TAZEWELL, Va. — A swarm of German cars invaded Tazewell on Thursday and the folks at the Back of the Dragon Welcome Center could not have been happier.
Larry Davidson, president of Dragon Fire LLC, and Jamie Dillon met with representatives of the Z Series Car Clubs of America in Blacksburg last December and arranged the visit as part of the group’s 2019 ZFest Convention.
The crew headed into far Southwest Virginia to navigate the winding curves of the Back of the Dragon along Virginia Route 16 and visit Burke’s Garden, Hungry Mother State Park in Marion and other popular travel destinations along the way.
Dillon, Danny Addison and the center’s newest addition — a towering 15-foot-tall dragon — welcomed the group to town with open arms. The dragon was built by local artist Jack Hagerman, and after just over a week on site, hundreds of people have had their picture taken in front of the statue, according to Davidson.
Parking cars kept most of the staff at the center busy, and Richlands Town Council Member Rick Wood was on hand to help with the event.
A quick glance at license plates and the guest book showed members of the group came from a dozen US states and two provinces in Canada. A total of 180 BMW’s made up the convoy of cars.
Don and Patricia Nixon, from Richardson, Texas, parked their car in front of the dragon — where there was a constant line for pictures — by sheer luck. The Nixons said they loved the beauty of the mountains and the ride across the back of the dragon was better than riding the Tail of the Dragon — another popular motorcycle route located in Dillsboro, North Carolina.
Robert McIsaac, from Ontario, Canada, made the drive in a 1997 Z3 that he bought in Arizona. He said the car had never been driven in snowy weather or other harsh conditions.
Richard and Kathy Desruisseau from Tulsa, Oklahoma, were the official photographers for the group, although it seemed everyone had a camera on hand.
While waiting in line for bathrooms, lunch and souvenirs, club members chatted about the beauty of the area, the fun of riding the Back of the Dragon or their plans to go to either Burke’s Garden or the Dragon’s Claw and Big Walker Lookout for their afternoon ride.
The group said they loved the area and the hair pin turns of the ride across the Back of the Dragon. In addition to exploring the wonder of Southwest Virginia, the group also visited the D-Day Memorial, rented out the Starlite Drive-In, drove some laps at Virginia International Raceway and visited Chateau Morrisette and Pilot Mountain.
Chris Wooten, the car club’s spokesman, said the group formed in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1996 when BMW was still building sports cars in the region.
The company sponsored the club for several years until the plant started moving over to SUVs and then it became a fraternal organization.
The club now partners with Michelin and Tire Rack to sponsor a safe-driving program in high schools.
“The No. 1 killer of teens is car accidents, and we do everything we can to teach them ways to avoid accidents,” Wooten said.
The Virginia event was sandwiched between last year’s trip to Branson and next year’s planned trip to Aspen.
Wood said he and Tazewell County Tourism Director A.J. Robinson are hoping to develop a cooperative effort among county tourism organizations for similar events.