Roadkill Nights highlights: Winners, NHRA monsters, and sheriff showdown
Pontiac — Michigan drag racers Jimmer Kline and Alen Danial are the official — legal — drag racing kings of Woodward Avenue for 2019.
That’s right, Woodward Avenue.
MotorTrend Group’s Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge took over Metro Detroit’s iconic main street Saturday in Pontiac for a day of legal drag racing. The wild day of speed included a celebrity shootout, showdown between Oakland and Macomb County sheriffs, and exhibition blasts from two of the most powerful dragsters in the world.
But the evening belonged to Kline and Danial, who won the Big Tire and Small Tire feature drag racing events — and took home $15,000 each for their efforts.
In the fading twilight, Kline powered his ferocious, Big Tire 1966 Pontiac GTO down the 660-foot, makeshift drag strip north of St. Joe’s Hospital to top fellow Michiganian Bryan Rosario in a 1972 Chevrolet Camaro. Danial’s Small Tire 1979 Chevrolet Malibu bested Illinois’ Justin Spiniolas in his 1991 GMC Sonoma.
Kline also clocked the fastest run of the day with an impressive 4.99 second run.
Some 140 racers came from all over the country competed in the event on a public avenue legendary for its illegal drag racing. Thanks to the cooperation of the city of Pontiac, M1 Concourse race club and Dodge, legal racing is allowed once a year to kick off Dream Cruise week. Over two days, the event has drawn thousands of fans — Dodge expected the event to break last year’s record of 44,000 — who packed Woodward grandstands, ogled muscle cars and took thrill rides on M1’s adjacent race track property.
NHRA monsters on Woodward
By far the fastest dragsters down the strip Saturday were the NHRA, Dodge Top Fuel and Funny Car beasts piloted by Leah Pritchett and Matt Hagan, respectively. For the third straight year, they put on an exhibition for the ages.
With a deafening roar at 4.15 pm, Pritchett’s 11,000-horsepower “Angry Bee” Mopar Dodge 1320 Top Fuel Car Dodge/Mopar Top Fuel Dragster disappeared in a cloud of smoke down Woodward.
Her run followed Funny Car-colleague Matt Hagan’s equally insane blast in his nitromethane-burning Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Funny Car — showing off the Widebody style now available on Charger sedan production cars (see more below).
“We love coming here. But my engineer is asking a lot of questions,” Pritchett said with a smile in an interview ahead of their run. “He’s never been here before.”
“I think they are crazy,” laughed Mike Finnegan, Roadkill TV host who also hosts the Woodward event with David Freiburger. “But Leah and Matt are definitely the highlight of this event.”
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard officially endorsed legal racing on Woodward by drag racing against Macomb counterpart Anthony Wickersham.
The friendly rivals both piloted 797-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Redeye coupes. That’s a little more grunt than their daily driver, Ford Explorer police department-issued SUVs.
“No matter what happens, I win,” a smiling Bouchard said in an interview ahead of the race. “If he beats me, that means speeding in Oakland County and I’ll have my officers take him into custody. If he doesn’t speed, I win.”
Looks like Wickersham spent the night behind Oakland County bars. He narrowly beat Bouchard to the line.
The two officers got an opportunity to get comfortable with their high-powered steeds ahead of their competition this week at M1 Concourse, the private race club that has opened its gates to the public for Roadkill Nights. They practiced burnouts on the back straight of M1’s Champion Raceway.
“The trick is to manage the power so you don’t spin the tires at the start,” said Wickersham. “We can’t use launch control. The rules are we start in street mode.”
The two sheriffs are no strangers to horsepower. Wickersham’s first car was a 1973 Camaro Z28 when he was 16 years old. At 20, Bouchard’s first car was a ’68 Camaro stuffed with a 427 horsepower Corvette engine. Huzzah.
Many of the drag racers at Roadkill Nights will leave Woodward to prepare for the next drag race. Not Bill Goldberg.
The World Wrestling Entertainment superstar will return to the ring Sunday night after coming to Roadkill Nights to defend his 2018 Celebrity Shootout title. The Shootout champ wins $10,000 which is then donated to the United Way.
Goldberg is a longtime muscle car fan and has developed a special fondness for Dodge products. “I own a Challenger Demon, Hellcat, Redeye, Viper — I got ‘em all,” he said here.
