We Drove the Best Roads, Explored Bourbon Distilleries, and Conquered the Tail of the Dragon

porsche parked in from of other rally cars
Conquering the Tail of the DragonElena Martorano

Last year, when we hosted our very first Smoky 600 rally, we couldn’t get enough of the magic that the incredible Appalachian region has to offer, so, of course, we had to go back for seconds. May 7-10, 2024 marked our second annual Smoky 600 rally, complete with a new and improved itinerary (and cooler weather, on account of this year’s experience taking place a month sooner.)

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Twenty-six drivers from all over the U.S. met us in Bowling Green, KY to do what we love most: drive. Our attendees brought a diverse array of vehicles including a Bentley Continental GTC, a Ferrari 296 GTB, a Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0, and a delightful assortment of Corvettes (ZR1, Stingrays, you name it.) The next four days promised gorgeous drives, exciting pit stops, good eats, distillery tours, and new friends. Of course, we couldn’t wait to kick off the adventure. Not to mention, Tennessee and Kentucky are truly special this time of year. The warm, but not yet hot, air is the perfect atmosphere for twisty mountain drives set against the backdrop of lush, green foliage and sweeping vistas.

a black car with a blue logo
Aaron Brown

Day 1 - Let’s Drive!

Our rally began in Bowling Green’s NCM Motorsports Park for our track day. As Editor-at-Large Matt Farah implied in his opening remarks, starting a rally with a track day is ideal as it lets guests drive as fast as they like and get all their adrenaline out before they hit the road. After introductions and some brief instruction from the track, we split into two groups for track lapping and autocross. Our special guest, the commentator and legendary driver of American sports car racing's golden era Tommy Kendall, also gave guests hot laps around the track in a C8 Stingray.


Despite the fact that we meticulously plan each detail of the trip for months, there are a few things that are outside of our control. Weather certainly is a big one. As gray clouds rolled in and the heavens opened up, we had to pivot and roll with the punches. Thankfully our determined attendees and knowledgeable track instructors would not let less-than-favorable weather stop them. NCM staff gave an impromptu lesson on driving safety on a slick track and Kendall spoke about his experience driving in inclement weather throughout his motorsports career. Then, everyone headed back to the track and autocross course. Thanks to everyone being such good sports, what could have been a roadblock turned into a unique opportunity.

a group of people sitting around a table in a room with large windows
Joseph Myers

Rounding out our track day was our autocross relay competition. Again splitting into two teams, drivers sprinted along the autocross course as we timed both the individual and team lap times. This is one of our favorite track activities as it naturally brings out the competitive side of drivers while also serving as a great ice breaker for this group of soon-to-be fast friends.

We next made a quick four-minute jaunt across the street to the National Corvette Museum to explore their immaculate collection of essentially every Corvette ever produced, as well as browse the Corvette Hall of Fame and satisfy our morbid curiosity with their exhibit dedicated to the infamous 2014 sinkhole disaster. It’s a spectacular museum where we could have spent all day, but alas, we had ground to cover.

a large room with many cars in it
Joseph Myers

As we lined up for our first group drive of the trip, the editors staged the cars in two driving groups. Matt Farah led the pack in a Bentley Continental GT, followed by seven attendee vehicles, then, Digital Director Aaron Brown leading his pack of seven cars in a Nissan Z Nismo, and finally, Editor-in-Chief Dan Pund holding the all-important role of “caboose” in an electrifying pink (or rather ruby star neo) Porsche 718 Cayman. Each car was outfitted with a two-way radio allowing editors to communicate any turns or driving instructions to the cars behind them. Additionally, guests are equipped with turn-by-turn navigation courtesy of the Rallista app. Rallista offers the unique opportunity for us to share our custom curated route with our drivers, versus a more direct, highway-heavy route that can be found on other map apps. Onward to Lexington, KY!

Three hours and one time zone change later, we pulled up to our home base for the next two days—the Manchester Hotel. Dinner that night was at Granddam, located on the hotel’s first floor. As we took our last bites of dessert, Dan Pund and Tommy Kendall conducted an intimate fireside chat all about Kendall’s racing and media career, his harrowing crash at the 1991 IMSA GTP Championship at Watkins Glen, and his latest projects.

