Roadkill Nights is back to kick off Dream Cruise week with legal Woodward drag racing, drifting, Grudge Match

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Drivers, start your engines.

After a year off during the coronavirus pandemic, Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge is back to kick off Woodward Dream Cruise week Aug. 13-14. Presented by Motor Trend, the sixth annual event will feature drag racing on 1/8-mile stretch of Woodward public road in Pontiac with big horsepower, street-legal dragsters vying for a $10,000 prize in front of packed stands.

In additon to the usual street-legal drag racing on Woodward, the sixth annual Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge will feature a Grudge Match between TV and online car celebrities in modified Dodge Hellcats.

Spicing the menu this year will be a Grudge Match. Dodge is handing out $10k each to a select group of four popular online muscle-car celebrities and "Fastest Cars in the Dirty South" TV host Eric Malone to modify a Dodge Hellcat. No rules. Fastest cat wins.

“Being the sixth year, we want to make sure we did something different,” said Dodge chief motorhead Tim Kuniskis in an interview. “The big change this year is that we are going to have the Hellcat Grudge Match. Who's faster? Who's more legit? Is it the TV builder's racers or is it the online guys? This probably is as hotly debated as professional wrestling.”

Dodge is the pro wrestling brand of autodom — the “People magazine of the industry” as Kuniskis likes to put it — and Roadkill Nights is the brand’s biggest stage. It’s a chance to show off its high-powered V-8 muscle cars in their natural habitat and host maybe the only street-legal drag race in the United States.

For the 2021 model year, Dodge offers an insane, Hellcat-powered, 700-plus-horsepower SRT version for every model in its lineup: the 807-horsepower Challenger SRT Super Stock, 797-horsepower Charger SRT Redeye sedan, and 710-horse Durango SRT Hellcat. All told, they boast more ponies than any other American brand.

“We're all about having fun doing burnouts, and just enjoying our muscle cars and the lifestyle that goes along with (it),” said Kuniskis. “This is not (just) a Dodge event, this is open to the entire industry — anybody that loves fast cars. We want everybody to experience this thing that we call the Brotherhood.”

Brothers and sisters will be entertained by 120 invitation-only drag racers on Woodward as well as by interactive experiences at the adjacent M1 Concourse's Champion Motor Speedway and car club. Experiences like tire-smoking drift rides in Challenger and Charger Hellcats, race simulators, classic and modern muscle car shows, dyno testing, food trucks, and more.

One fan favorite that will not return this year: the Mopar NHRA drag racers piloted by Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan. The dynamic duo wowed fans in years past with explosive, nitro-fueled hole shots down Woodward in their Slingshot and Funny Car Dodge dragsters.

The Roadkill circus will be streamed by MotorTrend live with a one-hour "Roadkill Showdown Special" capturing the highlights for MotorTrend TV. MotorTrend TV and online personalities David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan will host.

“Woodward Avenue is the sketchiest place to go drag racing thing I've ever seen,” laughed Finnegan in an interview. The road has “a crown and a crack in both lanes and (stops) in the action every 20 minutes to wait for a train to go by. This place is magical.”

“Dirty South” host Malone will not only be at Roadkill for the first time, but will be competing in the Grudge March.

“I'm not gonna tell everything. But my plan is this car is gonna make over 1,000 horsepower,” he said.

COVID restrictions in Michigan made the event impossible to pull off last year, and this year was uncertain, said Kuniskis, due to “a lot of hand-wringing in the corner from the attorneys and some other people.”

So Roadkill organizers reached out to their 13 million-strong audience to see if the show should go on.

“The response was amazing. Actually exceeded our expectations,” said Kuniskis. “Over 95% said ‘Hell yeah, bring it back immediately.’ That was the reinforcement that we needed.”

In years past, the event has attracted some 50,0000 people over two days. This year, gates will open Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Drag racing starts at 11 a.m.

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