Racing a Hemi-V8 powered Challenger, he went down in the first round of the shootout this year to NHRA star — and eventual Celebrity Shootout winner — Pritchett. Tough competition.
But Goldberg was undeterred. The 52-year-old had a ball at Roadkill Nights and took encouragement from the fact that another iconic NHRA drag racer, John Force, is still winning races in Funny Car.
“I’m 18 years younger than he is,” said the WWE icon.
Sheriffs vs. The Pros
NHRA Top Fuel superstar Leah Pritchett smoked the celebrity racer field in the Roadkill Nights Celebrity Showdown. But she couldn’t beat Wickersham.
Macomb County’s top law enforcement officer destroyed the Woodward strip in a time of just 7.497 seconds in his drag-off against Bouchard. Pritchett needed 8.045 seconds to get down the 660-foot raceway in her finals win.
To be fair, the sheriffs were piloting 797-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Redeye coupes, while the Celebrity Showdown field — including Pritchett — were behind the wheel of 485-horse Challengers.
The sheriffs always get the high horsepower cars to chase down the bad guys.
It was a postcard-perfect Michigan summer night for families at Roadkill Nights. Kids jumped in Hellcat thrill rides in M1 Concourse, high-fived celebrities like WWE wrestler Goldberg, and ogled “Skittle Row” — the brightly-colored rows of Dodge muscle cars neatly lined up around M1’s campus.
To celebrate the occasion, Dodge gave Detroit its first look at the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat widebody.
Dressed in bright blue, the 707-horsepower beast looks even more muscular with its steroid-swollen fenders. The Charger closed the evening’s festivities by doing a big, loud, smoky burnout in the middle of M1 Concourse’s autocross course.
IndyCars come to Detroit and pull a neck-straining 3-plus Gs (gravitational loads) around the Belle Isle course. Drag racing has no turns — but also puts up impressive G-loads on the human body.
NHRA star and Roadkill Nights celebrity racer Leah Pritchett explains.
“We are doing over 4 Gs when we leave the line,” she says as her 11,000-horsepower Dodge Top Fuel dragster explodes to 100 mph in under 1 second. “But we don’t hit full G until we’re near the end of our 1/8-mile run at over 300 mph.”
Pritchett says data recorders indicate longitudinal forces of up to 6.6 G. Fighter pilots black out at 7 G.
“We cross the line at 320 mph and then the chutes deploy,” Pritchett continues. “That creates forces of negative 5 G. So in the course of a sub-4 second run, Top Fuel racers will experience a range of over 10 G.”
Don’t try this at home
Roadkill was a reminder of why drag racing is only legal on Woodward once a year. Two minor incidents delayed the drag racing in the afternoon when racers kissed the walls.
All drivers in the event are experienced and approved by organizers for racing, but Woodward’s conditions are tricky. Unlike racing drag strips, public roads are crowned in the middle and contain grooves and other imperfections from heavy traffic.
The racers here said the surface makes for tricky conditions. Plus Woodward, um, bends a bit along the 660-foot stretch.
Roadkill Nights drag racing finishing order
Small Tire Top 8
1) Alen Danial, Michigan: 1979 Chevrolet Malibu
2) Justin Spiniolas, Illinois: 1991 GMC Sonoma
3) Rick Steinke, Pennsylvania: 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle
4) Shawn Fensler, Indiana: 2001 Chevrolet Camaro
5) Kenny Laflower, Indiana: 1970 AMC Javelin
6) Adam Hodson, Indiana: 1973 Chevrolet Camaro
7) Nicholas Taylor, Indiana: 1989 Chevrolet Malibu
8) Travis Martin, Indiana: 2001 Chevrolet Camaro
Big Tire Top 8
1) Jimmer Kline, Michigan: 1966 Pontiac GTO
2) Bryan Rosario, Michigan: 1972 Chevrolet Camaro
3) Lil Jimmer Kline, Michigan: 1966 Acadian Canso
4) Daniel Janke, Minnesota: 1964 Plymouth Savoy
5) Joe Barry, Colorado: 1956 Chevrolet Two-Ten
6) David Schroeder, Ontario: 1966 Chevrolet Corvette
7) James Pranis, Pennsylvania: 1968 Dodge Charger (also won $5,000 prize from Dodge for being quickest big tire Dodge car)
8) Mike Mislivec, Michigan: 1982 Pontiac Trans AM
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.