August 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm

With perfect weather, happy crowds, '12 Dream Cruise 'one of our best'

The smell of high-octane fuel, the sound of roaring engines, the feel of a sunny summer day and the sight of all those beautiful classic cars are all memories now.

The 2012 Woodward Dream Cruise has come and gone, but after what many described as a perfect event, fans can now begin counting the days until next August when it all happens again.

"Today was as big as it's ever been. It had to be," Tony Michaels, executive director of the cruise, said Saturday night shortly before police began shutting the event down at 9 p.m. "As you walk around and you take it all in, it's all smiles, and that is a wonderful thing."

The Oakland County Sheriff's Office estimated that 1.35 million classic car owners and fans visited Woodward between Ferndale and Pontiac, so 2012 didn't break an attendance record — set at 1.5 million — but Michaels pointed out that it's not the easiest event to count heads.

Perfect weather, beautiful cars and happy people filled Woodward from dawn until past dusk to mark the 18th year of the event that started as a fundraiser for a soccer field in Ferndale.

My, how it's grown.

It was like Woodstock on wheels, but instead of hippies, we had Hemis and instead of Crosby, Stills and Nash, we had Camaros, Super Sports and Novas.

Royal Oak resident Lloyd Austin, 53, thoroughly enjoyed himself this year and was very impressed by the way it was organized.

"They did a great job of spreading it out," said Austin, 53. "The displays really make good use of their space. I liked that many of the areas had displays telling the history of the automotive industry."

Austin arrived at the cruise around noon and watched the passing parade from a spot at 13 ˝ Mile. He planned to stay until the end and was amazed at the size and the well-behaved crowd.

"It was good family entertainment, which is a blessing," he said.

In 2011 about 1 million people came to the event, but thunderstorms forced the crowd to disperse early. The weather made for easy cruising with mostly sunny skies and a high of 76 degrees, said Bryan Tilley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.

"Overall it's pretty comfortable and just about ideal for outdoor activities," Tilley said.

Traffic on northbound Woodward between Nine Mile and 11 Mile was heavy Saturday — a conga line of cars and motorcycles inching their way toward the action farther north.

It was standing room only along almost the entire route, especially on the stretch between 12 Mile and 14 Mile. The area near Evergreen Cemetery, in Berkley, was a city in itself: an endless line of canopies, tents, lawn chairs, RVs, cars, vans, pickup trucks, moms, dads, kids and dogs who are just happy to be out of the house.

"It's been a good party," said Greg Rassel, president of the Dream Cruise board and Royal Oak's representative.

The crowd also made it pretty easy on police with officers from Royal Oak and Ferndale reporting minimal arrests, save a few for disorderly conduct.

"It's been a great cruise, one of our best cruises with the combination of weather and crowd size and number of arrests," Royal Oak Police Deputy Chief Gordon Young said.

And it wasn't just the classics that drew crowds.

The cars and crews from Michigan's newest auto craze, the Michigan Gumball Rally, turned heads from fans in Ferndale. The second annual rally, held the weekend before the Dream Cruise, comprised of 32 vehicles traveling about 1,200 miles across the state, from Detroit to Sault St. Marie back to the Automotive Hall of Fame in Detroit.

Theresa Parker participated this year with her boyfriend Dan Elliott in her gumball-themed Stratus, which cruisers seemed to get a kick out of.

"You know you're driving the car and you forget it has gumballs all over it," said Parker. "Then you think, 'Why is everyone staring at me?'"

The Rally will also be held in Florida in January and Wisconsin in June as the group expands.

"I've had guys come up to me and say 'I'm 40 years old and that was the most fun I've ever had in my life,'" said Parker.

North in Pontiac, it was a karaoke singer that had cruisers in awe.

Lady Soul, a 57-year-old Pontiac resident, belted out "Turn Me On" by Norah Jones at a karaoke contest in Pontiac's Phoenix Center and advanced to the competition final.

Lady Soul said she's a karaoke veteran and has never sung professionally.

"It puts joy in my heart," she said. "I like people to feel what I feel."

The judges thought she was so impressive that they invited her for an encore performance — "At Last" by Etta James.

Lady Soul's son, Kenneth Betty, owns a 1979 Trans Am and said he and his mother love the variety of cars at the show.

Earlier in the morning, the attention shifted to human power, when the 5K Cruise in Shoes was held early Saturday morning on southbound Woodward just north of 13 Mile. Michaels said the run drew about 700 people, and there will definitely be another run to kick things off next year.

Joel and Kate Walczy came for the cruising and for some exercise with their daughter Alexandra, 2, whom they pushed in a stroller.

"It was fun and so cool to be running on Woodward," Kate said.

Joel agreed: "They don't shut down Woodward for nothing," he said with a smile.

IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe couldn't believe the number of classic cars and people along Woodward, but he grew a little impatient.

"I'm not much for this traffic, but I could see myself in one of those lawn chairs by the side of the road with a couple of beers watching this parade go by," he said.

And of course, much of the attention was on the classics. More than 70 Chevrolet Corvettes from 1954 to 2012 filled a parking lot in Birmingham just north of Maple as part of the National Corvette Restorers Society display.

The cream of the crop was Richard Dunham's crown sapphire '59 Corvette with a hard top and convertible top, which drew compliments for much of the day.

"My passion (for Corvettes) runs fairly deep," said Dunham, a 74-year-old from Haslett who also owns a 2001 convertible. "I'm very grateful for what I have, and it means a lot to me when someone says (something about the car)."

Just south of Maple in Birmingham, local businessmen Van Conway and Steve Gordon hosted a party for about 700 people at Jax Kar Wash, turning it into a showroom floor for the afternoon. Gordon ushered people out of the lot when they wanted to cruise, and Conway spent some time schmoozing.

Conway said he thought it'd be a record turnout, but at his party, watching the cars became secondary.

"The thing about cars is you'll see the god ugliest car you've ever seen, but someone is in love with it, his little baby you know?" he said. "You'll see some of the funkiest cars go by here and you'll think, 'Who would ride that thing?' But to some guys that's his little baby, and here he gets to show it to the world."

Staff writers Tony Briscoe, Michael Martinez and Doug Guthrie contributed to this report. You can reach Josh Katzenstein at jkatzenstein@detnews.com (313) 222-2019

A Buick Electra drives in Ferndale late Saturday. / John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News
A rebuilt classic car drives on Woodward in Pleasant Ridge. (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)