2,500-hp 1969 Charger won Roadkill Nights ’16, ready to run Aug. 12. Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press
A stretch of Woodward Avenue will become a loud — very loud — field of dreams Saturday, as car lovers live out the dream of drag racing on the street where the first muscle cars were born.
The third edition of Roadkill Nights, a festival of speed sponsored by Dodge and the Enthusiast Network, expects to draw 50,000 people and hundreds of cars, for a day of car culture, racing and more to M1 Concourse, at the corner of South Boulevard and Woodward in Pontiac.
“It’ll be bigger, badder, faster and louder,” than the first two years, which drew 11,000 and 33,000 spectators, respectively, said David Freiburger, host of “Roadkill,” which averages 32 million views per YouTube episode of racing, road trips and automotive mayhem. “We hope to begin Dream Cruise week in a big way.”
The sprawling event will be the opening gun for a week of events that will draw thousands of cars and fans for Woodward every day through the Dream Cruise, on Aug. 19. Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Dream Cruise has morphed from a single day into a mini season of celebration. Roadkill’s day of racing Saturday is the first time the Dream Cruise has been matched by a high-profile event at the beginning of Cruise Week.
Drag racing on Woodward — under carefully controlled, conditions for safety —begins at 11 a.m. Saturday. About 150 owners have registered to race through the day. The fastest four compete for prize money in the evening beginning about 7:30.
The tradition of cruising and racing on Woodward began with car-crazed kids modifying their cars in the 1950s. Engineers and designers from Detroit’s automakers took to the avenue in the 1960s, running for bragging rights as the Ford Mustang, Dodge Charger, Pontiac GTO and others launched the muscle car era.
“Woodward was the place,” automotive journalist and drag racing expert Jim McCraw said. “Racing’s been a tradition there for a half century. It’s all about acceleration.
“Drag racing is kind of like jousting, except both competitors are going in the same direction.”
The southbound lanes of Woodward will be closed for the races, plus celebrity races and demo runs by a deafeningly loud funny car and top-fuel dragster.
A pair of car shows — one for Dodges, the other open to all brands — inside the M1 Concourse car condo and racetrack development will have 600-plus vehicles. Professional drivers will offer thrill rides, perform smoky burnouts and more in modern Dodge performance cars like the 707-hp Hellcat Charger and Challenger.
Last year’s race winner, a 1969 Dodge Charger modified to produce around 2,500 hp, will be back.
“It was magical. We were the first car in line on Woodward,” driver Mike Moran said. He left his business, Moran Motorsports in Taylor, about 6:30 a.m. the day of the race last year, driving the Charger he co-owns with Don Vargo, to M1. Vargo drives the Charger to car shows all summer, putting 7,000 miles on it each year.
“It keeps evolving. Every year, we do a little more to it,” said Moran, who raced professionally until his business building racing engines and cars took up all his time. Saturday will be just his second race this year.
“I was surprised how big the races were last year,” Moran said. “The diversity of vehicles was great.”
Spectators can expect more of that diversity Saturday. Based on previous years, competitors are likely to range from Vargo and Moran’s modified classic muscle car to modern sport compacts, pickups, weekend racers, shade tree mechanics’ backyard projects and more.
That’s a big part of drag racing’s appeal, McCraw said: anybody can participate.
“If you’ve got a car and a driver’s license, there’s a drag strip somewhere nearby where you can race. It’s the most accessible form of motorsports. Every weekend, this is going on at tracks around the country. You can win some money and go home with a trophy in the same car you drive to work,” he said.
“To be able to get out and run one-eighth of a mile on Woodward is incredibly cool, though.”
There’s a big difference between drag racing — even on a closed public road — and street racing. Street racing is dangerous and illegal. Drag racing is controlled, with safety rules and emergency vehicles. There are hundreds of drag race tracks around the country, and professional races year-round.
Roadkill Nights is a full week before the Woodward Dream Cruise, which should attract more than a million spectators and 20,000-30,000 classic cars. Roadkill will be the opener for a week that sees every kind of car and truck parading before fans on every rain-free evening. Why rain-free? Because old-fashioned tires, hopped-up engines and wet pavement are a bad combination. The cars are loud and powerful, but their owners are careful, making the Dream Cruise a safe event that draws families, not just gearheads.
“There’s no other place that brings together people and car culture like Detroit.” said Eric Schwab, vice president of the Enthusiast Network, which includes Motor Trend, Hot Rod and Automobile magazines and Roadkill, which produces print, video and digital material about cars, racing and car culture. “The opportunity to race — legally and safely — on Woodward Avenue is the experience of a lifetime.”
Contact Mark Phelan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-222-6731. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.
M1 Concourse and Woodward Avenue, Pontiac
9:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12
Admission: $10 adults, children under 12 free. $5 for residents of Pontiac.
Races begin at 11 a.m.
Car shows, thrill rides in modern Dodge vehicles, other activities all day
Ford and drink on site.
PARKING: Free parking and shuttle at the HP (Hewlett-Packard) Enterprise lot, 585 South Blvd. E
Paid parking and free shuttles from downtown Pontiac city lots and Macedonia Missionary Baptist church.