Roadkill Then & Now
7 months ago Showcase
The 2022 Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge, held at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan, was the seventh edition of the incredible automotive festival and I have been fortunate to attend every year as both a member of the media and as a participant in the “Show N Shine”/Cruise-In area. Each year, Tim Kuniskis and his team at Dodge have worked with the folks from the Roadkill show to make Roadkill Nights more exciting for spectators, leading to steady growth each year. In fact, the 2022 event had the largest one-day attendance, with over 40,000 spectators pouring through the gates of M1 to take in the legendary festival of high performance.
Having attended Roadkill Nights every year, the way that the event has evolved from 2015 to 2022 is truly remarkable. Today, we take a look back at the very first Roadkill Nights by Dodge and the events since then, charting how the program has continually improved over the years.
The First Roadkill Nights
The first Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge was held on August 12, 2015 in the parking lot of the old Pontiac Silverdome, which has since been demolished. Dodge set up an eighth-mile dragstrip on the smoothest stretch of the badly worn parking lot. The track wasn’t exactly flat, there were pot holes and patches in the blacktop and there was almost no shutdown area. It was free to race and there weren’t any rules as to who could race, leading to a racing field of more than 200 vehicles – many of which had no business going racing. There were also some very fast cars in the field, which could not stop in the short shutdown area, causing them to crash through the barriers at the end of the temporary drag strip (everyone was unharmed).
A key component of the general racing program that first year was a shootout between the quickest Dodge products in the field, with the winner taking home an SRT® Hellcat HEMI® crate engine, but for the most part, the racing program was just about lining up and racing against whatever was in the other lane. The sketchy track made launching a challenge for many, while the uneven footing and rough pavement made things tough on racers on the top end, but for the most part, the racing program was a huge success.
The main event of the drag racing program that first year was a celebrity grudge match between the crew from Roadkill and the crew from Fast and Loud, including Richard Rawlings. The Roadkill team built a classic Dodge Charger with SRT Hellcat power named General Mayhem, while the Fast and Loud team built an SRT Hellcat-powered 1967 Dodge Dart that they called Shart Cat. Aaron Kaufman drove the Dart to the win in that first Roadkill celebrity shootout, which has become a popular installation of the event.
In addition to the racing program, there was a Show N Shine area with more than 150 vehicles on display, most of which were Dodge, but it was open to all makes and models. More than 10,000 spectators came out to the Silverdome that night and while there, they got to check out plenty of Dodge displays, including new vehicles, apparel for sale and free branded swag. Dodge had a small section of the lot blocked off with concrete barriers where professional drivers were offering thrill rides in the Challenger, Charger and Viper. There were also some food trucks on hand, which was the only aspect of that first Roadkill Nights that wasn’t free. Racers, spectators and show car drivers all got in for free, which surely led to the instant popularity of the event.
In fact, that first Roadkill Nights was so popular that the Dodge brand immediately announced that they would host the event again in 2016.
“The ‘Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge’ came together very organically and in a very short amount of time. Not knowing what to expect, we planned for this to be a one-time-only event, but after experiencing the incredible performance enthusiast turnout, and after hundreds of requests to do it again, we’ve committed to teaming back up with Roadkill to do it again next year,” said Tim Kuniskis when discussing Roadkill 2015. “We don’t know when or where, but trust us, it will be even bigger and better.”
The event at the Silverdome was so much fun that everyone who attended in 2015 was excited for the next version the following year, but we really had no idea how crazy Dodge and the Roadkill crew would get for 2016.
Roadkill Goes Street Racing
When the Dodge team announced the details for the 2016 Roadkill Nights event, enthusiasts were blown away at what the brand had accomplished. First, they moved the venue from the parking lot of the out-of-business Silverdome to the brand-new M1 Concourse road racing facility. Second, rather than having the racers sprint down the long straightaway at M1, Dodge made a deal with the local authorities to close the stretch of Woodward Avenue that runs in front of the facility and offer legal street racing.
With the move to the nicer facility, Roadkill Nights was no longer free to everyone. To help weed out vehicles that don’t belong in a drag racing field, all racers had to apply and the entry fee was $50, but there was a total cash prize of $19,000 to Dodge racers. Other makes were permitted in the racing field, but they weren’t competing for cash. The Show N Shine was still free, as was spectator admission.
