The first St. Louis Metro Cars & Coffee of 2015 had a great turnout. I didn’t count, but I suspect the car count was easily over 300.
At the last minute I decided to grab my trusty Canon T3i. Attached was a 50mm f/1.8 lens. That turned out to be a bad choice. Without getting into details, I should have brought my 24-70mm f2.8 Sigma.
Getting up close and personal seemed like a good way to adapt. I focused my attention (pun intended) on a few of the badges and symbols of both old an new cars.
Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a shot of an E30 M3 motor.
Sharon and I generally don’t take our 1997 M3 for long highway trips. The whole point for our M3 is miles with smiles. Consequently, I’ve never taken it on a week-long vacation. It has been our mode of transportation to races at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and to Road Atlanta in Braselton Georgia. In those cases the destinations, complete with BMW CCA corral, make it worthwhile.
This vacation was different. We returned to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We also incorporated more twisty roads, the BMW Zentrum in Greer, SC and other points of interest.
The drive didn’t get interesting for several hours. Then it changed. As Interstate 40 turns south in Tennessee and then into North Carolina, the mountains begin to loom beautifully ahead. And the highway transforms itself from boring to a winding ribbon through hills and tunnels. A great preview of the beautiful part of the world we’re about to enter.
TWISTIES IN THE NIGHT
Then things got REALLY interesting. Driving Highway 276 from Waynesville, NC to Brevard, NC was a blast. A stunningly twisty section had plenty of slow speed second gear turns, many marked 15 mph. One twist after the other presented itself, some bordered by sheer mountain walls. Without bright lights on it would have been a nightmare after 8 hours of highway driving. My concentration level rose like the surrounding mountain peaks. We arrived in the wonderful town of Brevard and were greeted by the friendly staff at Hampton Inn.
THE INCREDIBLE BILTMORE
Asheville, NC is home to The Biltmore, America’s largest private residence. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt, son of the railroad tycoon, it’s an immense place. The statistics are mind-boggling: Over 175,000 square feet of floor space and 250 rooms. Completed in 1895 it boasts 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool and bowling alley and a library that’s larger than my home.
We took advantage of the audio tour. The story of the family, the estate and the construction of the home is nothing less than fascinating. Antler Hill Village is on the grounds. It offers a winery and displays an antique car, a 1913 Stevens-Duryea. It’s one of only 10 in existence.
When you put this on your list, be sure to take advantage of your BMW discount. It doesn’t take much off the ticket price, but it turns a one day pass into two. And yes, with the grounds and everything else to see, you can make use of it.
Lunch at a nearby McDonald’s was a real treat… no kidding. The Biltmore McDonald’s is directly across the street from the entrance to the estate property. We’d seen it featured on a TV show highlighting some of the most unique McDonald’s in the world. This one is unusually nice. It has a fireplace, player piano and a copper ceiling.
DRIVING INTO THE CLOUDS
After touring the Biltmore we quickly got on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Well known for its beautiful vistas, twists and elevation changes, it’s a great road to drive. Driving in sport mode, however, is probably not a great idea. The Parkway is frequented by cyclists, making it advisable to stay close to the speed limit.
Our drive took us to higher elevations, lower temperatures and wisps of fog. Or clouds. I really don’t know, but it added a layer of wonder to an already satisfying drive. To cap it off, we spent some time at Looking Glass Falls as we approached Brevard. This is the kind of stuff that sticks in your memory. One day we’ll be sure to return.
BMW FACTORY TOUR
I’ll write more about this in a later article, but for now I’ll simply say that we both enjoyed touring the BMW assembly plant in Greer, SC. Stopping for gas just before arriving was a lucky move, as I talked to a guy at the pump next to me who was the proud owner of a great 428i. Turns out he works in the plant and had just got off from the night shift. The Zentrum museum has several displays- Race cars, old cars, engines and motorcycles.
GATLINBURG OR BUST
Last year’s vacation was one of the best ever. Our return brought us back to the winding roads of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. If you like mountains and woods, this place is magical. But the views, trails and rivers are amazing. It’s not hard to find a place of solitude. Like the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s not ideal for sporting drives. Too much traffic. To get there from Greer, however, I found some rewarding roads. Climbing higher and higher on switchbacks, Sharon commented that it’s like skiing uphill.
