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Thunderbolt Visits The Dragon! July 2015

It’d been seven years since I attended the fantastic gathering that is “Miatas at the Gap.” Why the long hiatus? Well, it took me that long to get my hands on another Miata- and while taking a Miata to the three day event isn’t required, it is highly recommended. Back in 2008, I took my 1992 Sunburst Yellow Miata, dubbed “Sunflower” by some chiding coworkers. Sunflower’s 250 horsepower turbocharged engine and superb chassis with just the right combination of mods was a fine little tool for carving up the legendary mountain roads found in Deals Gap. This time around I would be taking my newly finished LS3 V8 powered Mazdaspeed Miata - Thunderbolt!

Deals Gap is a world famous mountain pass along the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the intersection of US 129 and NC 28. The area is popular with motorcycle and automotive enthusiasts alike, who make the trek from all over the country to drive the "The Tail of The Dragon.”

While impressive sounding, the tagline of “318 curves in 11 miles” doesn’t even begin to capture the experience of driving this road. It is an intense experience that requires focus and concentration at all times. Some of the Dragon's sharpest curves have intimidating names like Copperhead Corner, Beginner’s End, The Whip, Gravity Cavity and The Wall, to name a few. These names are well earned and give you a little hint as to the exciting driving experience that lay ahead. This road is the centerpiece of the “Miatas at the Gap” experience, but it’s just part of the appeal.

When I rolled in on Saturday morning, I was reminded of what makes this gathering so great- the diversity. Young and old gathering to talk about their love of these little roadsters and their passion to drive, personalize and enjoy them. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming and the variety of cars that you’ll see is amazing. As you walk the parking area and talk to each owner, it’s crystal clear that each car is a direct reflection of it’s owner’s personality and everyone is having a great time.

While the event spans three days of fun events, I was only able to attend on Saturday. Even then, I was treated to a fantastic day meeting Miata enthusiasts from all over the country and enjoyed a delicious lunch and big helping of ice cream courtesy of the event’s sponsors. I had a great time and enjoyed talking with so many interesting folks. Also, I was amazed at how many people had watched the Project Thunderbolt video series. The outpouring of kind words and support was overwhelming and it was fun sharing the end result with everyone.

This trip was yet another test for Thunderbolt. I had about 400 miles on the newly-installed drivetrain, so I was incredibly relieved when everything performed perfectly on the 2.5 hour drive and then 11 mile roller coaster thrash through the Tail of The Dragon. Even in the 90 degree heat, the car never got hot, the brakes never faded and everything performed beautifully. I think there is some room for improvement in the suspension settings, but I was blown away by how balanced and predictable the car felt. If it weren’t for the V8 rumble tickling your ears, it would be easy to forget what was hiding under the low-slung hood. It was a good way for me to get more comfortable with the car’s capabilities too, although being tailed by a 600cc sport bike through the eye-crossing curves may have been a little nerve-wracking at times. On the ride home I was already planning my trip for next year- I hope to see you there!

Thank you for reading and for more information about this excellent event including how to attend, please visit www.GapMiatas.com