Three summers ago, Dodge, Roadkill and the city of Pontiac, Michigan, created a modern gearhead legend with a little something called Roadkill Nights, the first legal drag race event ever held on Woodward Avenue. The first year was set up at the old Pontiac Silver Dome. The second year, Dodge upped the ante and moved it to historic Woodward Avenue. Set on a half-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue next to the M1 Concourse in Pontiac (the former GM Truck and Bus factory), the Roadkill Nights 1/8-mile drag strip was an instant success, attracting tens of thousands of spectators and 150 very lucky first-come-first-serve racers.
Thanks to the incredibly open-minded attitude shown by Pontiac city officials and Roadkill’s safety-first mandate, police officers didn’t write a single “exhibition of speed” or “illegal starting procedure” citation. Rather, local police officers enjoyed the spectacle, often cheering the winners along with the crowd in the grand stands. To ensure safety, Roadkill set up a thorough NHRA-style pre-race tech inspection and even included driver breathalyzer testing.
By contrast, chirping the tires anywhere else on Woodward – let alone making a full throttle 1/8-mile pass at over 100 mph – during the summer cruising season is a surefire way to attract stern police attention and fines that start at $800. To make sure the tens of thousands of summertime Dream Cruisers got the message, mobile police booking stations were stationed on the grass median of Woodward Avenue every mile or so.
Just ask Fast ‘N Loud TV star Richard Rawlings. A couple years ago, he executed a perfect 180-degree power slide aboard a fresh Viper a dozen miles up Woodward in Royal Oak, Michigan. It was crisp, quick and of no immediate harm to passers-by. Unfortunately, the Royal Oak police department has an understandable zero-tolerance policy on any kind of showmanship behind the wheel. Despite recognizing the Gas Monkey Garage magnate, the responding officer issued an expensive (four figure) ticket. The event was posted on social media and went viral by sunset, so Richard made out okay in the end and his empire continues to grow.
But down the road in Pontiac, Michigan, Roadkill Nights is the perfect – if temporary – antidote. Within its 24-hour lifespan, the event transforms a couple thousand feet of Woodward Avenue into a proper drag strip with spectator grand stands, cement retaining walls, a burnout box, electronic starting and timing gear, television cameras and a highly prepared launch pad for maximum traction. Inside the adjoining M1 Concourse facility, there’s a car show, vendor displays, food and drink, and the Dodge Thrill Ride showcase where fans can ride shotgun aboard Dodge SRT® Hellcats drifting and dragging all day long.
For my part, I was invited to co-host a live eleven-hour podcast on Dodge.com during the third annual 2017 Roadkill Nights event. With Velocity Channel TV star Cristy Lee (of Barrett-Jackson and All Girls Garage) roaming the pit area and interviewing racers for the camera, we brought the Roadkill Nights action to thousands of internet-fed TV screens across the globe on Dodge.com. My broadcast booth was conveniently located next to the starting line so I could see, hear, smell and accurately report on the hundreds of full throttle drag races that took place on that historic day.
Let’s remember, unauthorized street racing is illegal, dangerous and gives us all a bad name. But when open-minded city fathers cooperate with professional event organizers, danger levels plummet, the fun-factor sky rockets and folks start asking “why haven’t we been doing this all along?” The only downside is minor inconvenience for locals, who have to use detours to get around the closed-off section of Woodward Avenue. But again, it’s all over in 24 hours and we’re told most Pontiac residents love the event – and the money it brings to local business.
I’ll be there again this year, trackside at the third running of Roadkill Nights at the M1 Concourse on August 11, along with Cristy Lee, the cast of Roadkill and many special guests. If you can’t make the event, fear not, tune into DodgeGarage.com as we will be livestreaming all day again this year. Until then, let’s review some of last year’s highlights.