dragonslayer

Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman? What franchise is better, Star Wars or Star Trek? Can a Raptor slay a Dragon? While popular culture has tried to answer the former, we are not aware of anyone who has pursued an answer to the latter. Thus, on a beautiful fall weekend, we found ourselves on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina on a quest to slay a particularly dangerous dragon.

The Tail of the Dragon in Deals Gap, North Carolina is an 11-mile stretch of twisting highway with 318 curves. Technically designated US 129, the road has been popularized in mainstream media with appearances in both numerous magazine and travel articles as well as on film in such features as The Fugitive, Two-Lane Blacktop, and Thunder Road.

Large metal Dragon at the South end start of the road. This is a popular stop for photos.

Tail Of The Dragon

US 129 crosses the border between Tennessee and North Carolina (or vice versa depending on the direction) and is a popular bucket list road for both motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts. This particular weekend witnessed both Corvette and BMW events, as well as numerous other purpose-built vehicles designed for sharp cornering and fast acceleration.

Leaving stickers on guard rails along the road is a fun way for drivers of the Dragon to make their mark.

This twisty road of beautiful Americanafeature no cross traffic, driveways, or trucks longer than 30 feet to slow your progress. Both sheriff and highway patrol personnel strictly enforce the 30 mile-per-hour speed limit on The Tail of the Dragon. This is done for good reason, as there are deaths on the road every year; like we said, this is one particularly dangerous dragon.

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Despite the potential danger, the road draws drivers and riders from across the nation attempting to slay the beast and satisfy their need for adventure.

Raptor drivers assemble on the side of the road at the North starting point to discuss the run ahead (left). Mike Simpson, an experienced Dragon driver, leads the group of Raptors out for a wild ride heading South on the Tail of the Dragon (right).

As with any quest, the choice of tools is paramount. For this adventure, we chose the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor as our weapon of choice. Just in case we had a tough time with this particular dragon, we enlisted the assistance of four other Ford Raptors. Raptors are thought to have been pack animals anyway, right?

With a 6.2-liter V8, 35-inch all terrain tires, and a much larger wheelbase than anything else on the Tail of the Dragon, we expected to stand out and did just that.

Taking a moment for a group photo before the Raptors head out to slay the Dragon.

Raptor vs. Dragon

Our group met up at the T-shirt shack at the corner of US 129 and NC 28. With all the swag one could ever want or need as well as enough space to stage five large trucks, it was a logical choice for a starting point. Raptor owner and run participant Mike Simpson noted, “It was great to see BMW drivers and bikes rolling by checking out the giant trucks getting ready to run a road better known as a motorcycle Mecca.”

Starting sign at the T-shirt shop on the South end of the Dragon.

We gathered many stares and pointing fingers as we headed out. The 2010-2014 generation of the Ford Raptor is 7.1 inches wider than the standard F-150 of the same years.

Starting out, we could really feel how the Raptor’s wide track width – 7.1 inches greater than the standard F-150 – could be at odds with the tight corners and narrow paths, but it could also be considered quite a benefit to an experienced driver. Simpson went on to say that, “I think the suspension that makes these trucks perform so well in the desert is a huge asset on a curvy road.”

Raptors handle the 318 turns of the Tail of the Dragon with the ease of a sports car. Driver Nate Shirley and his brother Matt waving for the camera as they enjoy the twists and turns of the Dragon (Top Left).

Fellow Raptor owner and participant Jason Kokoska reported that, “At first I was a bit nervous, trying to put such a large truck on a road that really caters to the motorcycle and sports car crowd. But after the first few corners, and getting a feel for the road and the truck, it became very apparent that these trucks can certainly handle the twisty roads almost as well as dirt roads.”

Jessica Miller and her dogs in their 2014 F-150 Raptor all loved the scenery along the road.

With high seat bolsters to keep both driver and passenger in place, 411 horsepower on tap to power out of corners, and adjustability in traction control modes to suit both driver skill and road conditions, the Raptors made mincemeat of the dragon in no time. Shawn Miller and his wife, Jessica, who brought along their two dogs for the ride, quickly agreed that the capabilities of the truck exceeded any and all expectations in conditions that were honestly better suited to vehicles a fraction of the size and weight.

In fact, Jessica stated that “the dogs were surprisingly calm and passed out in my lap each time we took on the dragon! It’s like all the turns, highs, and lows on the ride soothed them.”

To be perfectly clear, this is a 6,000-pound truck on a narrow, twisty road and caution must be taken. On occasion, it became necessary for trucks to pull to the side to let faster traffic pass as is customary on the dragon. However, the ability of the trucks to be thrown into corners and emerge solidly under control during moderate acceleration was impressive.

Taking a break and watching the motorcycles and sports cars drive by staring at all of the trucks.

However, the ability of the trucks to be thrown into corners and emerge solidly under control during moderate acceleration was impressive. The 434 lb-ft of torque was put to good use with 4.10:1 differential gears, and six transmission gear options put smiles on all participants’ faces, even in the most demanding of sections.

Despite its size and limitations in such an environment, drivers reported a willingness to run the road again if given the chance. Jason Kokoska summed it up well by saying that, “I would most certainly do the road again in my Raptor mainly because it is a fun road and it really puts you in touch with the truck. Also, I would run it again just for the looks on the faces of the other drivers on the road. They don’t really expect such a large, off-road-oriented truck on those very curvy roads.”

After a successful run, letting off some steam is a must.

Mission Complete

The Raptor maintains a solid reputation for being both off-road capable as well as a well-mannered daily driver. Now, dragon slayer can be added to that list. Despite the next-generation Raptor being offered with even higher performance numbers than the first generation trucks, many enthusiasts question the choice of the new twin turbo six-cylinder and 10-speed transmission combination.

Will the next generation truck be a dragon slayer as well? Only time will tell. Until then, visiting the Tail of the Dragon is a must on anyone’s list. Just make sure you have all your affairs in order first; sometimes this dragon bites back.

For help planning your next trip to the Tail of the Dragon or for information about the many additional beautiful area roads, forest service roads, and dual sport or Jeep trails, hiking, or camping opportunities, visit the website.

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