PCA Southeast Michigan Region

From the Blog

P4-2021-03 – The Rennsport Dragon Rally Adventures

Chapter 1:  We Should Have Taken the Stairs by Jim Williams

Photos by Jim Williams and Linda Hablitz

The idea for this trip came about at our Progressive dinner during the summer.  Chris Bohr and Lucas Phan mentioned to me that there was an event coming up to drive the Tail of the Dragon, and would I be interested.  Before we left the dinner I also mentioned it to Tom and Christine Grabowski, and they also expressed an interest.  Since driving The Tail was on my bucket list, I was definitely interested and started looking into it when I got home.  Lucas and I started talking more about it and talking to more people the interest kept growing.  I got my wife Laurie, who is also our travel planner to set up a block of rooms at the Holiday Inn Express in Alcoa, TN.  It was kind of fun watching the group of interested people grow.  In fact, Laurie’s sister Linda that lives near Charlotte, NC has been looking for a Boxster after hearing about our experiences with the SEMPCA.  She found a 2007 Boxster and registered that day for the Rennsport Dragon Rally.  More about Linda later.

So on October 22nd around 16 cars met at the IHOP in Monroe gathering for a caravan to Tennessee.  Lucas had our trip planned to a T, with gas and lunch stops lined up.  Lucas volunteered me to lead the pack down I-75.  Along the way we picked up a few more cars from Ohio and Indiana, also Tom and Christine joined us as they left the day before for some additional sight seeing.  We ended up driving straight to the 129 Hub to register, so we wouldn’t have a mad scramble in the morning.  We got there just in time and met Laurie’s sister arriving from Carolina.  We all drove to the Holiday Inn Express and went through check in.  As it turned out Tom and Christine, Laurie’s sister and we were on the 3rd floor.  

Stuck in the elevator drinking Tom’s wine
We all got on the elevator to get to our rooms, but when we got to the 3rd floor the door would not open!  After ringing the bell and calling the front desk absolutely nothing happened.  We found out later that some of the others ended up walking up three flights as this was the only elevator.  We found out that Tom is always prepared, he opened up a bottle of wine and even had wine glasses.  After almost an hour the door finally opened, it sure gets hot in a packed elevator in close quarters, but we made the best of it.

Because there were over 200 Porsches at this event they divided us into six run groups.  We had our FRS radios to keep in touch when separated and to warn of oncoming traffic and the occasional police car.  The drive is everything you have heard about it, curve after curve, sometimes a car 100 feet in front of you disappears from view until you get around the corner.  We drove “The Tail” each day and a number of other equally challenging roads, then tried to relax a little to start the next morning. Great cars, great friends, great roads, what else can you ask for?

Gretus Hoogestraat leads a group of Porsches through the Tail of the Dragon

Chapter 2:  You Know What They Say About Boats? by Lucas Phan

As Jim mentioned, initially the idea of Rennsport Dragon Rally started when Chris Bohr and I were talking about an overnight trip and the Tail of the Dragon came up.  We found that a group called Rennsport Dragon Rally was running a Porsche only three day Tail of the Dragon and surrounding area driving event.  We brought the idea up during the SEM Progressive Dinner to see if anyone from our club was interested in joining us for Rennsport Dragon Rally.  Jim and Laurie Williams plus Tom and Christine Grabowski were interested and many others expressed interest.  We decided to bring the idea to SEM Board and they approved the trip from Michigan to Rennsport as an official SEMPCA event.  During the trip planning, we decided that Jim would be a better person to lead the group drive as I tend to drive a bit faster than the speed limit.  Chris Bohr and Howard Gilson were our mid-group leads while I was the group’s sweeper.

The group made it to Tennessee safely and we decided to do our registration that evening instead of in the morning to avoid a long registration line, knowing there would be over 200 Porsches.  We went through our registration quickly and avoided the huge line in the morning of the start day.

We did close to 900 miles of mountain driving during the three days.  The drive is one of the best roads I have ever experienced.  Great cars, great friends and great roads.  With Rennsport Dragon Rally coming to an end, we started talking about the next drive event.  We are planning on coming back to Tail of the Dragon during the fall of 2021.  We also planning to drive Ohio 555 and Hocking Hills on June 26th, 2021.  Stay tuned and be sure to check our calendars and P4 for updates.

