Roadkill Nights brings thunder to Woodward
Pontiac — Thunderstorms washed out much of last year's Roadkill Nights, but the sun shone brightly this year. That didn't mean there wasn't thunder.
Dragsters rumbled down Woodward Avenue towards South Boulevard all day as street legal racing took over Metro Detroit's main street. Leah Pritchett's earth-shaking, ear-splitting, eye-watering display in her 11,000-horsepower slingshot racer was the highlight as she showed off the world's ultimate dragster to the roaring approval of packed grandstands.
From Pritchett to a Hellcat V8-powered Toyota Prius to super-fast paraplegic drag racer Marc Henretta to "Gas Monkey Garage" star Richard Rawlings hitting the concrete barrier (oops), the 2018 Roadkill Nights at M1 Concourse had it all.
This year marked the fourth annual Roadkill Nights — and the second year in which the event kicked off Dream Cruise week.
"I have a question," shouted an excited Pritchett before her senses-assaulting run down Woodward. "Is there anyone but Dodge who can put on a show like this?"
Her nitro-powered Mopar Dodge 1320 Top Fuel dragster led a parade of Hellcats and Demon gas burners down Woodward's 1/8-mile public drag strip Saturday. Nearby, Challenger and Charger Hellcats took thrill-seekers on sideways, tire-burning laps around M1 Concourse's Champion Motor Speedway. Saturday even marked the Detroit debut of the first Hellcat Funny Car dragster - a 10,000-horsepower beast driven by pro Matt Hagan that rocketed down Woodward in Pritchett's wake.
But there were cars for every enthusiast on Roadkill's 660-foot drag srip.
The Hellcat-powered Prius first debuted at SEMA in Las Vegas last year, and it wowed fans with its decidedly non-hybrid run.
"There are only two good uses for a Prius," joked David Freiburger, who co-hosted the races with his "Roadkill" YouTube partner Mike Finnegan. "As a Hellcat dragster or under a tank driven by Feiburfer and Finnegan."
There wasn't a lot of tree-hugging at Roadkill. There was Gary Box of Cleveland, last year's fastest drag racer, who was in his epic, black, 1,300-horsepower Corvette Stingray.
Box was the only car under 6 seconds last year, but this year he had company with two other competitors breaking the six-second mark. As day turned to night, Cox still was top dog, however, with a 5.72 second run.
That's not easy on a crowned, cracked public road. Top Fuel pro Pritchette acknowledged it's a challenge in her slingshot dragster. Still, she was pleased to hit 157-mph in a mere 660 feet. Give her 1,000 feet on a proper race strip and she'll eclipse 320 mph.
But you don't have to be a top dog to have fun at Roadkill. You don't even have to have use of your legs. Paraplegic Marc Henretta of Clarkston wowed with a run down the strip in just 7.4 seconds in his 2016 Charger Hellcat.
"I had a setback but life's still good," said Henretta, 47, at trackside, while he worked on his car from his wheelchair. "I still race cars and I still have fun."
Henretta lost the use of his legs when motocrossing in his 20s. Unfazed, he has equipped his car with hand controls attached to the gas and brake pedals. Made of high-strength aluminum, the rods require the use of both Henretta's hands as he held the car on the line with launch control.
A quick release of the brake pedal and his 707-horsepower steed rockets down the strip as his right hand jumps to the steering wheel for control.
Drag racers must apply to race Roadkill Nights and the event is full of experienced racers. Incidents are rare, but the most spectacular this year occurred in the Celebrity Shootout competition.
Squaring off against Pritchett, "Gas Money" host — and experienced racer — Rawlings put on a tire-burning display out of the box, only the have his Challenger Hellcat snap left and into the Jersey barrier.
Rawlings took it in stride, flashing a smile, while Pritchett advanced to the next round.
As sun set on Woodward, thousands of fans crammed the M1 Concourse gorunds - cheering the racers, ogling car displays, waitng in long lines for thrill rides, and lining up at food trucks for dinner.
The night was young as a full evening of heat racing lay ahead.
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.