Williamson Road in Roanoke, Virginia, was a hot cruise spot in America in the 1950s and ’60s. There were disc jockeys spinning tunes from booths, drive-ins, live bands jamming in parking lots and, of course, the cars cruising up and down U.S. Route 11.
“Cruising was a huge social scene in Roanoke,” said Antique Automobile Club of America president Tom Cox, adding that at age 53, he’s not old enough to have participated in the fun. “But I have a great many friends who did.”
The Roanoke area resident attended the Woodward Dream Cruise in the early 2000s, and after seeing the shiny muscle and collector cars cruise up and down M-1, he felt inspired. Maybe he could bring Roanoke’s cruising days back.
He and a friend, Robert Bennett, sat on the Virginia Museum of Transportation board.
At the time, they needed funding for a museum addition that would display classic cars. Cox knew the first Dream Cruise in 1995 began as a way to raise funds for a soccer field in Ferndale. So he stole the strategy and planned the Star City Motor Madness as a fundraiser, hoping to make $2,000.
“We advertised it, and Robert and I went out there pounding the pavement thinking we might have 150 cars, which would be really good, and we’ll make a couple thousand bucks. And gosh, that was all it took,” Cox said. “All the sudden, we were inundated with people. It was crazy. We had thousands of cars.”
That first year in 2002, they raised around $15,000.
Since then, the event has taken place the last weekend in June. Through donations and $25 car entry fees, Star City Motor Madness has raised over $650,000 for the museum and local charities.
The cruise, held on a Friday night, occurs on a four-lane, seven-mile stretch. Though it doesn’t reach the million-plus Dream Cruise crowd or its 40,000 cars, it attracts around 100,000 participants and more than 25,000 cars.
“For Virginia, it’s the closest thing we have to Woodward,” Cox said.
The Roanoke event is one of many cruises held every year around the United States inspired by the Woodward Dream Cruise — a classic car movement, now in its 23rd year, many consider the godfather of modern-day cruising.
Cox has returned to the Motor City several times — including one memorable cruise during the 2003 blackout — to glean more ideas. Some Dream Cruise elements he’d like to eventually implement, like designating one lane for cruise cars.
“The first year we had it, it was nothing but cruising. And then it sort of took on a life of its own, much like it has on Woodward to the chagrin of some and delight of others,” he said.
Antique Automobile Club of America executive director Steve Moskowitz helps organize the country’s largest antique car event, the Elegance at Hershey, which attracts a quarter million people every October in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He emphasized there are dozens of car events every weekend across the U.S.
“But the Dream Cruise by the nature of where it is and the fact you have all the manufacturers there, is a whole different deal,” said Moskowitz, who’s attended half a dozen Dream Cruises. “...You’ve got something that really few people could replicate if they wanted to.”
Rarely can car aficionados find an event that features everything from street cars and antique cars to hot rods,” he added.
“Not only you get to see them, but you see them in motion being driven, versus some kind of static display.” he said. “It’s a lot of eye candy for people that love cars.”
Al Hatch is one of those car lovers who felt so inspired by the Dream Cruise, he wanted to start his own cruise in Flint. Yet his inspiration was also fueled by frustration. When Hatch, an Atlas Township resident, attended the Dream Cruise more than 14 years ago, he couldn’t believe what businesses owners were charging classic car owners for parking.
“I found that a little bit offensive,” said Hatch, 72, who drives a late-model Corvette.
Hatch decided to organize a cruise of his own — encouraging local businesses to not charge for parking — and host it the same day as the Dream Cruise.
“Everybody thought I was an absolute idiot. I was called a lot of things,” said Hatch, laughing. “But we started this, and it turned out to be highly successful.”
The 14th annual Back to the Bricks is running through Saturday, with the main cruise down Saginaw Street being held that day. Crowd estimates reach 600,000 spectators for the week and 40,000 classic cars.
Though some view Back to the Bricks and Dream Cruise as competitors, Hatch said he thinks they complement each other.
“We would like to work closer with them to create one big cruise,” said Hatch, noting there’s only a 25-mile difference between the northern boundary where the Dream Cruise ends in Pontiac and southern point of the cruise in Flint. Many participants drive back and forth between the two events, too.
“Between us and them, we could put on one helluva show,” Hatch said. “I think we could even draw more people to Michigan.”
When asked about the partnership idea, Dream Cruise executive director Tony Michaels said he’d have to learn more before commenting on it.
“I would have to understand what’s on their mind to be able to discuss it,” he said.
Another major annual Michigan cruise, the 28th Street Metro Cruise in the Grand Rapids area, attracts more than 250,000 attendees and 15,000 vehicles. The Wyoming Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce started the cruise in 2005 to drive business to the 28th Street corridor when M-6 opened. The cruise this year is being held Aug. 25-26, marking its 13th year.
New this year at the Dream Cruise, Ford Motor Co. is the presenting sponsor, replacing Chevrolet’s sponsorship the past six years. Ford will also host Mustang Alley, a pony car showcase, for the 19th consecutive year as well as its Driving Skills for Life program to teach drivers safety techniques through a virtual reality app.
Michaels said the 16-mile cruise through nine cities is a “true celebration of community and automobile coming together.”
Though there are hundreds of classic car events locally and nationwide, Michaels said nothing changes the legacy of the Dream Cruise.
“It’s as strong as ever,” Michaels said. “It is truly the largest in the nation.”
Like it did for Cox and Hatch, Michaels said the Dream Cruise “touches hearts.”
“This is Americana in its greatest form — the automobile and people caring so much about their collector cars and the nostalgia of it all is amazing to watch and to see,” he said.
The 23rd annual Woodward Dream Cruise
The Woodward Dream Cruise takes place each year on the third Saturday in August. This year, the 23rd Annual Woodward Dream Cruise will be held on Saturday, Aug. 19. The free event runs between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. It takes place along a 16-mile stretch on the historical Woodward Avenue through nine host communities including Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Pontiac and Royal Oak, in Southeast Michigan.