It sounded crazy, but as you might imagine, the spectacle of watching legal street racing in the Motor City was a huge draw, with more than 30,000 spectators and more than a thousand cars in Show N Shine. The move to M1 allowed the Dodge team to offer a more organized Thrill Ride program on the skid pad, along with all sorts of Dodge branded apparel, displays and freebies.
The key issues with the 2016 Roadkill Nights by Dodge were due to the fact that the event tripled in size in a new venue with new employees. The rush of vehicles showing up when gates opened overwhelmed the gate workers, leading to long lines to get in and a bit of a chaotic mess for the parking situation.
Much of the venue was unfinished or under construction, leading to loads and loads of dust. Every car in the track area was coated in dust after a few hours, but other than the lengthy entry and the dust, the move to M1 was nothing but positive. The dust ended up being an issue for a few years, but as the venue has continued to build-out, there is less dirt and less dust. At the 2022 Roadkill Nights, the cars in the Cruise-In area (formerly the Show N Shine area) were just as clean when they left as when they arrived. Also, as the staff at M1 has grown and gained more experience, everything pertaining to the venue runs like clockwork. There were really no organizational issues in the in-track portions of Roadkill Nights this year and it is truly remarkable how much the M1 Concourse has evolved in less than a decade. What was once a vacant lot in an rough area is now a world-class private motorsports facility and they are kind enough to open their doors to Dodge and Roadkill once a year for an awesome event.
Continued Evolution of Roadkill Nights
Since moving to M1 Concourse in 2016, Dodge has hosted Roadkill Nights with legal street racing on Woodward Avenue every year except for 2020, when COVID put a stop to pretty much everything. Each year, the Dodge brand has added aspects to improve the event, but the basics have remained the same. There is a drag racing program on Woodward Avenue which includes some sort of celebrity grudge match, but for the past few years, the big cash prizes have been open to all makes and models. However, in addition to the class winners in Small Tire and Big Tire, Dodge awards the quickest Dodge racer in each of those classes with a $5,000 check as well. Also, as the racing has become more exciting, the event organizers have worked to make it easier to watch, adding large sections of grandstands alongside Woodward Avenue.
The Show N Shine area, now called the Cruise-In area, is still huge; packed with a Dodge-heavy mix of all kinds of cars, trucks, vans and SUVs. The Cruise-In area got popular enough that there is now a registration fee, but the first group of Dodge vehicles get in for free.
Over the years, the Thrill Ride program grew to include a second area so attendees could ride with a professional driver on the skid pad or on the back section of the M1 Concourse race track with less of a wait for either area. The SRT Demon simulators were added in 2017, allowing spectators to experience the feeling of lifting the front wheels on a hard launch, and those have become a mainstay at Roadkill and other Dodge events around the country.
Roadkill Nights 2018 was so popular that Dodge decided to host a two-day version for 2019, with access to all of the in-track fun on Friday the 9th followed by a day of legal street racing on Saturday the 10th. As a result, that year drew more than 50,000 spectators over the course of two days with the promise of something even greater in 2020. Sadly, COVID hit the United States a few months later and in 2020, pretty much everything in Metro Detroit was canceled, including Roadkill Nights.
However, the event was back for 2021 with all of the features that made the previous years so popular. The legal street racing program, the Cruise-In area, the Thrill Rides, the food trucks and all sorts of Dodge displays came back after COVID, drawing more than 38,000 spectators to the facelifted M1 Concourse.
Finally, in 2022, the event drew more than 40,000 spectators and for those who havent attended for a few years, the changes to the M1 Concourse are amazing. In the early years, the portion of the road racing facility closest to Woodward Avenue was undeveloped, but that area is built up, leading to a completely different feel and a much more organized look overall.
We don’t know how long Tim Kuniskis and his team at Dodge will continue to work with the Roadkill shop to host Roadkill Nights at M1 Concourse, but over the past eight years, it has become one of the most exciting and most anticipated automotive events in Metro Detroit. While the industry might be shifting away from the kind of vehicles that are most common at Roadkill Nights, this is an event that should be able to draw crowds for years to come. What started as an impromptu, pop-up automotive festival in the parking lot of an out-of-service NFL stadium has grown to be one of the most unique and most elaborate annual automotive events in the world.