Henry Payne: Dream Cruise on track for a post-COVID auto-palooza this August

Henry Payne, The Detroit News
·4 min read

Apr. 8—As Metro Detroit emerges from a long winter and coronavirus pandemic, car enthusiasts' thoughts are turning to Woodward Avenue. After COVID-19 curtailed most official Woodward Dream Cruise functions in 2020, it's looking like all systems go for the late summer, Aug. 21 auto-palooza.

"By then we should be rockin'," says Woodward Dream Cruise Director Tony Michaels.

M1 Concourse in Pontiac — one of the Cruise's epicenters — has confirmed two mega-events that will bookend Cruise week: Roadkill Nights drag-racing on Woodward Aug. 13-14 and the inaugural, Aug.19-21 Woodward Dream Show featuring the Cruise's most coveted cars. Both events were canceled in 2020.

Michaels says that the communities along the Woodward route, venues, and sponsors are already coordinating the summer's premier auto event — a decades-old tradition that, in a normal year, sees more than 1 million people descend on Woodward to celebrate automobiles old, young and mod. Thousands still flocked to "Detroit's Main Street" last year despite the lack of an official stamp.

"We're good to go," Michaels said in an interview. "By the end of August — with the vaccine kicking in — we should have a great resurgence of all thing Dream Cruise."

All things Dream Cruise include not just the third Saturday in August that caps off months of cruisin', partyin', and plain ol' hangin' along the Avenue — but also big sponsored events like Mustang Alley, Berkeley CruiseFest and GM's Birmingham display.

First to firm up plans is the inaugural Woodward Dream Show at M1 Concourse, which dovetails with Dream Cruise weekend.

M1 announced that tickers are on sale for an event that will showcase the best of the Dream Cruise's hot rods, race cars and cruisers. In addition to showing off hundreds of four-wheel toys across M1's 87 acres in Pontiac, the Dream Show will feature a juried competition, food and fashion. M1 Concourse is one of the nation's premier private garage and racetrack facilities.

"We're providing the opportunity (to see) cars that have made the Woodward legend what it is — but you wouldn't see them out on the road today, either out of their historical nature or value," said new M1 CEO Tim McGrane, who formerly managed California's legendary Laguna Seca race track. "We're going to create displays of significant, legendary muscle cars. Put it in an environment that M1 offers with catering and entertainment."

McGrane also confirmed plans for Motor Trend Group's Roadkill Nights. The two-day event takes place on M1 Concourse property parallel to Woodward, offering car shows and track laps in snarling muscle cars. The main attraction is on Woodward itself, which is shut down and converted into a makeshift, 1/8-mile drag strip for legal racing. How legal? Oakland and Macomb County sheriffs squared off for a drag race in 2019.

The event is traditionally sponsored by Dodge, though McGrane did not confirm corporate sponsorship for 2021.

"One of the benefits of M1 is that we are an outdoor venue," said McGrane. "We're working closely with local authorities. Our events are planned not to be large spectator events — we're expecting 10,000 people here. We're keeping aware of what requirements are (and) we want to make it comfortable for attendees."

The Woodward Dream Show kicks off at 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 19 with "Cruisin' M1 Circuit Day." Some 60 invitees — including a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 to numerous '32 Deuce Coupes — will lap the track. Friday features 50 cars that helped shape the American car and cruising culture. The "Cruisin' The Concourse Show" will follow Saturday, showcasing 20 local car clubs and their 100 best steeds.

Tickets start at $100 for one day admission and include access to the Taste of Woodward with upscale food and spirits. Tickets are available for after-hours ticketed events on Thursday and Friday like "Rev Up the Grille" and "Car & Cigars" where attendees can rub shoulders with car owners over BBQ or a cigar.

Dream Cruise director Michaels was also bullish on official late summer gatherings as Detroiters get back to normal.

"The Dream Cruise is spread out over 16 miles of Woodward Avenue outside," he said. "The Board of the Cruise has been smart, hopeful, and responsible."

Of course, the Michigan cruise crowd isn't waiting for official events to gather. The warm April weather has already brought hot cars to local roads on weekends — even weekdays — as enthusiasts shake off winter and gather with hoods propped up.

Facebook pages are alive with notices. Cruisers gathered Tuesday night at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren — the first of regular weekly gatherings. And a car show is scheduled at Pops Sweets an Treats in Mt. Clemens May 2.

"Were all going through events withdrawal," said McGrane. "I think there is going to be a pent-up desire to go out and do what we all used to enjoy, but having been unable to."

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