A special find was the fudge shop in Dillsboro, North Carolina. Their new recipe for carrot cake fudge was just plain killer. For Sharon, it’s chocolate or nothing. Can’t say that I blame her, but I was thrilled with my choice. I made it last 4 days, requiring a good deal of discipline.
TAIL OF THE DRAGON
For many, this is a bucket list item. I understand why. Eleven miles with 318 curves is hard to pass up. It’s a great challenge. Stopping at a gas station along the way I happened on a couple guys with BMW motorcycles. Their description of the “Tail” was informative but a little worrying. Reports of extreme driving had me concerned, although they suggested that to be more the case on weekends. Being a Thursday, I shrugged it off.
The south end of the run is the best place to start for a first-timer. The enthusiast community (mostly motorcycles) gathers at a couple locations across the street from each other. The left side of the road is home to killboy.com where you can rent cameras and chat with other dragon slayers. Kind of an intense place to the uninitiated.
It can be an exciting drive. Entry to the tail is marked by signs like “Stay In Your Lane.” Good idea, based on what I’ve heard. And many of the turns are tight… REALLY tight. Our run was initially hampered by some very slow Harley riders. They insisted on driving at 15 mph and refused to extend the courtesy of using a pull-off. It was a little maddening. Were they trying to prove something? I don’t know. But I turned around, paused for a few minutes and took another crack at it. Much of the time I then spent behind a truck and trailer. Despite going much faster than the Harleys, he eventually used a pull-off to let me pass, along with a couple Ducati sport bikes I was running with. We all thanked him with a wave.
RETURN VIA PADUCAH
We spent the night near Nashville with the intention of visiting The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson the next morning. Without getting into details, we had to change our plans. We lunched in Paducah, Kentucky. Their visitor information center is housed in an old Texaco station. We found Paducah to be a place we’d like to add to our list of places to visit for a long weekend.
While driving back on normal (boring) interstates, I grinned as I reflected on the great twisty roads and the wonderful points of interest we enjoyed. What came to mind was a new motto for that part of the world. “Where the views are spectacular and the next apex is over your right shoulder.” I thought about the miles with smiles and the fact that my tires were now showing a little more wear.
Our vacation was certainly one of our best. But the most satisfying thing was simply being together in wonderful places. Yep, this was one ///Marvelous vacation.
The 2013 ALMS weekend was bittersweet for me. And, no doubt, for many others. A trip to Road America is ALWAYS a treat, but this would by my last ALMS race as the series discontinues at the end of this season. In truth, the American LeMans Series is “merging” with the Grand-Am. Some have said that it’s more like a buy-out. My camera spent most of its time giving attention to the ALMS side of things.
The BMW Car Club of America got special access to the work areas of Bimmerworld, Turner Motorsport and RLL work areas. We had the privilege of getting up close and personal with those teams. Of course, I was primarily interested in the Z4 GTE race cars. Even rarer was the privilege of being addressed by BME Motorsport Boss Jens Marquardt.
Tire Rack Street Survival School: Saturday, May 11 2013 – one of my most rewarding instructing sessions ever!
Images courtesy of rollingstockphoto
Why was this day so great? What made the difference? I chalk it up to a great student and my own commitment to improving my skills as an instructor. My first time instructing in an SUV was eye opening. I discovered that a Denali handles like a large boat. (I’ll reserve “battleship” status for a school bus.)
What Makes a Great Student?
Every Street Survival student is different in their experience, demeanor and eagerness to learn. Willingness to communicate is a big bonus. On this occasion, my student, Natalie, had all that going for her, plus a dad who obviously cares. She only had her permit, but her father had already taught Natalie a few things.
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Cool Garages: It’s one of my favorite things in life.
My garage is my playpen. And some of my most satisfying time is spent messing around in my garage. Detailing or working on my cars is a great way for me to recreate, so organizing and cleaning my garage is a big part of my hobby. When the rest of the world is in chaos I can count on my garage to be an island of sanity.
Lately I’ve been doing a little more organizing after buying more products from one of my favorite suppliers. My wall cabinets are stocked with a good deal of stuff from Griot’s Garage. Their motto is, “Have fun in your garage.” They certainly have their finger on my pulse.
I also recently bought a new rolling cabinet for my microfiber towels, detailing equipment and a few other items. So now I’ve taken my playpen to a new level, and I figured that it’s time to get the camera out.