MINIs On The Dragon

Last weekend we went up to the mountains for MINIs On The Dragon (MOTD). MOTD is a huge annual event, one of the biggest events (if not the biggest) on this side of the country. Sorry it took a week to write this. Time has just flown by!

This year there were 543 MINIs and 823 people pre-registered; no clue how many of those actually came or how many more registered when they got there. There were MINIs everywhere! This was much bigger than MINIs Slay the Sleeping Dragon (MSSD) which we attended in October.

As with MSSD, MOTD is based at the Fontana Village Resort. We weren’t able to stay at the resort though, since rooms are usually booked a year in advance. We didn’t even have MINIs this time last year. At one point there actually was a two bedroom cabin available, but at $240 a night it just wasn’t worthwhile. However, we were lucky to find a cabin nearby through VROB.com for the much more reasonable $50 a night plus a $30 fee. We are so grateful to have found that! The cabin was nice, and it was large enough to also help out a couple club members that needed a place to crash as well.
The only downside to that cabin was the road leading to it. You had to turn off the nicely paved Hwy 28 (aka Hellbender) onto an incredibly bumpy and narrow county road. From there you turned onto a private road. Private roads in the mountains are always an interesting experience.

Coming off the county road you had to take a very sharp turn onto a very steep gravel road, steep enough you had to go to first gear if you wanted to make it up. About halfway up you could switch to second gear, but that was it. It varied from paved to gravel, and the steepness also varied. It was narrow enough that we were glad we never met another car while we were on it. The turn into the cabin’s driveway was another sharp turn onto a very steep grade, but at least it was paved. Although the transition from gravel to pavement was teeth jarring. Here is a video shot with an iPhone of the descent, although it doesn’t really convey how steep it was… you can hear the engine braking though. The video is also pretty bouncy.

We went up Thursday night, getting there just before dark… which was a good thing considering the road we had to traverse. The only sign that it was time to turn right into the cabin’s drive was a dark brown pump house on the left. You couldn’t even see the turn until you were already next to it. A friend (with a lowered MINI) from the club came to stay with us the next night. When we asked what he thought of the drive up he said, “No, no, no, no, no…” And that is a direct quote!

Since it was late and we were unfamiliar with the area, we decided to head to Fontana Village for dinner and explore the small towns around us later. I climbed in the driver’s seat (Sean had driven to the cabin) and happily hit Hwy 28. Love that road! It felt good to be zipping along the curves with my Clubman. I had wondered how it would handle compared to Sean’s hardtop, since it is a bit heavier in the back end. The answer was that it handled great, but had a little bit of understeer. We later fixed that with a new sway bar though!

We shared an excellent dinner of a porterhouse steak that had been smoked in apple wood, then blackened. Tasty! Fontana Village definitely has good food, but it is pretty pricey.

The whole time we were at dinner, Sean was pretty quiet. After some prodding I found out he was not looking forward to another climb up that private road in the dark, so I volunteered to drive. I was quite happy to have another run at 28, and didn’t really mind the private road that much. Maybe I am just a little desensitized to roads like that after seeing plenty of them when I was a kid visiting my aunt in the mountains. It didn’t take long before he got over the road though, but we are both very glad to have never met an oncoming car on it!

Friday morning we woke up a little early so we could make it out to the dam by 8am for the MINI Parade. This is a run of a LOT of MINIs going down the section of Hwy 129 known as “The Tail of the Dragon.” The parade was pretty fun, for the most part. In the beginning we were behind a Justa Clubman that wasn’t keeping up with the rest of the pack. Thankfully the driver eventually pulled off and let the rest of us pass. After that we flew down the dragon to catch up with everyone else. With so many cars traveling as a pack, the 30mph speed limit seems to have been forgotten. Definitely the most fun I have had on that road. Generally it is crowded and you spend most of your time trying to stay within the speed limit, but the MINIs ruled the road that day!

After the parade most of us gathered in a lot on the TN side of the dragon. There was some milling about and car ogling, then a few moments of “so, uh, what now?” before we decided we were hungry and wanted food. I took advantage of the opportunity of knowing there were no cops and plenty of MINIs to do another dragon run, so we once again ate at Fontana Village. Then we hit the vendor tents!

The first order of business was a sway bar. As I said, the Clubby is understandably heavy in the rear compared to the hardtop. I have been intending to add a sway bar ever since I got it and MOTD was the perfect opportunity. I am so very much in love with my sway bar, and Sean seems jealous so that makes it even better. In addition to the sway bar we also picked up a stubby antenna for mine, a torque arm insert (I already have one) for Sean’s, and a few other things like badges, wheel cleaner, and t-shirts. It was hard not to walk away with more!! There were so many things there on my list of wanted mods!

The rest of our time there was spent having fun on the twisties, relaxing in the cabin, and exploring local stuff. We have come up with several things we are interested in seeing on future trips, of which I am sure there will be plenty. We took lots of photos of MINIs… I posted some of the more interesting ones in the ‘photos’ section of this site.