One of the reasons I wrote the Tail of the Dragon was because I wanted to read it. When I was a kid, I loved the movies Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper and have been waiting for three decades for film makers and authors to write an updated version of those classic stories—but I’m still waiting. I’m not alone in this. To this day millions of movie fans still adore those films and some even go to the measure of doing the Bandit Run in their restored Trans Am’s from Texarkana, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia duplicating the car chase from that 1977 Burt Reynolds film. This year a group of car restoration enthusiasts just completed their annual 2012 Bandit Run which began in 2007 to touch the magic of those classic films and relive the enduring memory they have in American film culture.
I happen to have one of those old Firebirds from 1977 in my garage and it’s a family treasure. It is that car and the memory of those great films that provoked me to stop waiting for someone else to write a modern, Smokey and the Bandit story. I think its wonderful that there are still enough fans of the old films, and there are still a few of those old Firebird Trans Am’s around that allow events like the Bandit Run’s to take place, but I couldn’t help but think that young people today need an updated story—a new story that speaks to their age and the concerns of their times. For sentimental reasons, I wanted the star of the story to be one of those old Firebirds so that in the future there would be old car restorers years down the road who would want to organize a Tail of the Dragon run because the story I wrote inspired them to do such a thing.
I picked the Tail of the Dragon road on US 129 in Tennessee because I think it has the makings of being the kind of nostalgic road to the American psyche that Route 66 was. The Tail of the Dragon is a very unique road that features 318 switch back curves in an 11 mile stretch that forms the western border of the Great Smoky Mountains. Exotic cars and motorcycles from all over the world come to this section of road to exercise the suspensions of their beloved automobiles. Below is a video of a Ferrari that came to the motorcycle resort at the corner of the Moonshiner 28 and The Tail of the Dragon to make a nice run on the switch back curves. The camera work will show how curvy this road is. The video only shows a fraction of the road, but it supplies a wonderful perspective of the dramatic scenery surrounding the Tail of the Dragon.
The shack shown across from the motorcycle resort is now a full-sized store with a wonderful outlook built into the hillside. You can see more about that new store here, where Tail of the Dragon merchandise can be purchased. (CLICK TO VISIT) The scenery changed a little since that video was shot, but for the most part, nothing else has. It’s one of the most unusual sections of road in the world.
Police have made a habit of patrolling that thoroughfare to pick up speeders knowing that people are going to that section to push the limits of their vehicles. For instance, in our family minivan when I went recently to visit Darryl Cannon (AKA Killboy) I spent much of the time while on the Dragon at 37 MPH with the tires screeching constantly. That gives an idea how many curves there are, when 37 MPH is considered fast. In really nice exotic cars like Lamborghini, and the Ferrari shown above, speeds of 40 to 50 MPH could be achieved without too much trouble. But the nature of the road is a challenge for both car and driver alike. Brake timing is crucial because moving your foot from the accelerator to the brake is an ongoing battle. When I found Killboy parked on the side of the Dragon photographing riders as they passed by, I could smell my brakes from such aggressive driving. Our minivan wasn’t designed for that kind of run, but it was still fun.
I arrived to see Killboy right after he shot the video below. Every weekend he sits on the side of the road and photographs everything that goes by. He offers his photos on his site www.KILLBOY.com . Riders can purchase professional grade photos of themselves driving by, and yes–business is good. Thousands of riders pass by him every weekend and he photographs them all. He is the original photographer of the Tail of the Dragon, so when I decided to write a book about the area, I had to make sure that he was one of the characters. His photography is highly sought after by automotive and motorcycle magazines across the country as he has samples on his site of some of his work. His brand of photography is kind of like fishing. He sits on the corners of the Dragon and shoots his camera at everything that goes by, and every now and then he captures something really spectacular—just like fishing. A story about the Tail of the Dragon just wouldn’t be the same without Killboy being a part of it.
Killboy is his video gamer tag name and over the years it just stuck. Now, it’s what he’s known by. In my novel Tail of the Dragon Killboy finds himself in a lot of trouble with the law in Blount County. He is the spark that starts a whole lot of chaos with just the simple bet of a hot dog. The officers of the law take serious offense to the activities Killboy was participating in with Rick Stevens—the novel’s hero–which ignites the greatest car chase ever.
When writing the novel it made sense that a car chase that would be bigger than Smokey and the Bandit, bigger than the ending of Hooper, bigger than anything ever done in books or films with much more speed than the popular NASCAR film Days of Thunder, or the insane car chase in the Blues Brothers where part of the chase ended up in a shopping mall–which is taken to much higher heights in Tail of the Dragon–the chase needed to start at this historic road of US 129. And it’s in the spirit of those great classics that the future of the Dragon will host similar runs that will bring great joy to thousands of people as they make the Dragon Run Car Chase part of an annual tradition. Such a run will take them from Deals Gap at the resort, down the Dragon, across the Foothills Parkway, into Townsend, Tennessee over to Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, then down I-40 into Ashville, North Carolina where the novel comes to an electrifying conclusion. At every stretch of that chase along those roads and towns are events that are as big as the climaxes in most movies. The chase is exhausting, but Dragon Run Car Chase Runners will make their journeys through those landmarks in much the way that the Bandit Runners have, and it will allow them to take in some of the most spectacular sites available in and around the Great Smoky Mountains.
For me it’s fun to take a break from politics, and finance to just enjoy the finer things in life. Most often, I enjoy works of fiction that on the surface are tension relieving and just plain fun. That is why Smokey and the Bandit is still a beloved movie that provokes so much emotion. And if I did my job correctly in writing Tail of the Dragon it will bring to a new generation that same kind of passion, which I hope it does. Because I want to be there when the first Tail of the Dragon Car Chase Run is made, which will be quite a sight. It’s the celebration of the fun things in life that often count most and give meaning to all the stuff in between.