By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Motorsports are a huge industry. According to various market data forecast reports, the motorsports market was worth more than $5 billion last year, and is expected to grow to nearly $7.5 billion over the next five years.
Those numbers don’t just include race fans and dirt bike enthusiasts. There are also folks who visit areas just for the interesting drives. Don’t believe it? Google the numbers for North Carolina’s “Tail of the Dragon.”
That stretch of road, especially popular with motorcyclists for its 300+ switchback curves, draws anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 vehicles per day, according to a 2016 USA Today article on the motor tourism destination.
But that isn’t what all motor tourists are looking for. Some of them are looking for that same spectacular scenery, and an interesting drive, but without the dangers that huge crowds and thrill seekers have brought to the Tail of the Dragon.
So, that’s exactly what Eric Hubbard and his Backroads of Appalachia app aims to give them. Or, at least, one of the things. Hubbard, who spoke with Grayson Tourism last month, explained that his organization and their app highlight a number of driving routes through eastern Kentucky – each aimed at different interests and sporting similarly colorful names, like Dragon Slayer, the Knob, Appalachian Autobahn, the Slingshot, and To the Holler; that last one ending in Grayson.
These routes are categorized by features like paved roads or gravel, and while some are loops others have a beginning and end point. The app also gives turn-by-turn directions, even when it isn’t connected to the internet. That one was particularly important, given the impact of the local geography on cell service.
Hubbard said the point of the ride is to be rewarding and enjoyable, but they also want them to end it, “tired, hungry, and thirsty.”
That’s because the other purpose of the driving tours offered in the app – which has drawn tourists from up and down the east coast and across the nation – is for people to spend money in the communities they pass through. That’s why the app includes a “What’s Around” link, with a list of places to visit along the route, like restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, and lodging.
While some of the listings aren’t up to date – Estepp’s Family Restaurant is still listed, for instance, and none of the current coffee shops are included under the coffee section – Hubbard said that any business owner can download the app and make a request for their location to be added. He also said communities that invest in the organization tend to get a little more attention, just because of their limited resources.
That attention isn’t just limited to routes and attractions on the app.
Hubbard’s organization also organizes motorsports events, such as drift races or togue races.
Events like that, he explained, are popular, safer, and require minimal space or disruption.
Drift racers, for instance, only need a large, open, paved area to compete in an event that Hubbard described as “like ballet” because of the art and precision required.
In togue races (pronounced toe-gay) racers follow each other, and compete against the clock on a route – switching out lead position. This one requires only a suitable county road, and law enforcement or other county officials to monitor and control traffic on any intersecting routes.
He told tourism that he had a limited number of slots for drift racing still open, but that if the tourism commission could find a suitable location, he would consider Grayson for a future race.
He said togue races would be easier to organize, but would require the cooperation of the city or county government for road closures during the event.
Tourism moved unanimously to partner with Backroads of Appalachia and briefly discussed potential locations for a future event.
In other action tourism moved to support Relay for Life with a $250 sponsorship, and the purchase of a $300 ad in their program; heard from Justine Smith, a park ranger at Grayson Lake State Park, about opportunities to work together on projects, and the park’s upcoming Trunk-or-Treat event on October 28; and discussed possible collaboration opportunities with representatives of the Elliott County Tourism, who visited to see how Grayson Tourism operated.
The commission also heard updates on the Blue Goose renovation schedule, accepted the park manager’s report – which noted soccer was at the top of the list to develop at the sports park next season, and heard updates on Octoberfest and Hometown Holidays.
The tourism board also accepted bids for new windows and doors on the tourism cabin, and discussed soliciting bids for necessary roof repairs.
The board also discussed the potential creation of a corner park on property along Carol Malone owned by Steve Womack. Womack would like to establish a private-public partnership to develop the park. Tourism stated their commitment to working with the city to participate in any park plans.
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