Deals Gap Rotary Rally (DGRR) is far from a typical automotive event - it's not held in a parking lot or convention center, and you won't find a dragstrip or closed-course track for miles. Instead, this rotary-engine-enthusiast meet takes place in the foothills of Fontana, North Carolina - far away from the creature comforts offered by modern civilization. This remote location was specifically chosen for one simple reason: U.S. Highway 129, also known as The Dragon. Comprised of exactly 318 turns in only 11 miles, this legendary stretch of twisting and winding asphalt begins in Deals Gap, North Carolina. As a public road, Highway 129 is usually open to normal traffic, but this year the road was partially shut down due to a large rock slide only weeks before. As a result, The Dragon was virtually free of non-enthusiast traffic for the event's entire weekend - a perfect situation to complement ideal weather conditions for driving.
Despite being one of the most admired and sought-after sports cars of the '90s, the RX-7, with its legendary rotary engine, is often criticized as unreliable. For anyone who agrees with this criticism, I suggest they attend next year's DGRR, where nearly all of the vehicles arrive by their own power, and only a handful are brought in on trailers. Keep in mind, many attendees drive hundreds (if not thousands of miles) round trip to this event, where they then proceed to beat the living hell out of their car for two to three days straight. Actually, for most attendees, getting to DGRR is an event in itself. Groups of cars caravan in from all over the U.S., and there's usually a handful of cars coming all the way from Canada. Those who are unable to bring their own rotary vehicles (such as myself) catch rides with others and become designated documentarians, filming and photographing the journey. Our caravan, which departed from the New York area, consisted of several third-generation RX-7s, a Mazdaspeed 3 and a Saab Wagon (someone had to transport the luggage). The ride was fairly smooth until we reached Virginia, where state troopers targeted our law-abiding caravan. After following us for quite some time, they began pulling us over one by one. When the car I was riding in was pulled over, the officer informed us that law enforcement throughout the entire state was aware of our passing through and that we would be monitored until we were over state lines. Fortunately for us, we had not broken any laws and were allowed to proceed on our way with only the warning.
This year, the event was held at Nantahala Village Resort, which consists of private cabins scattered around a main lodge. We arrived fairly late on Thursday night and found that the main parking area had already started to fill up with rotary-powered vehicles. The next day the event was in full swing, with both of the main parking areas full of cars. While some drivers washed and polished their cars, vendors and sponsors set up tents and tables to the side. Exedy, manufacturer of performance clutch kits, is one of the major sponsors of this event and brought along a few of its latest models. RotorSports Racing, BNR Supercars, RE-Speed, Malloy Mazda, Rotary Extreme, LMS-EFI, Rotary Rebuild Store, Speed For Sale, Turn One, Rotary Resurrection, IR Performance and East Coast Parts are a few more of the event's sponsors.
Driving on The Dragon is no Sunday cruise. Aside from countless blind turns, the elevation is constantly changing and traffic is always a factor. Normally, this road is open to public and commercial traffic, and it would not be unusual to see an 18-wheeler making its way through Highway 129. This year, however, the road was closed to through traffic, effectively making The Dragon a dead-end road. The ride back was much faster than the ride in and I made good use of the passenger's grab handle as our tires chirped around the hairpin turns. On the way back, we passed a state trooper and were obviously a little hot coming out of a turn, but the officer only gave us a wave as we drove past. Deals Gap and the surrounding area greatly rely on tourism, and the police know this. They also know that The Dragon is one of the main reasons tourists come to the area, so most of the time officers are extremely generous with spirited drivers.
Saturday morning started out with massive car show. At this point, attendance was nearly at full capacity and the place was packed full of cars and enthusiasts. The '10 DGRR proved to be the largest turnout in the event's history, with plenty of third-, second- and first-generation RX-7s, a few dozen RX-8s and even several older models including an RX-2, a couple of RePus (rotary pickups) and four (extremely rare) rotary-powered motorcycles.
DGRRX easily ranks as one of the top automotive enthusiast events on a multitude of different levels. It stands apart from typical car meets because it seamlessly integrates all the elements of a top-notch event and there's truly something for everyone to do.
More information on next year's DGRR can be found on the official website, dealsgaprotaryrally.com.