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Woodward Dream Cruise canceled over COVID-19 concerns

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The 26th annual Woodward Dream Cruise is officially parked.

According to Woodward Dream Inc., community events planned for the occasion, including the Aug. 15 Dream Cruise itself, are canceled due to public health concerns over COVID-19, organizers announced Monday. 

The decision was made Monday and comes after the Dream Cruise posted on Facebook earlier in the month that the event was still "in neutral."

However, the inaugural Woodward Dream Show, a gathering of the best of the cruise at M1 Concourse in Pontiac, is still scheduled to go on in August.

"The Dream Cruise is the largest car event in the world, but there is not a cure for COVID-19, there is not a vaccine," Woodward Dream board president Michael Lary. "We have to be responsible for the we, not the me."

More: COVID-19 puts Dream Cruise at risk, but can you really stop it?

The announcement comes as Woodward was packed Friday and Saturday with cruisers as the summer ritual builds to its Aug. 15 summit. Muscle cars, European sports cars, and jacked trucks preened up Woodward in Royal Oak before taking a 180-degree Michigan turn and heading back the other way.

Other cruisers were content to pitch their hoods and socialize with friends and family in parking lots along the avenue. That scene likely won't change through August. Enthusiasts like Rich Fasi took to the Woodward Dream Cruise Facebook page to voice support: "Before it became a big corporate affair we cruised Woodward — we will ride again!"

Jhan Dolphin, a cruiser and vice president of auto supplier Prefix Corp., said: "I know hundreds of people who are planning to go. Cruising is outdoors, and people are safe in their cars."

What will be missing are the big media and corporate sponsors that normally pepper the sidewalks with concessions and car displays. Venues such as Ford's Mustang Alley, Kids Play Zone, Berkeley Cruise Parade, and GM's Birmingham display will be absent, as will many smaller corporate gatherings as communities deny permits for tents.

Cities on the route long ago canceled their community events like Ferndale's Light & Sirens cruise featuring emergency vehicles.

The Woodward Dream Inc. board, the official sanctioning body for the Cruise, was under heavy pressure from cities to cancel the vent. Three of the nine municipalities along the 10-mile route passed resolutions urging cancellation. None demanded the show go on.

Board president Lary said the rise in cases in Florida and Arizona had an effect on the decision.

"At the beginning of the summer, the conversation was about how a warmer summer climate would help. But there is still concern in June," he said.

"These cities are run by elected officials that have an obligation to their constituents and how a gathering of this size impacts them locally."

Cruisers have flocked to Metro Detroit's main street for decades, and Lary conceded car lovers still have a right to bring their rides and lawn chairs to public property.

He said the state will not shut down M-1 on Aug. 15 and that regulations along the route will vary by community. While governments cannot prohibit businesses from renting their property to cruisers, they will likely deny permits for tents and other installations.

With tens of thousands of cruisers descending on Woodward in August, enthusiasts say organizers missed an opportunity to get out ahead of the event to make it safer.

"No one wants more rules, but people do want guidelines," Dolphin said. "We understand the public health concerns, but that's part of the problem with canceling the Cruise. People don't know what to do, they want a message."

Organizers had planned to coordinate with sponsors to issue public service announcements — both on Woodward between Ferndale and Pontiac as well as over the airwaves — to issue guidance, such as to social distance.

Neighboring states have begun to open to similar events.

At Mid-Ohio race track in Lexington, Ohio, last weekend, the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association held its annual Vintage Grand Prix. Coupled with Trans Am and Formula 4 and Formula Regional pro races, the weekend attracted thousands of fans to the sprawling, raceway complex. 

SVRA organized the event and the venue was chock full of signs for social distancing, officials taking temperature checks and clusters of port-o-johns.  

While Dream Cruise organizers are discouraging attendance at their own event, the Mid-Ohio experience suggests pent-up demand for events even as 36 states have reported increases in COVID increases this month.

"I think it's important to give people some sense of normalcy," said Prefix's Dolphin, whose company organized a cruise event earlier this spring in Rochester. 

Another major event planned for the Aug. 15 weekend is unfazed by the Dream Crusie announcement. The Woodward Dream Show will continue Aug. 13-15 as planned.

Organized by the Pontiac Motorsports Exposition, the event will take over the M1 Concourse car club off Woodward in Pontiac and feature three days of racing, exhibits and food.

It will feature a judged display of the cruise's best American hot rods Aug. 13. Then an auto-themed fashion show and after dark, afterglow party for charity will follow. Aug. 14 will be track-focused with performance car hot laps, wrapping up Aug. 15 with an open invitation to car clubs.

"The Woodward Dream Show is moving forward in planning," CEO Tim Hartge said. "We are designing an event that integrates a variety of protocols, including social distancing and other safety measures. Our event is ticketed, and we are limiting the number of attendees according to guidance from officials." 

The Dream Cruise's charitable mission will take a major hit with the event's cancellation. 

Originally organized in 1995 to raise funds for a community soccer field, the Dream Cruise has benefited charities large and small over the years. Mustang Alley typically raises $100,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, while the Dman Foundation offers charity rides in Birmingham to disadvantaged youth.

"There are many pieces to the Dream Cruise pie," Lary said.

"We are concerned about the non-profit organizations that are going to be negatively impacted. The cruise does a huge amount of good for the community."

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

Staff Writer Ariana Taylor contributed.