Roadkill Nights revs up; 30k attendees in Pontiac

Michael Wayland, and Charles E. Ramirez

Pontiac — For the first time ever, drag racing on Woodward wasn’t against the law Friday in Pontiac.

Hundreds of racers dueled on the Woodward’s storied pavement in front of the M1 Concourse as part of Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge.

Fans on Friday seemed to like Roadkill Nights and the other changes to the Dream Cruise they’ve seen.

“It used to be mostly classic cars, but there’s a lot more modern muscle now,” said Ron Lee, 50, of Redford, as he watched a couple of hot rods rocket down the 1/8-mile-stretch of roadway. “I’m torn about it because I like the old ones, but the new ones are phenomenal. I’m okay with more modern cars being around.”

Lee, who admits to being a gearhead, was among thousands who turned up for Roadkill Nights, one of several events this week leading up to the Woodward Dream Cruise today.

But legal drag racing isn’t the only change for the Dream Cruise, the world’s largest single-day celebration of car culture, now in its 22nd year. Once dominated by classic cars, newer high-performance street machines abound. In previous years, the cruise’s focal point was further south on Woodward, but seems to have shifted north to the M1 Concourse.

Friday’s Roadkill Nights at the M1 Concourse was a gala for gearheads, featuring drag races and a car show, as well as the chance to ride in a Dodge Viper or Hellcat on a race track’s skid pad, free of charge.

Tens of thousands were expected at the event, which ran from noon through midnight. About 20,000 people entered through the first three and a half hours of the 12-hour car enthusiast extravaganza, topping the 10,000 who attended the event in the parking lot of the vacant Pontiac Silverdome in 2015. Total attendance for the event was about 30,000, according to event organizers.

“Roadkill” is a YouTube automotive adventure show co-hosted by David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan on the Motor Trend YouTube Channel. It is owned by TEN: The Enthusiast Network, which organized and hosted Roadkill Nights.

“I think this is going to be the most amazing thing we’ve ever been a part of,” said Finnegan, sitting next to Freiburger. Both have been working with Dodge to make the event happen.

The smell of burned rubber wafted through the air and screeching tires could be heard for miles. The event was designed from the beginning for enthusiasts, said Tim Kuniskis, the head of passenger car brands for Fiat Chrysler-North America.

“This idea, this thing that we’re calling Roadkill Nights, people are saying this is amazing that we were able to put something like this together,” he told The News. “This is for those same people. … We just did what they wanted.”

“This drag racing is just epic,” said M1 Concourse founder and CEO Brad Oleshansky. “People are saying this is the best thing to happen in Woodward history. I don’t know about that but I’ll take it.”

Tony Jacob was the first in line for a thrill ride with professional drivers at the wheels of Dodge Chargers, Challenger SRT Hellcats and Dodge Vipers.

“It’s awesome,” said the 60-year-old Croswell resident, a self-proclaimed Mopar Man. “Thrill rides, guess what? I’m in. Especially when it involves speed! I’m in it for the thrill.”

Rob Crawford, 39, with his son Cooper, 8, and father Mike, 68, said they’d like Roadkill Nights to become a new tradition for the three generations of family. He and his family have been coming to the Dream Cruise for 15 years.

“We missed it last year and it’s something special to do on a Friday,”said Rob Crawford of Hamilton, Ontario. “It is trendy — drifting, drag racing and all that. It’s just special to come see this.”

Lee said he likes the M1 Concourse location a lot.

“It’s good that the Dream Cruise spreads out a bit instead of just staying in one area,” he said. “This place has a lot more room. Besides, I don‘t think they could drag race on Woodward in Royal Oak.”

Mick Sullivan, 67, of Richmond, was pleased with the changes, too.

“These newer cars will be cars that some kids will buy 20 years from now,” said Sullivan, who brought his 1967 Ford Bronco truck to display in the show.

Like Lee, he said the M1 Concourse is a great venue for car events like Roadkill Nights.

“Where else can you go? Where else can you race on Woodward Avenue legally?”

Kuniskis said Dodge would like to sponsor Roadkill Nights again but wouldn’t guarantee it’s going to happen.

“It’s not because we don’t want to do it,” he said. “It’s not because the enthusiasts don’t want to see us to do it. It’s because so many things have to come into perfect alignment for it happen.”

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Twitter: @MikeWayland