Classic Hondas on the Dragon III - No Honda Left Behind

The kindness of those who attend this event was really the highlight this year!

Classic Hondas on the Dragon II

A large group of classic Hondas driving together is truly something special to behold!

2017 Mitty - Day 1: Coker Tire Tour

An incredible drive through southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia, capped off with the best vintage racing out there.

Honda Dreams Do Come True

I bet you didn't realize that your first gen dream car was in Austria all this time!

Letting Go

Even the best laid plans don't promise success. Find out how I learned that the hard way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Taming the Dragon

I woke groggy and sleepy-eyed on Saturday morning because I had spent the night before painstakingly making sure everything on the car was perfect.  I didn't want anything to go wrong.  The big day had finally come... I was finally going to run the Tail of the Dragon!

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Tail of the Dragon, also know as Deals Gap or simply The Dragon, is a mountain road that cuts through the center of Smoky Mountain National Park, crossing the Tennessee-North Carolina border.  Originally created by herds of wild animals moving through the mountains, the pass was also frequented by Cherokee Indians, hunters, trappers, and even British soldiers in its early history.  The pass even saw battles between the early white settlers and the Cherokee Indians.  By 1913 the pass was made into an official road to allow access to a town that was created for those working on 2 local dams that were being constructed at the time.  For the next 80 years, the road was largely forgotten until the early 90's when it was discovered by a local from Atlanta for its benefits as a motorcycle driving road.  The road is 11 miles long with 318 turns so its easy to understand why.  It has since become a popular destination for many driving enthusiasts, me being one of them.

My obsession with the Tail of the Dragon started years ago when a good friend moved to the Knoxville, Tennessee area and told me about his amazing discovery.  He became a regular on the Dragon with his tuned MK1 Mazda Miata.  At the time, I was living in Chicago which made it difficult to visit the Dragon without making a specific trip.  About four years ago, things changed when I moved to North Georgia, an area only 2-3 hours away from the Dragon.  I regret not going earlier, but I had set a goal to make a car specifically for tearing up mountain roads such as the Dragon, and until now, I had been building and tweaking the CRX for that very purpose.  Now however, it was ready.  All the hours of diagnosing idle issues, and tweaking the suspension, alignment, and timing were about to pay off.  I had finally fixed everything, as it was ready to go.

I left early that morning expecting to hit a mass of holiday weekend traffic on the Dragon.  I had heard of the recent issues with traffic, people driving slowly, tourists, and Semi-trucks, so I was prepared to be disappointed... but I wasn't.  After three hours of driving, I came around a bend to see the Tail of the Dragon store and the Deals Gap motorcycle resort, both on either sides of the Road.  The traffic was light, and there were open parking spaces in front of the store.  For a moment I entertained the idea of stopping first to look around, but I couldn't, not with the Dragon entrance right in front of me.  The store and resort are nestled at the bottom of the mountain, and from that point the Dragon goes up out of the valley at about a 5% grade.  I dropped the car into second and headed up toward the first turn leaving the valley with the echos of my exhaust note.  I really wasn't sure what to expect from the Dragon.  The roads getting there are nothing short of spectacular.  Well kept and clearly marked asphalt bands that gracefully carve up the country side.  About a mile in, I began to understand what the buzz was about.  It's not just a twisty mountain road, it's a technical masterpiece.  The turns are tight, some with multiple apexes, some decreasing and increasing radii, and most with significant elevation changes.  It is a driver's mecca.  It quickly became mine, but what surprised me more, was the CRX.  It ate up the corners like a starving shark in a pool of baby seals.  Little to no body roll, almost no under-steer, and power for days.  Since the road is so curvy, I spent 90% of the time in 2nd gear.  I'm not sure what it is about 2nd, but the power band is rich and constant in 2nd.  It pulled out of each corner like a John Deer.  I was transfixed.  Everything finally made sense.  Taking any car to its limits is a bonding, almost emotional experience for car lovers.  Getting the opportunity to do this with the CRX was unforgettable.  I thought I loved the first generation CRX before I took this little journey, now I'm officially obsessed.

As I headed home from my pilgrimage to driving mecca, I reflected on all that I had experienced.  That area of western North Carolina, north Georgia, and eastern Tennessee is just gorgeous.  Mountain lakes and streams, sleepy little towns, evergreen forests, waterfalls, kind folks, and an amazing number of awesome cars and motorcycles.  It was heaven.  I strongly recommend that if you have not visited this place, make sure it is not your to do list, especially for those first gen owners, who are guaranteed a great time!

It was a bitter sweet moment when I pulled back into the garage after such an epic day, but there was one more thing to be done to cap off the day... add the dragon sticker to the hatch!