As Jim, Laurie, Tom, Christine and Linda had their share of unexpected experiences during the trip, mine happened before and after the event.  Late September, my Porsche went through a large pavement gap in a construction zone and broke my rear suspension dog bone arm along with my front strut.  We were quite a ways from Rennsport, so I decided to take this opportunity to upgrade my suspension with all new arms and Bilstein PSS9 coilovers.  Everything went per plan until I removed the inner tie rod boot and a huge amount of power steering fluid gushed out.  I immediately went looking for a steering rack, all but one online retailer showed part availability.  I ordered it and was told the next day that they had to cancel my order due to an inventory error.  I went into a panic mode and started looking for a local shop to rebuild my leaking rack, but they all were closed due to COVID.  Suddenly, a few days later, a TRW box with a steering rack showed up on my door.  Nobody knew how this happened, but I took it as a blessing and paid for it.  Kyle from M1 Motorsports Group helped me to install the steering rack and perform a corner balance/alignment on my car.  We managed to get the car done in a week; three weeks before the Rennsport.

I thought my bad luck stopped there, in fact, it turned from bad to worse.  My convertible top decided to get stuck halfway.  I could not find anything mechanically wrong, manually closed it and sent the car to the shop.  It turned out to be electrical issue with the top controller.  Due to the time constraint, we decided to send it over to the dealership.  The dealer decided to replace the top controller, but we were told parts had to be shipped from Germany.  We lost a few days waiting for parts, but when the new controller finally arrived, it refused to communicate with the rest of the car.  Another week went by and finally they could got all of the car electronics to work, but the convertible top refused to work.  They found a fault on one of the potentiometers.  We lost a few more days waiting on a part and were three days before departure for Rennsport Dragon Rally.  I was about to give up and deal with this convertible top later.  On the last day, the dealer managed to get it to work and I got my car back on October 21st, 4 pm.

We had a lot of fun driving the Dragon Rally and my car performed flawlessly.  I realized that I had a little bit too much fun when my car started to hydroplane on wet roads the last day of the rally.  I dialed back a bit on my driving to have barely enough tires for easy freeway drive home.  Well, my bad luck struck again, heavy rain for most of our drive home.  The journey home took me close to twelve hours instead of seven, but we all made it home safely.

Chapter 3:  The Dragon Eat My Tires for Lunch by Tom Grabowski

As soon as we signed up for the Tail of the Dragon, we began to make sure our Boxster S with its 315 horses was ready for the adventure.  We checked the oil – ok; we checked the breaks – ok; we checked the tires – they seemed ok.  They were new last season and only had 4k miles with 6/32 of tread remaining.  After we cleaned and polished her, up we were ready for the challenge.

On the drive to the Dragon we overnighted in Lexington, so we would be fresh for the next day drive on the Dragon.  After checking in we meet our good friends for dinner and then a good night sleep.  The next day we drove to the Dragon meeting point.  What a great sight to see all the different shapes and color combination of Porsches.

The first drive on the Dragon was fantastic with its 318 curves in 11 miles.  For 95% of the drive we were in 2nd and 3rd gear, switchback after switchback – what great fun!  My wife only said oh #%@ once, but there was an indention in the carpet under her right foot.  We did the Dragon two more times, experienced a very scenic drive along the top of the mountains while making new friends. It made it a great adventure.

On the last drive day it started to rain and we noticed that our Boxster started to hydroplane, so we checked the tires.  To our surprise the back tires were completely bald. The Dragon had its way with a great set of performance tires.  We could still see a little of the wear bars so we decided to take a chance and slowly drive home.  An hour on the road home we hit some road debris.  A few minutes later the tire pressure indicator started to show dropping tire pressure on the right rear tire.  We checked Google for the nearest tire store and when we arrived, the tire pressure was down 10 lbs.  But, to our surprise the tire store looked like something out of Deliverance with tires stacked everywhere.  We decided to fill the tire with sealer and try to make it to the next town.  It had a Walmart that could order the Michelins we wanted, so we overnighted and were on the road the next morning by 10 AM.  Special thanks to Jim and Laurie Williams for being our backup.

The drive was uneventful until we got to Toledo where the temperature went below 35 degrees with light sleet.  The rest of the drive was agonizingly slow and we were concerned that our high-priced Michelins were cracking from the low temperature.  We made it home without any more issues and agreed that the Tail of the Dragon trip was well worth it – even with our tire problem.  We look forward to our next adventure with the Porsche Club and thank all those who arranged the event.