Roadkill Nights 2018 once again lays down a patch in our hearts
What’s the most famous road in the world? Is it New York’s theatre-lined Broadway Avenue? Star-studded Hollywood Boulevard or Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles? Maybe Abbey Road in London? (Most famous crosswalk, at best.) Muscle car fans know the answer: There’s only one stretch of pavement that matters, and it’s Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.
Known these days for the Woodward Dream Cruise, which brings 40,000 classic cars to Detroit in a lopey, lawn-chair-lined, hockey-striped and hood-scooped version of California’s high-class Monterey Car Week, Woodward has been the testing ground and showcase for the hottest Motor City machinery since Henry Ford was cranking out Model Ts at the Piquette Avenue plant less than a mile away.
In the 1950s, cruising culture hit the Ave., and by the 1960s, kids were rolling in the evenings and racing by midnight. Many a legendary muscle car owes its creation to a Big Three CEO hearing about a competitor cleaning up in a street race on Woodward.
Nowadays, you’ll get a pretty hefty ticket for lining up stoplight-to-stoplight, which is what makes the Dodge-sponsored Roadkill Nights event in Pontiac such a jawdropper. Not only is a quarter-mile section of Woodward blocked off for the sole purpose of running police-sanctioned eighth-mile passes, but some of the quickest cars in the country come out to test themselves against the slippery street surface.
Behind it all are the thrill rides and car show at M1 Concourse, a normally private track made open to the public for the day. The 2018 Roadkill Nights was the fourth running of the event, its third at M1, and the turnout did not disappoint. Let’s take a look at some of the most mind-blowing moments.
The Box Corvette blowover
Normally a “blowover” in drag racing refers to a car, usually a dragster, doing a wheelie and reaching a point of no return at the top. At Roadkill Nights, it wasn’t the car that tipped over, but the timing equipment. On the third pass of the morning, the side-exit exhaust on Gary Box’s 1965 Corvette blew 1300-hp-worth of spent gases directly at the timers, and sent it flying into Joe Barry’s orange and white 1956 Chevrolet. The rest of the day was hand-drop starts rather than a Christmas Tree countdown. More authentic, certainly.
The Box Corvette is a well-known street-legal bruiser in the Midwest. It’s instantly recognizable just from the sound, all blower surge and big cam. When you see it, you’ll wonder if you just fell into a Rat Fink cartoon. A 14-71 Blower Shop supercharger sits above a 522-cubic-inch big-block Chevy. It’s backed by a two-speed Powerglide and a Dana rear end. Gary built the car with his son (who was then 10, and now tunes it) more than 20 years ago. It’s all original Corvette bodywork on a steel frame, and it passes Ohio inspection for street driving. Guess they don’t have a “Timing Equipment Safety Test.”
Tire-smoking 1930 Plymouth
In the early days of drag racing, before a slipper clutch took up the slack between power and traction, drivers used to smoke the tires all the way down the strip. With today’s sticky tires and traction compounds, it’s rare to see more than a whiff of smoke at launch, but on the greasy surface of Woodward, it was the golden days again. There were plenty of track-length burnouts, but only Nick Plewniak did it in a 1930 Plymouth sedan that looked straight out of a John Steinbeck novel, at least until you noticed the twin-turbo big-block Chevy between the front rails.
At 27 years old, Plewniak has been building his own cars since he was a kid. He found the Plymouth in a barn (for real, a proper barn find) and worked a full-time job while swapping out the wooden wheels for American Racing five-spokes after hours. Sure, he made a few other changes, including a nearly 10-inch ride-height drop, a full roll cage, and of course that 1200-hp drivetrain. It may not have been the quickest car racing that day, but we’d say Plewniak should get top points for style, even more so because he started his rubber-smoking day out with a flat tire after encountering the railroad tracks leading into the staging lanes (think about that for a second). He still managed to get it fixed and back on track.
M1 Concourse is a private facility, with customer-owned garages stationed around a road course and skidpad. During Roadkill Nights, many owners opened up their collections and boy, if you want to see some rare machines, get yourself to Detroit and start making some friends in high places. In less than 20 minutes we saw a one-owner 1973 Z/28 Camaro, a 1970 Ram Air IV, four-speed GTO, and a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere factory Super Stock car. Incredible, sure, but what really blew our minds was a 1980 Plymouth Fire Arrow SCCA Pro Rally car. Now, that is a rare bird.
A Hellcat shootout
Roadkill Nights is sponsored by Dodge, and while all makes and models were welcome to race and show, the official activities were all FCA. Dodge partnered with the popular Discovery-owned web show Roadkill to host the event, as it was originally the brainchild of Roadkill host David Freiburger. Freiburger was there with co-host Mike Finnegan, as well as hosts from other Discovery TV shows, including Barrett-Jackson presenter Christy Lee, wrestler and Dodge Demon owner Bill Goldberg, Gas Monkey Garage’s Richard Rawlings, and NHRA drivers Leah Pritchett and Matt Hagan.
The plan was to square off in Dodge Hellcats for grudge-style eliminations, but Rawlings literally derailed the race by attempting a full-track burnout that turned into a hard left turn into and up the wall. He should have asked Plewniak for some driving advice. Nobody was hurt, and Bill Goldberg ended up winning the final against Mike Finnegan.
Fire in the streets
NHRA drivers Pritchett and Hagan were at the races, right? Well, the highlight of the day had to be the exhibition passes those two made in the Top Fuel Dragster and Nitro Funny Car. If you thought 1500 hp on the street was something, imagine seeing 10,000 ponies in action.
Obviously, the cars were turned down from race pace, but the fumes and sounds were nonetheless glorious. The whole thing was downright bizarre to behold among street signs and traffic lights.
Just in case the nitro header flames weren’t enough, car customizer Murray Pfaff and his fire-shooting friends took to the track as the sun went down and lit up the night.
As we were leaving we ran into a high-level exec from another car company. “Just call me an OEM insider,” he said with a laugh when we asked if his bosses knew he was at a Dodge event. “This is too good to miss. Woodward has a long history, and believe me, we’re still using it to test our cars today.”