Watching on the sidelines while other folks have fun with their vintage tin might have made me a little bored, so I brought along some tools, a jack and even a fire extinguisher. I figured the Mazda and I could serve as a chase car in case anyone had an issue on the side of the road—when I wasn’t involved with other duties of the event. It would be a good excuse to simply drive aimlessly on these beautiful roads.
While the Porsche folks were puttering around for the driving tours, I cruised ahead and set up for some photography of the old Speedsters. That gave me a chance to take some passes on the Dragon and Skyway before they really got busy later in the day.
And it sure does get busy. There are thousands of visitors to these roads on a daily basis and they form a significant portion of this area of the Great Smoky Mountain’s tourist trade. There are about a half dozen professional photographers that park along the road to shoot each and every car that cruises past.
While this might sound like the Wild West, there is actually a pretty consistent police presence on the mountain, which is posted with a 30mph speed limit. Most of their radar work is done in the flat areas on the downslopes away from the playground. I only saw one car pulled over in the two days we were there. Ironically, it was a beige Camry.
Not wanting to stuff my daily driver into a poplar tree—and a healthy respect for the quality of idiots that the public driver education system puts out—kept me from going much beyond 70 or 80 percent of the car’s potential through the switchbacks. You don’t know how much room you have to spare when someone comes around the next corner in your lane. That said the early hour gave me a bit of room to hustle through some of the 318 curves in 11 miles that have made the Dragon world famous.
Of course, before too many of those gloriously cambered turns, you’re on the tail of Sally Mae Saddlebags and her Harleyopotamus. Crowding a slower motorcyclist isn’t smart or effective as they rarely heed the “pull off” signs painted on the tarmac before the paved turn-offs. There are some pros in the mix of bikers, leather-clad Ducati jockeys and some peg-dragging Goldwing pilots, and those were the ones that I enjoyed following—and sometimes catching—in the Mazda3.