ROBBINSVILLE, NC – As an automotive enthusiast and Ford vehicle dynamics engineer, several roads are on my bucket list as “must drive.” US Route 66 from Illinois to California, the Pacific Coast Highway and Mulholland Drive in California, and Pikes Peak Highway in Colorado are just a few of the amazing driving routes that any enthusiast would love to take on in the United States. The Appalachian Mountain region also offers exciting and challenging roads for driving enthusiasts, and for three days every third weekend in July, Shelby owners descend on the Smoky Mountains to drive some of these twisty routes.
The “GT350 Mountain Run,” recently renamed the “Shelby Mountain Run,” is an annual event hosted by Red Mirror Events and is in its third year. The 2019 inaugural event saw 22 cars participating. The 2020 GT350 Mountain Run, hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, had 33 vehicles participate. For 2021’s event, improved social media outreach resulted in a massive expansion of attendance, with an impressive 93 Shelbys attending.
This year’s event was hosted and based out of Fontana Village and Resort in Robbinsville, North Carolina. This location was an ideal spot due to its localized proximity to many of the driving roads and allowed for all of the cars and drivers to be together in one place.
Opening day was on a Wednesday, which was basically a travel and registration day for all participants arriving at the central resort/hotel where each day’s events would start and end. Attendees were from all over the United States – from California to New York and Wisconsin to Florida. Once at the hotel, registration packets were handed out, which included itineraries about each day’s drives as well as detailed, printed directions. Also handed out was a goody bag and vinyl numbers for each vehicle, which allowed the hired photographers from “129 Photos” to easily spot the vehicles while on the roads.
Thursday started the Day 1 activities with a driver's meeting to go over the scheduled itinerary for the day. After the driver’s meeting, we departed the resort and headed for Cherohola Skyway, all while driving another popular road in the area, US-28 or “Moonshiner 28.” Drivers were split into groups of approximately 20, to allow for less crowding and more driving. The five groups – dubbed Alpha, Bravo, Delta, Echo, and Whiskey – left in 15- to 20-minute intervals to allow for group spacing and for participants to have time for adequate stops along the routes. The Cherohola Skyway is a curvy, 43-mile byway that takes you from Robbinsville, North Carolina, to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with an abundance of scenic views and sweeping mountain curves. Multiple stops were planned along the route so that pictures could be taken of the breathtaking views.
After the Cherohola Skyway drive, we headed for lunch at the 129 Hub and then continued to the famed Tail of the Dragon, which is an 11-mile winding section of US-129 composed of 318 individual curves. This is one of the most popular driving roads in the entire United States, with thousands of motorcycles and sports cars traveling to the road annually. Unlike the Cherohola Skyway which has long sweeping corners, the Tail of the Dragon is much tighter, with multiple 180-degree hairpin corners. After we drove the Tail, all vehicles returned to the resort for a bonfire, card games and a nice dinner.
Friday began as Thursday did, with a driver's meeting to review the day’s scheduled itinerary. After the meeting, the five groups departed at their designated times, with the intended destination being the Devil’s Triangle. Highway 116, or Devil’s Triangle, is located in Oliver Springs, Tennessee, and is a 45-mile loop of tight, twisting curves resulting in one of the more technical drives that occurred during this entire event. The lunch stop took place at the big tourist attraction along Devil’s Triangle -- Brushy Mountain State Prison, and The Warden’s Table restaurant. After lunch, the participants made the return drive back to the resort for dinner and a karaoke night.
The last driving day was Saturday, which took place in the Smoky Mountain National Forest. The roads included Tail of the Dragon, Foothills Parkway, and additional connecting routes that wind through the National Forest. After traveling through the forest, the route returned through Cherokee and Bryson City, North Carolina, and finally Moonshiner 28. The drive day ended with participants returning to the resort for a dinner banquet, a raffle and some final goodbyes.
Having participated in this drive for the last three years, I can vouch that this event is worth the trip out to the Smokies with great times in store while driving these challenging routes -- and of course the chance to share it all with some great people as well. Next year’s 2022 Shelby Mountain Run is looking to be bigger than ever and is scheduled to take place from July 14-16, 2022. Event information and details will be announced in the coming months. If you are a Shelby owner and a driving enthusiast, we’d highly suggest that you attend -- you will not be disappointed! Simply check out “Red Mirror Events” online and sign up!
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY MATT SOLNIK