When it comes to a bucket list of MINI events, one annual round-up of enthusiasts has remained near the top of the list for 17 years — it’s called MINIs on the Dragon. Held each May in Robbinsville, North Carolina, the centerpiece of the four-day event is an 11-mile section of Highway 129, known as the Tail of the Dragon, that starts at the Tennessee state line in Deals Gap and runs north through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Said to be the largest grassroots MINI event in the U.S. (MINIUSA may dispute that), the activities are headquartered in Fontana Village resort, originally built during World War II to house workers on the nearby Fontana Dam project.
Hundreds of MINIs converge on the Village, which becomes a hub of social gatherings and starting point for the numerous runs available to attendees.
“The 11 miles of the Dragon and its 318 curves is the featured attraction for sure, but the event itself is much bigger,” says SCMM Treasurer Nancy Homer, who made the cross-country trek this year to attend her first MINIs on the Dragon. “This has long been on my bucket list of events to experience.”
The upwards of 1,000 attendees that come from across the U.S. and Canada are never short on things to do, with more than 40 different fun runs to choose, wine and beer tasting, group meals, vendor fair, and a spectacular fireworks show on Friday night.
“In addition to the Dragon, I extremely enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere to sit and visit and reconnect with the many MINI friends made over the past several years from other MINI events, such as MTTS, MINIS on the Mack and MINIS in the Mountains,” says Homer. “If you ever have the chance to participate in MINIs on the Dragon, take advantage of it. This is truly the grand-daddy of MINI events in the USA. Or, as it is very fondly referred, summer camp for adults!”
Former SCMM President Dan “Wolfman” Skorcz, who drove his Chevy SS down from Massachusetts to reunite with Nancy Homer and club members Ken and Sue Green, and Lisa Therien, also enjoyed the event.
“Considering that this was the 17th running of the Dragon, it still draws a lot of cars and MINI lovers,” says Skorcz. “I heard numbers from 550 to 700 MINIs, representing 34 states and Canada. The number of workers and run leaders was amazing and they were not all locals, but from all over as well. There were plenty runs other than on the Dragon too, like Skyline Drive, Great Smokey Mountain Parkway, to an underground lake, and many others. There was also a great fireworks show on Friday night (and you know me and fireworks). We stood directly beneath it all. This was my first Dragon experience. I’d go again if I had a MINI again.”
“We met some wonderful Mini Peeps from all across the country who helped us enjoy the Dragon,” said Sue Green. “Indy Minis, Tampa Bay Minis and Sunshine Minis were great fun groups. Three Tennessee women who had the best margaritas I have ever tasted kidnapped Ken and took him on a wild ride in their golf cart just before the fireworks display, one of the best fireworks shows I have ever seen.”
Ken Green, who is not shy about putting the pedal to the metal himself, described it as a “hard driving group.”
“The roads, the cars, the clubs, the parties, the fireworks, the food, the drinks, the men in kilts, the runs, the beauty, the new best friends, and the old friends. We want to go back either spring or fall for sleeping Dragon,” says Sue.
ABOUT THE DRAGON
MINIs on the Dragon is an annual gathering of MINI Coopers in Robbinsville, North Carolina. Started in 2003, the event takes place over the first weekend of May each year. The event is in part named after the legendary section of US 129 known as “The Dragon” which runs from North Carolina to Tennessee and has 318 curves in 11 miles. The event attracts over 900 attendees and over 600 MINI Coopers. The record was over 800 cars. The event primarily is attended by the newer BMW MINI Coopers but also attracts several classic Mini Coopers each year.
This is the largest grassroots MINI Cooper event in the US each year. The event “headquarters” is in Fontana Village, a quaint vacation resort that was originally built to house the workers as they built the Fontana Dam during World War II. Each year MINI owners from over 30 different States and Canada make the pilgrimage to Fontana Village to participate in this event. Starting off as a three-day event, it has currently grown into its newer format of four days and includes a vendor alley, group dinners, a Brewswap, Bingo Night and a host of various drives and other activities, there is the Friday morning Dragon Parade, the Saturday night Midnight on the Dragon. Brave MINIs gather at Deals Gap and at 00:00 depart and drive the Dragon.