Fans race to first Motor City Showdown

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

For hours Saturday, Michael Green heard and spied the glimmering speed demons roaring across the track — burning rubber in their wake and sparking applause.

Driver Lawrence Ateman Jr., of Detroit, sits in his car before his race.


He was among the hundreds of spectators who trekked to Detroit’s Coleman A. Young International Airport for the Motor City Showdown, which is considered the first formal “no holds barred” drag racing event held in the community.

And like others who relish the thrill of a zooming concourse, Green was revved up to revel in the sights and sounds.

“This is awesome,” the Detroiter said as grayish smoke rose above fans crowded near the pit. “I love everything about it.”

The chance to glimpse spectacular, high horsepower cars steered huge crowds to the debut Showdown, a one-day excursion spearheaded by city native and professional racer Brian Olatunji and his group Leadfoot Events LLC.

The mechanical engineer and entrepreneur has long been active with the National Hot Rod Association. And just as competitors go to head to head on the track, he spots a similar thread in how his hometown rebounds in the global landscape.

“Growing up in Detroit, being a race car driver by trade, I’ve had an opportunity to compete in different venues around the world. I wanted to bring that same excitement to my hometown,” he said. “Bringing a major drag racing event, which I something we’ve never had, is a great opportunity to showcase our city in a different light and highlight another sport that speaks to America.”

The event’s fruition capped several years of a “beautiful struggle,” Olatunji said, and he remains it is the first pit stop for what could become an annual outing.

“We hope that this will bring tourism and highlight the city no different than other major events such as the Thanksgiving parade, the auto show,” he said. “We hope that it will be in that same vein.”

Excitement was high as hundreds roamed the airport grounds — many waving fans or carrying umbrellas as the mercury climbed near 90 degrees under a cloudless sky.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig served as the event’s grand marshal and kicked off the competition portion that featured slick roadsters with names such as Blue Thunder, The Almighty and 28 Savage.

Crowds lined the fields to watch the red, black and pink cars streak past, trailing plumes of smoke and emitting ear-piercing peals.

The scene gave Ronda Odden, a longtime drag racing fan from West Bloomfield Township, chills.

“We’ve been waiting for it,” she said between taking pictures near an orange barrier. “It’s time we finally get a place to drag race.”

Besides the contest, other visited sampled lemonade, nachos, French fries and pizza slices from food trucks for businesses such as Andiamo’s and Sweetwater Tavern.

Nearby, dozens snapped photos standing besides a wide array of classic or tricked out displayed on a rectangular swath that included a lime green Dodge Challenger and banana yellow Monte Carlo.

Quante Pryor greeted admirers of his beloved cherry red 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle. The Detroit entrepreneur saw the event as a way to attract more people to the Motor City.

“It’ll definitely bring money,” he said while standing near the open hood revealing a shiny, expensive engine.

Showdown drew auto enthusiasts such as Dean Williams, a Detroit resident who owns several classic cars — including a 1963 Volkswagen with decorative trim.

“This is awesome. Detroit needs it,” he said, gesturing to the crowds surrounding him. “It might be the birth of a trend.”

Elsewhere, Rosalind Simpson toured with her son Raphael, 3, and daughter Teraniyah, 11. The Harper Woods resident hoped the gathering would become a yearly attraction and help curb illegal street racing in the city.

“It’s a great event for the city,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it happening more often.”