American Festival of Speed aims to be major car event in Pontiac

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Pontiac – Imagine the sounds of supercars on the track. The sights of people ogling the latest cars for charity. Manufacturers spinning their muscle cars on the skid pad. Imagine it, not in Detroit, but in Pontiac.

The American Festival of Speed is coming in fall 2021 as Pontiac’s M1 Concourse aims to become the site of one of the premier automotive events in the U.S.

Paired with another new event called the Woodward Dream Show — which debuts this August during what is supposed to be Woodward Dream Cruise week — the events will be coordinated under the umbrella of the Pontiac Motorsports Exposition. They will be explicitly modeled after the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival, England's world-renowned motoring exhibitions.

The events come as the North American International Auto Show tries again in June 2021 to reinvent itself in downtown Detroit as a Goodwood-like outdoor festival after the pandemic shut down its first event this year.

Pontiac Motorsports Exposition CEO Tim Hartge acknowledges what he sees as the friendly rivalry between the shows.

“But we have a race track,” he said while overlooking the 1.5-mile Champion Motor Speedway here. “We’ve got an experiential marketplace. It hits all the senses. The NAIAS doesn’t have that.”

The M1 Concourse in Pontiac, which has been the home of events associated with the Woodward Dream Cruise, will host a major car event in fall 2021 known as the American Festival of Speed.

Where Goodwood's events takes over the estate of English nobleman Lord March, the Motorsports Exposition events will occupy M1 Concourse, a private club for auto owners.

“We’re modeling it after Goodwood, and we want manufacturers to come, too. The theme of both shows is 'Past, Present and Future,' which is cool because we want to bring electric-sports racing out here, too," said Hartge, a motorhead who drives a Ford Mustang Bullitt. "We want to have a demonstration of these kind of cars. And we’ll give the manufacturers a chance to do a demo day if the want to bring out their Hellcats or their GT500s.”

M1 gave a glimpse of its Festival of Speed future when it hosted four classic Shadow Can Am race cars on the track last Friday. The foursome — one of them fired by a 1,000-horsepower Chevy V-8 – made the earth shake at M1, which has broken ground on a fancy events facility that will be a festival centerpiece.

Goodwood’s Festival of Speed is a Disneyland of automotive attractions — past shows have featured everything from race cars suspended on giant Popsicle sticks, to the premiere of the 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 — that attracts some 150,000 people each year.

The 2021 American Festival of Speed will carry the theme "Past, Present and Future," showcasing classics like these Shadow Can Am cars that lapped the M1 Concourse in Pontiac last week.

The American Festival of Speed will sport its own automotive royalty next year when it honors Jim Hall, the legendary race driver and entrepreneur who powered his 1960s Chaparral Can Am cars with Chevy engines. Hall will bring three of his priceless Chaparrals and will be honored with the festival’s first Master of Motorsports Award. Hartge says the Chaparrals will make a tour of the track between regular, timed runs of international supercars just like the hillclimb course that anchors Goodwood’s weekend.

European luxury-makers have vacated the Detroit auto show, but as the 2020 Cayman intro suggests, they might find the upscale digs of M1 more enticing.

“Static car shows have a problem. Manufacturers and the public want experiential events,” said Hartge. “We have all the senses engaged here on 87 acres.”

Pontiac Motorsports Exposition has ambitions beyond just sleek chariots. Like the NAIAS has benefited Detroit, Hartge says the American Festival of Speed — to be held Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2021 — is part of a much larger vision for Pontiac. The festival will even have a major charity event, called the Charity Ball, like the Detroit auto show.

For a taste of what the facility can do, the Woodward Dream Show will debut this Aug. 13-15 during what is traditionally Woodward Dream Cruise week. But with cities from Ferndale to Birmingham canceling Dream Cruise events because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dream Show could become a focal point.

The American Festival of Speed in Pontiac will be modeled after Britain's Goodwood Festival of Speed, pictured here.

M1 Concourse has already become the unofficial launch of Cruise week with the annual Roadkill Nights blowout — though the event has been sidelined this year. Sponsored by Dodge for the last five years, it showcased drag racing on Woodward for about 47,000 attendees while offering hot laps on the race track and drifting around M1’s skid pad.

Acknowledging concern about the coronavirus, Hartge said tickets will help regulate crowd size and will be sold online to minimize hand-to-hand contact. The Dream Show will conform to government and social distancing guidelines. M1 will offer sanitizing stations, gloves and masks.

Three days of racing, exhibits and food are planned. The Dream Show will open Aug. 13 with a judged display of the Dream Cruise's best American hot rods. An auto-themed fashion show and After Dark-Afterglow party will follow. Aug. 14 will be track-focused with single-lap, timed runs featuring performance cars. Aug. 15 is an open invitation to car clubs to take over M1’s lawns and asphalt.

The event will be capped off Aug. 15 with a Woodward Avenue parade to Pontiac’s downtown loop and Wide Track Drive.

"Pontiac is the next place besides Detroit that is natural for rehabilitation," said Hartge who notes M1 Concourse sits on the site of a former GM plant that dates to 1908. "Let’s help the businesses here. The goal is to put Pontiac back on the map as an automotive capital."

Woodward Dream Show

Aug. 13: noon to 8 p.m.

Aug. 14:  9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Saturday, Aug 15: 9 a.m.-7 p.m.

Tickets (on sale in July): $35, single day. $57.50, 2-day pass. $85, three-day pass. All-day parking is $15.

For tickets, visit

American Festival of Speed

Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2021

Details pending.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.