The story behind my Tail of the Dragon picture

The Tail of the Dragon

Kevin planted this idea in my head in the days leading up to Road Atlanta. My original plan was to drive down, then drive straight back. Kevin mentioned that he was going to hit up the Tail of the Dragon on the way back, and I quickly rearranged my plans (and took an extra day of vacation) to make it possible to drive the Tail of the Dragon with him. I had never driven the Tail of the Dragon before, and it was one of the things that I had wished I had done when I lived closer in Illinois. I wasn’t going to miss out on it this time.

We stayed at a hotel on Sunday night that was close to Deals Gap. Early in the morning, we left the hotel and caravanned to the southern point of the Tail of the Dragon on the North Carolina side.

As I was towing my tire trailer, I wanted to find a place to drop it off so I could run the Dragon unencumbered. The nice lady at the gas station said that I could drop off the trailer off in the far back corner of the motorcycle resort parking lot. While I was unhitching the trailer, Kevin decided that he was going to unload some stuff out of the hatch of his Civic and store them around and under my tire trailer, as there was enough stuff in his car that the rear tires were rubbing during spirited cornering.

The Tree of Shame at the motorcycle resort.

Our cars unladen, we headed out onto the Tail of the Dragon. I insisted that Kevin, having been here before, take the lead and I’d follow.

He shot off in front of me — well, at least as quickly as an EF Honda Civic could — and was carving corners at a clip that I couldn’t keep pace with. The road was super narrow and my Miata felt like a steamboat trying to navigate the rapids. How the hell do people with large cars drive this road, I thought. Kevin disappeared from my view as I tried to keep up.

Road Atlanta may have been intimidating, but trying to drive the Tail of the Dragon swiftly was terrifying. There was no runoff room anywhere; misplace your car by a yard and you’d be in the mountainside or flying off of it. I was running near the top of second gear trying to chase down Kevin, and it was a most unpleasant experience.

I managed to white knuckle my way back into view of Kevin, when suddenly he pulled his Civic off on the side of the road at one of the pullouts. Must have overheated his brakes and needs to cool them down, I thought. I blew by him and continued on, albeit at a more relaxed pace. I kept my speeds at around 40-45 mph, which struck the right balance between being fun and swoopy and white knuckle sweaty palms intense.

At the top of the mountain, there was a scenic pullout overlooking a deep blue reservoir. I pulled the Miata off the road and decided to wait it out here for Kevin to catch up. While chilling, a fellow with a new Porsche Boxster pulled up to enjoy the view too. We got to chatting about our cars and about the road that we were on. I noticed the Colorado plates on the Boxster and asked the driver about it. He had driven from Colorado headed towards Barber Motorsports Park for a Skip Barber driving school, and decided to do some sightseeing along the way. He had heard good things about the Tail of the Dragon, and so made the detour to go drive the road.

I told him to hang out for 15 minutes or so, as a pair of dump trucks had just gone down the road five minutes prior. We kept chatting and then parted ways, the Boxster shooting down the hill while I continued waiting for Kevin.

After 25 minutes of waiting, I decided to head back down and see what was up. I found Kevin at the same pullout where I had left him. I pulled over and asked him what was going on.

He pointed to the right front corner of his car and told me to take a look. The axle spline had snapped inside the wheel bearing. Kevin surmised that he had actually broken the wheel bearing back at Road Atlanta, but the axle and hub held together before failing completely on the Tail of the Dragon. When he pulled over to take a picture (and let the brakes cool), he tried to get the car going again and realized something was wrong when the car couldn’t move forward.

Unfortunately for him, there was no cell phone service there. So the only thing he could do was wait for me to show up.

I didn’t have cell phone service either. So what to do? Kevin climbed into the Miata and into the passenger seat, wedging himself underneath the still-installed bolt-in petty bar for my roll hoop. We headed back to the motorcycle resort, where Kevin attempted to call roadside services at the gas station. No dice.

I suggested that we go back to the town where we had stayed in the hotel, as I knew that we had cell phone service there. Before we set off, I removed the hard top, unbolted the petty bar, and put the hard top back on so that I had an unobstructed passenger seat for Kevin.

Thirty minutes later, we were in town and had cellular service. Kevin called AAA and arranged for a tow truck to meet us at the gas station at the Tail of the Dragon. The plan was to drag his broken Civic to Heyward’s personal garage 1.5 hours away in Asheville, North Carolina. Not only was Heyward the lead organizer for all things National Time Trials, he also had a collection of 80s and 90s Hondas, one from which we were going to “borrow” an upright.

We eventually met up with the tow truck driver at the gas station, and told him that the Honda was up the road across the border in Tennessee. Kevin had to ride with me in the Miata and not in the tow truck, when I suddenly realized that our stuff was still in the back corner of the parking lot of the motorcycle resort. The Miata was already full of stuff before being called upon to ferry another person around — and we’d have to bring along the stuff that was in the Civic’s hatch too.

And so began perhaps the best packing job ever done with this car and this tire trailer. There was still plenty of space in the trailer tool box, so most of Kevin’s smaller stuff went in there. Kevin’s tool box I put inside my empty cooler. Then there was the question of what to do with the two Civic wheels and tires that remained. I decided to put them on top of my tire stacks upside down so that the wheel center was captured by the tire stack posts, then use ratchet straps to tie the entire stack of three tires each down to the trailer. The petty bar I wedged in between the tire stacks and the trailer tool box and tied down. The trailer looked absolutely absurd.

Trailer hooked up and the passenger compartment full, we took off, the tow truck following behind us on the Tail of the Dragon. We found Kevin’s car on the side of the road, and fortunately, there was a place on the opposite side of the road where the tow truck could turn around and back itself up to recover the car.

I, however, had no place to turn the Miata back around with the tire trailer. I told the tow truck driver that I was going to turn my car around at the top of the hill where the scenic overlook was and meet him back down at the bottom at the gas station. I also had an ulterior motive: I wanted one of the Tail of the Dragon photographers to snap a picture of my car on the road with the tire trailer hitched.

Off we went toward the scenic overlook. I kept it at a comfortable pace of 40-ish mph, the rear tires rubbing every single time we took a turn with thanks to all the additional weight. It wasn’t long before we found the photographers. I wonder what they were thinking when they heard a loud exhaust out in the distance, readied their cameras, and then saw this in their viewfinder:

The Miata carves through the Tail of the Dragon… with a passenger and a tire trailer carrying things for the Miata and things for another car…

At the scenic overlook, there was enough space for me to do a U-turn, avoiding the need to try and back up the car with the trailer. By afternoon, the overlook was crawling with people. There were some two dozen motorcyclists there with their bikes all parked neatly in rows. I did a slow U-turn, smiling and waving at the confused onlookers as I headed back down the hill.

The Miata and the tow truck head out to Heyward’s place.

The tow truck was waiting for us patiently at the end of the road. The tow truck driver wanted to be paid the towing overage before heading out. Kevin managed to do so by borrowing wifi from the gift shop across from the gas station, and with the payment made, we headed toward Heyward’s place.

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