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At Roadkill Nights in Pontiac, visitors can go drifting in a 2019 Dodge Charger SLT Hellcat with 707 hp Daniel Mears, The Detroit News

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Pontiac – The run-up to the 25th annual Dream Cruise opened with a roar Friday as MotorTrend Group’s Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge took over the M1 Concourse.

Muscle-car fans poured into the motorsports track to ogle 700-plus-horsepower Challenger and Charger Hellcats, take thrill rides and witness dyno and smokey-burnout contests. 

For the fifth year, the Dodge-sponsored event officially kicks off two weekends of Woodward Dream Cruise mania that culminates Aug.17 in America’s longest traffic jam as auto enthusiasts cruise from Pontiac to Ferndale.

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The festivities ramp up Saturday, Aug. 10, as Roadkill Nights extends the fun to Woodward Avenue. The street north of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac is shut down at 11 a.m. for a day of street-legal,one-eighth-mile drag racing.

Thousands of attendees will cheer on 140 licensed drag racers into the twilight Saturday as they vie for a $30,000 purse. They will get an earth-shaking exhibition from NHRA superstars Leah Pritchett and Carl Hagan when they do slingshot runs in their 10,000-horsepower dragsters.

Even local law enforcement will join the fun as Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and Macomb Sheriff Anthony Wickersham face off for a drag-racing duel in 797-horse, Dodge Challenger SRT Red Eye Widebody monsters.

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A Dodge Charger competes in a burnout contest Friday at Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News

“It’s nice to be part of kicking off the Dream Cruise,” said Dodge Challenger brand manager Kevin Hellman (yes, he drives a Hellcat). “We get to show what our cars are capable of up here. And after some rain the last two years, we’ve got a really good weather report for the weekend.”

Saturday’s drag racing will be hosted by TV car guys David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan of the popular Motor Trend Channel show “Roadkill Nights.” The pair will record an episode of their show at 6:15 p.m. Saturday on the Woodward drag strip.

“This event is one of the highlights of our year,” Freiburger said in the Roadkill paddock Friday surrounded by Dodge muscle. “The top moment is when Leah and Carl pull out (their) dragsters and explode down the strip.”

Pritchett and Hagan return this year in, respectively, their Dodge Top Fuel and Funny Car dragsters that rattled eardrums and watered eyes last year. Burning nitromethane fuel in specially built Hemi V-8 engines, the two dragsters are a visceral sensation down the 660-foot Woodward strip.

Hagan’s car will debut the Hellcat Widebody on his Funny Car dragster (Funny Cars have full bodies, unlike Top Fuel dragsters). That Widebody look was ubiquitous around the M1 Concourse grounds as both of Dodge’s iconic Challenger coupe and Charger sedans are now available with the muscular wheel-well additions.

Fans lined up to get tire-shredding thrill rides in high-horsepower Hellcats – the 717-horse Challenger and 707-horsepower Charger – with pro drivers like Jason Quinn, who steered his beast effortlessly around pylons in M1’s skid pad Friday.

“These cars are just so capable,” he said after a growling, tire-screeching lap. “We go through a set of rear tires every two hours, but the fronts will last all day.”

From the Woodward grandstand Saturday, fans will get to watch drivers compete for $30,000 in prize money split between two classes, Big Tire and Small Tire. Another $10,000 purse will be donated to the United Way as part of a Celebrity Showdown Drag Race that will include Freiburger, Finnegan and other top drivers.

Behind the fun, of course, is a business plan as Dodge hopes the thrills will lead to sales in the showroom. Roadkill Nights has been a hit since it moved to M1 four years ago from the Pontiac Silverdome. Last year, 44,000 people walked through the gates and another 4.1 million tuned in via Dodge’s social media channels.

Roadkill’s popularity inspired Dodge to expand the event to Friday this year as a two-day affair.

Families who experience the Hellcats will be pleased to know that there are Challengers and Chargers with less, um, hellish capabilities. While the Dodge siblings are available in three different  Dream Cruise-friendly V-8s, they can also be had in a more-civilized, 300-horse all-wheel drive V-6 package for all-season driving.

Dodge Charger Brand Manager Ashton Munoz says the all-wheel drive muscle cars have proved popular with all-wheel Charger sales hitting 18% of sales volume last year.

But there is no doubt the bad-boy Hellcat has remade the brand, vaulting sales to No. 2 in the segment behind only the Ford Mustang.

“I see more and more moms with kids driving around in Hellcats,” Munoz says.

They’ve no doubt been infected by Roadkill’s need for speed. When they aren’t watching drag racers launching down Woodward, drifting in a Hellcat, watching freestyle motocross stunt shows — or bellying up to food trucks across the grounds — fans can climb into a simulator and test their skill behind the wheel of an 840-horsepower Challenger DSRT Demon, the most powerful Dodge on the road.

MotorTrend Group’s Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge

Events take place on Woodward Avenue near St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, and at the nearby M1 Concourse motorsports track.

Friday

Through 9 p.m.: Events at M1 Concourse

Saturday

10 a.m.: Gates to M1 Concourse open, with muscle, vintage and classic cars; Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat thrill and drift rides; and dyno testing

11 a.m.: Drag racing begins on Woodward with open qualifying sessions

11:30 a.m.: Freestyle motocross show (behind bleachers)

4 p.m.: Open drag racing qualifying concludes

4:15 p.m.: Leah Pritchett and Matt Hagan top fuel exhibition burnouts on Woodward

4:45 p.m.: Celebrity shootout begins on Woodward Avenue

5:45 p.m.: Top 8 shootout driver announcements

6 p.m.: Sheriff Showdown: Macomb County’ Sheriff Wickersham and Oakland County’ Sheriff Bouchard will compete in a drag-racing grudge match

6:30 p.m.: Flamethrower and wheelstander exhibition run

8 p.m.: Freestyle motocross show

8:30 p.m.: Top 8 shootouts begin (small tire and big tire)

9 p.m.: Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat thrill and drift rides conclude; top 8 winners awards ceremony

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