a MINI is completely at home in these environs. Childhood memories of super rollercoaster rides at fairs become so real that you can almost taste popcorn on the tongue. In all the excitement of curves you must take care not to change from curve chaser to an easy kill for the Highway Patrol, who could lurk behind any curve. When one rolls onto the parking area at the Tabcat Bridge at the bank of the lake, the pulse steadies a bit and the palms dry. Grins remain.

MINI on the Dragon

Once a year the usually quiet Fontana Village resort, located not far from the Dragon, is populated with hundreds of MINI of all shapes and sizes. Fans get goose bumps when they drive through the holiday village quaintly located in the middle of the forest and see at least 2 MINI in front of each of the small wooden cabins. Fontana Village becomes MINI Village for four days, with one darting past every crossroad. No matter where you goes in the National Park during this time your meet beckoning and saluting MINIacs.

Given all this, it's still hard to believe the numbers that "Project Manager" Barry Patascher - A.K.A. "Snooter" - from SunshineMinis in Florida and the small team of voluntary helpers on put up. With 8 months of hard work this troop organizes a chock-a-block event plan year after year. This year the event attracted 832 MINIacs in 543 MINIs, a new record.

MINI on the Dragon
© Susanne Sauer

A diverse range of approximately 40 different events are planned, of which some have already achieved cult status, such as the Ice-Cream Run (drive to long-established ice-cream parlor), Midnight on the Dragon (midnight drive at a full throttle), the Dragon Parade (the annual street surfing of many colorful MINIs on the Dragon), the Dragon Car Show with the award for the fanciest MINI or the Brewswap followed by a karaoke evening. As the Dragon is actually a tough and testing run, the organizers offer newbie orientation, a safety briefing for Dragon first-timers.

Much is on offer - from the diversity of driving to culinary destinations, and the appropriate care of MINI in mountainous regions and a host of social events.

Not only the US 129 is charming, but also the surrounding mountain roads and passes which becon MINIacs to street-surf. With a little luck one can also spy rare animals such as black bears or mountain lions along the roadside, but ultimately one only finds one type of animal in the souvenir shops: the legendary Dragon.

MINI on the Dragon
by Susanne Sauer and Darcy Schott

Our Wanderlust Winner and proud new owner of a MINI Countryman also rode the 'Dragon.'  Check out her adventures here!


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Comments (4)


posted by anarita | 09/16/2012 09:36 am

Hello everybody! i need to know how much could cost this experience. I`m from Portugal and me and my husband wants to make the trip cost to cost one day and when i saw this experience of cost to cost by mini i am very intusiastic. i really like to do this on next edition.
But i need to know how could cost to us this and how can we be informed about the next edition, on 2014. Plase contct me for my email!! Thanks and congratulations for this event!


posted by snooter | 07/27/2011 01:17 pm

Great Article Susanne and Darcy. It's so cool to see folks traveling not only from 37 states, but from Canada and now Germany to attend our event. I've got several new things in the mix for 2012 and can't wait to see everyone again.

Tina Loera

posted by Tina Loera | 07/27/2011 12:34 pm

I had a blast at my first 2011 Dragon trip! I drove with a group of 6 MINIs caravanning from Dallas -Fort Worth Texas to this beautiful green place! I did a couple Dragon runs and smaller group runs! I went fishing at Fontana lake and caught a big ole bass!!! "catch and released" for me! did a pine car derby race with my custom made MINI mini !! Entered the Car show with my wild and crazy Mellow Yellow mini! and on other days!!! just relaxed and people MINI watched on the porch of my cabin!! I'm going back to the MOTD 2012 as its going to be their 10 year anniversary and it should prove to be one big celebration !!! I do believe the cabins may be all booked up for 2012 ...but put your name on a waiting list!! or check the Mini boards "NAM" for people willing to share cabin space!! I'm counting the days till the next Dragon!!! see you there!!! whoot ! whoot!

Bill Derr

posted by Bill Derr | 07/27/2011 10:05 am

2011 was my first year on the Dragon. I drove 1,100 miles by myself (from Boston, MA) to partake in this 4 day event. I wanted to do something different than a normal vacation and this definitely was an amazing event. I asked my long time friend who now lives in Georgia (and a MINI thanks to me) to come out for the event. After a little persuading, he agreed, and we rented out a cabin about 10 miles from Fontana Village. We spend the week pretty much doing our own thing, including several solo runs on the dragon, and our own "Midnight on the Dragon" and it was absolutely amazing! So amazing that I am planning 2 separate group drives/events for MOTD 2012! If you own a MINI, you need to start saving, looking for a cabin, motel, hotel, or rental property in the area, because Fontana Village will not have any openings for any of the rooms or cabins for the entire event. It sells out every year in minutes when the rooms/cabins are available for the general public. They give precedence to anyone who rented a room during the last event, giving them a week to rebook for the following year, then it's open to everyone else. Check out the website and you can find out all the information about the event and lodging in the area. I'm telling you, if you attend MOTD 2012, you will continue to attend EVERY MOTD that follows!

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