Meet the Founder
Virginia is not just for lovers anymore, it is a destination for riding enthusiasts! Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains on Virginia’s famed Route 16 lies Back of the Dragon…32 miles of exhilarating winding curves and unparalleled excitement.
Spanning from Marion to Tazewell, Virginia riders from around the world unite for the experience of a lifetime. Back of the Dragon offers over 400 curves for the thrill-seeking knee draggers, a two-lane ribbon road for the sports car aficionado’s and breathtaking views of the expansive 3 mountain range for all riders.
While all of this sounds amazing and action-packed, it was not always that way. Beginning in the late 1800’s Tazewell, Virginia was founded and immediately became a thriving coal and mining town with businesses spanning both sides of Main Street. There was not an empty store front in sight. For over 90 years Tazewell remained the source of endless opportunity bringing workers and their families to the small town, but that all began to change with the slow dissolution of the coal industry. The once flourishing and prospective Main Street became an eerie ghost town. A feeling that was unsettling and brought sadness to long-time Tazewell resident Larry Davidson.
Larry Brent Davidson was born in the small town of Canebrake, West Virginia where his father was a coal miner. In the mid 1950’s, Larry recalls “as a kid we would ride Route 16 to Hungry Mother State Park and get really excited when we went over the last mountain…I always loved that road!”
Larry soon decided it was time to pursue his calling and enlist in the military from 1967 to 1999. While he was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany he was a career counselor supervisor MSG/E-8 and managed 26 different offices all over Germany. Larry found tranquility riding on the expansive and breathtaking mountain roads of Bavaria, Austria and Germany. “I would ride the roads to get away. Take a weekend jaunt or spend a week on country leave” Larry reminisces. These roads gave Larry peace, while providing the feeling of endless expansion and opportunity. It was then he realized that people do not need to travel to Europe to find this feeling…to find these roads. His hometown of Tazewell, Virginia has this road…but nobody seemed to know it was there.
“Route 16 runs North to South. The 3 mountains (Big Walker, Brushy and Clinch) run East to West. I thought this formation reminded me of the humps on the back of a mediaeval dragon. Other folks have uniquely named roads as attractions. So, why couldn’t we?” Larry remembers sharing with Ted Edwards a longtime friend and Route 16 motorcycle travelling companion. They both agreed this is an idea worth pursuing and Larry recruited the help from his artistic son, John, to create a logo and print 12 t-shirts. Larry laughs “I would stop to talk with bikers and get their opinion on the design…and I sold out of all the shirts!” It was then Larry realized other people shared the same passion of the road as he did and thought the road deserved life.
With the unparalleled encouragement and resources of Tazewell County Tourism Director, Margie Douglass, Larry was able to meet with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. “I met him, gave him a shirt, we talked…and he helped push legislation though that officially named Route 16 Back of the Dragon” Larry recalls, and he was finally able to watch his dream grow wings. While Margie has now since retired, current Tourism Director David Woodward shares the passion of motorcycles and continues to work with Larry on the project, both as an advocate and a friend.
After the dissolution of the coal industry, Tazewell was seeing a 10% decrease in population every year. Back of the Dragon has breathed life back into Main Street with the opening of 4 restaurants, cabins, a bed and breakfast, an upcoming motorcycle repair shop, monster truck events facilitated by Danny Addison (who has helped Larry immensely as Vice President of Back of the Dragon) and…the new Back of the Dragon store!
From its inception, Larry has successfully sold merchandise out of his 400 square foot double trailer gift shop…but, growth in Tazewell is the goal. The new 5,000 square foot Back of the Dragon store opening in May 2020 will feature a brewery, specialty coffee, yogurt, food trucks, merchandise, open seating, a patio and an opportunity for sports car and motorcycle enthusiasts to sit back, relax and talk about their ride.
“I want Back of the Dragon to be a safe place where people come to ride, have a great time, and come back and do it again” Larry describes. He credits his success to God, his family and the people of Tazewell who believed in him and his idea. “It is humbling to realize that only in America can you have a dream, and if you work hard you can make it come true. God blessed me with something that would give back to the community and keep people coming back for years. Tazewell is now a place where you can raise your kids and they can actually stay after graduation because there are now opportunities here in our community” Larry explains as he considers where he is today.
Back of the Dragon is not just an experience, it is a destination. And to think, it all began with the dream of a coal miner’s son.