Day 2 - Tours and Tastings

For day two, rally guests hung up their keys and boarded a coach for a day of distillery tours and tastings. To give a well-rounded look into Kentucky’s rich history of distilling, we selected three very different distilleries. First, we stopped at the charming Lawrenceburg Bourbon Company, broke for lunch at The Brown Barrel, continued on to Castle & Key distillery, located on the grounds of a restored tudor-inspired castle, and finally ended our indulgent day with a nationally-recognized favorite, Buffalo Trace.

After a day of drinking, you can’t help but crave some hearty, comforting food, so we feasted on tacos from the newly-opened Mazunte Bodega. Guests then headed back to the hotel and got to enjoy this fun and funky hotel for a second night.

a group of people sitting at tables
Danielle Mann

Day 3 - Backroads & BBQ

We were back on the road for day three. On the heels of a leisurely breakfast, we lined up in driving groups and began our day’s journey. Zipping through the open backroads of Kentucky, we found our way to Durham’s Pit BBQ, an unassuming lunch spot in London, KY that packs a punch.

Happy and full with down-home classics like pulled pork, smoked chicken, baked beans, potato salad, and banana pudding, we continue on with our drive to Knoxville, TN. We arrived and checked in to The Oliver hotel mid-afternoon leaving plenty of down time to explore this quirky little city. Personally, we’d recommend getting a chocolate shake at The Phoenix Pharmacy or picking up another t-shirt for your collection at Nothing Too Fancy.

Despite dedicating the day prior to distilleries, we couldn’t pass up another tasting. PostModern Spirits owner and master distiller, Ron Grazioso walked us through how he crafts whiskeys, gins, vodkas, and liqueurs in a single still. We also got to sample each of their small-batch spirits and sip cocktails from their bar.

a group of people in a room
Joseph Myers

That evening, we gathered in The Oliver’s restaurant, The Oliver Royale for our final group dinner. Dan Pund presented our Smoky 600 awards for drivers that exemplified qualities that we celebrate here at Road & Track. We have our Driver of the Day, awarded to the driver who exhibited exemplary driving skill on the road, Best Co-Pilot for the passenger with the most chutzpah, and Fastest Time for the winner of our autocross challenge during our track day. The editors closed the evening by briefing drivers on what to expect on the drive that we’ve all been waiting for: the Tail of the Dragon.

One of our favorite parts of these rallies is seeing a group of total strangers bond over their love of driving. It’s usually during the last night where we witness phone numbers and emails being exchanged along with a smattering of spirited toasts and group photos. It’s hard not to feel a little bittersweet knowing that we will all be going our separate ways the following day. But the trip isn't over just yet. We have to rest up because we have a big day ahead of us.

Day 4 - Driving the Dragon

Guests fueled up, both figuratively and literally, for our big drive down the Tail. Cruising along the Tail of the Dragon’s iconic 318 curves, bends, and hairpin turns is no small feat, but it’s oh-so rewarding. The feeling of elation that you get while driving along the superb two-lane roads overlooking the expansive Great Smoky Mountains is an experience that you won’t find on many roads. This is how driving should be.

To celebrate conquering these legendary mountain roads, we stopped for one last meal together at Tapoco Tavern, a staple for drivers and bikers alike. This is the official end to our epic four-day rally, but we couldn’t send our guests off without a little parting gift. The editors led one last optional drive along the equally impressive Cherohala Skyway. Yes, that’s right. Smoky 600 wrapped with not one but two bucket list-worthy drives. This was truly a trip to remember.

a parking lot with cars and people
Joseph Myers

If you’re feeling a twinge of FOMO, never fear. You still have two more opportunities to travel with Road & Track in 2024. We’ll be heading across the pond September 2-9 for Road to Revival, our exploration of England’s motorsports scene, including exclusive factory tours of Jaguar and McLaren and VIP tickets to the Goodwood Revival festival. On November 12-15, we’re rallying through Arizona for our first-ever Arizona Desert Run featuring a track day at Radford Racing School, a trip to the Grand Canyon, and exhilarating pit stops. We hope to see you on the road this year!


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