The Tail of the Dragon
ABOUT US 129
WHAT IS IT?
'Tail of the Dragon' is the term of endearment used for a section of route US129 that winds its way through Great Smoky Mountain National Park, crossing the border between Chilhowee, Tennessee and Robbinsville, North Carolina.
WHAT'S THE HISTORY BEHIND THE ROAD?
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. In 1913 the pass was turned into a road for local laborers to access lodging while building dams in the area. For the next 80 years, the road was largely forgotten until the early 90's when it was discovered by a resident of Atlanta for its benefits as a motorcycle driving road. The section of US129 that earned the Tail of the Dragon name is only 11 miles long, but it has 318 turns, making it easy to understand why it has since become a popular destination for many driving enthusiasts.
IS IT REALLY A GOOD DRIVING ROAD?
Yes. If 318 turns in 11 miles isn't enough to convince you, let me try to spell it out. The road is regularly maintained because of the traffic it gets, so there's no worry of many holes in the driving surface. There are turn-offs all along the road for slower drivers to get out of your way. Most of the corners have banking designed into them to help increase cornering speeds. There are only a few straight sections of the road where you will need to up-shift, so the rest of the time (depending on your car of course) you can just put it in the right gear and hold on. There are large paved areas at either end of the road where you can turn around and go again. It's also a stunningly beautiful area with mountains, rivers, lakes and dams. If that doesn't convince you that it's worth trying, then we don't know what will.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT WHEN DRIVING ON THE DRAGON?
Cops. There are almost always cops clocking so consider yourself warned. Slow drivers. There's a good chance you will get stuck behind a slow driver who doesn't understand how turn-offs work, so just be patient and wait for your next run to go quickly. Idiots. Sadly they are very common on the Tail. I'm referring to those who cross the center line. This is a BIG no-no. Just stay in your lane and flip the bird to those who don't. Service vehicles. This ranges from 18 wheelers (even though they have been banned from the road an occasional driver will get sent down the road by his GPS) to pickups with long trailers. They don't mean to cross the center line but their length doesn't give them a choice. Slow down if you see one and give them a wide birth. Faster cars. Even if you think you're the best driver out there and your car is the fastest thing on four wheels, someone faster will find you and ride your tail. Nissan GT-Rs are a common sight on the Tail. Just be humble about it and use the turn-offs to let them pass. Fun. I wanted to mention this last because it's the best part. You can have a blast in pretty much any vehicle when driving on the Tail of the Dragon.
WHAT SHOULDN'T I DO ON THE TAIL?
Glad you asked because as a group we all want to be on the same page when it comes to behavior on the Tail. We are on the official Tail of the Dragon calendar so our group will be noticed, and we want to be allowed to keep coming back. Let's start with the one I mentioned in the previous paragraph... crossing the center line. This is an absolute NO. Even if you think there's no one coming the other way, don't. Your mind will become used to using it as a safety blanket when trying higher cornering speeds. This is a bad habit to get into because when you suddenly see a motorcyclist in the oncoming lane and you try to correct... you become a projectile either off the mountain or into the mountain. It's just dangerous so don't do it. Speeding is not recommended for the sake of safety, and your wallet. There are only a few straight sections of road that will allow you to speed because most of the corners are tight enough where speeding is not possible. Just hold back, there's no need for it. Tailgating is not good either. We're not suggesting you leave a four car-lengths gap at all times, just don't ride someone's bumper because people slowing for a turn ahead of you can cause a line of cars to slow suddenly. No one wants to have an accident so just leave a safe distance between you and the person in front of you. Do not push yourself and your car beyond its limits. This is not a race track, it is a public road. If you want to find out if you're the next Sebastian Vettel, do it on a track.
Before you even leave your garage, check your brakes, suspension, steering and tires. To go fast on the Tail you will need your brakes. Unless you have upgraded your pads and rotors, you will experience brake fade. Just make sure your car can handle the abuse before you come. Do your first run slowly. Just drive along as if you're on a Sunday drive. Get a feel for the road and what it's all about before you try to break a record. Make sure there aren't loose items inside your car that could roll around causing you to be distracted, or even worse, get under your pedals. Bring water. There is a significant amount of physical effort involved when driving quickly on the tail. You'll be happy you brought some. Lastly, if you really want to hit the Tail hard and guarantee a clean run, set aside some time ( typically in the early morning or late evening when traffic is light ) to do that on your own. During our event, as our large group drives the Tail, it's usually slow going. Driving together as a group is fun, makes for great pictures and is quite a spectacle, but if you want to drive a little quicker, just break off from the group and do that on your own time. Just know that since there isn't any cell service in the area, it might be hard to meet back up with the group unless you catch up with us at the next scheduled meeting location.