For those who are out of the loop, Woodward Ave. stretches from literally the Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit (home of General Motors) to downtown Pontiac, MI (former home of Pontiac Motor Division. Woodward is designated by the Michigan Department of Transportation as state trunk line. It is one of the most culturally-significant stretches of pavement in the United States.
The road has its origins in the Saginaw Trail, which was utilized by Native Americans to connect the Cities of Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, and Saginaw. The name “Woodward” is derived from the man Augustus Woodward, former chief justice of the Michigan Territory. “The Woodward Plan” was conceived after Detroit’s “Great Fire” in 1805, which decimated the entire city. Woodward based his plan upon Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s “L’Enfant Plan” which laid out the streets for Washington D.C.
Woodward was home to many firsts. In fact, the significance was recognized by the Federal Highway Administration as both a “National Scenic byway” in 2002, and an “All-American Road” in 2009. The first mile of paved road was laid on Woodward in 1909. Henry Ford first constructed the Model T in his Paquette plant 0.3 miles off of Woodward. In 1910 he opened the infamous Highland Park Plant, located directly off of Woodward. In 1917, the first “crow’s nest” traffic control tower, the precursor to traffic lights, was constructed at Woodward and Michigan Ave. in 1917. Subsequently, the first automated traffic light was later constructed at that same intersection a mere 3 years later.
Nobody is exactly sure when the first race occurred on Woodward, but one could hypothesize that it occurred long before any of the above occurred. Since the beginning of time, man has felt the urge to compete against one another. Perhaps the first race happened on foot, or between two Native Americans atop their horses. Henry Ford first drove the Model T prototype(s) on Woodward Ave. after their completion to the Piquette Plant.
Racing and cruising has always been a part of Woodward lore. In the 50s and 60s, it was THE cruising spot for youths and adults alike. Many engineers from the Big 3 (and American Motors) tested the best iron Detroit had to offer against all comers during those warm summer nights. The stories seem to be taken right out of “American Graffiti” or “Two-Lane Blacktop.” On any warm night, auto enthusiasts travel from around SE Michigan to converge on this significant stretch of road. Today, you are just as likely to spot a Honda or Subaru as you are a Corvette or Mustang. Don’t worry, plenty of American Muscle still cruises Woodward just as they did 40 years ago.
1994 held the first Woodward Dream Cruise (WDC) as a means to raise money for a new soccer field in Ferndale. A mere 35,000 people were expected to attend. After the event was held, it was estimated that over 250,000 people were in attendance. The route begins at 8 Mile Road (Detroit/Ferndale border) to the northern terminus in downtown Pontiac. The event takes place every third Saturday of August. Known as “The Largest Single-Day Classic Car Event in The World,” the WDC attracts around 40,000 classic automobiles alone! Attendance numbers normally hover around 1.5 million! It is held on the third Saturday of August. This is a “must see” for anyone with even a passing interest in cars.
Enough with the history lesson; I imagine that 99.9% of the people reading this article (all 5 of you) are from the Detroit area, and/or are fully aware of Woodward and the Dream Cruise. I’m here to tell you why I am not going this year, and why you shouldn’t waste your time.
1) It’s too crowded. Yes, this is a personal thing. However, I see no joy in spending 4 hours to traverse 32 miles. It is even worse driving something with a manual transmission. I am fully aware that several manufacturers and tuning companies have displays throughout the area. I will admit that there are normally as many great cars parked along Woodward as there are actually cruising. Have you ever tried to find a parking place during the cruise? Good luck doing that if you’re an average Joe. Unless you have connections, or a very significant car (the Superbird gets you premium parking almost anywhere), you are pretty much out of luck. Several businesses will rent you their lot for the weekend. Expect you and your friends to be out a few thousand dollars at a MINIMUM.
2) The cars are nothing special. Perhaps I am extremely fortunate, but I am quite jaded by the cars you see out. If you live in Iowa or Nebraska, I’m sure you’re salivating at seeing a COPO Camaro or Ford GT a few feet in front of you. Around here, you have a chance to see any of these (and more) on any summer night cruising Woodward. As a bonus, you can actually hear guys open them up, and drive your own car while doing it! If you want to see cool cars, The Henry Ford is open on most days. Hell, The Lingenfelter Collection holds several charity events throughout the year. Ken’s collection has more Corvettes and Supercars than all of your wet dreams can handle.
3) The road is nothing special. It is open 365 days per year. You can drive on it anytime you’d like. Go on a Saturday Morning. Attend “Parking at Pasteiner’s” (the original Cars & Coffee) on a Saturday Morning. It’s located at Pasteiner’s Auto Zone Hobbies (33202 Woodward Ave, Birmingham, MI). Check out the beautiful cars that are parked there on any given weekend. Pick up a copy of Evo or Autocar magazine, swoon over the myriad of die-cast models on display, and even pick up your “Woodward” automobilia. As a bonus, you can actually go for a drive afterward!
4) Spectators are annoying. If I had a dollar for every drunk redneck yelling “light them up” I would be driving a new 458 instead of a 10 year old Z06. Everyone seems oblivious to the fact that the car in front of me is worth $250,000 and I don’t feel like rear-ending him. I’ll let it slide that a set of rear tires for a C5Z cost more than 3 months of said redneck’s lot rent.
5) Police are everywhere. Disclaimer: I have nothing but the utmost respect for LEOs, but let’s get real here. How much fun can you truly have with the boys in blue posted up every 1000 feet, passing out citations as though those fines fund his salary for the year. Better yet, save up your pennies and buy your own car. This way you can actually, I don’t know, take part in the event. You can then do as many burnouts as your heart (or your pocketbook) desires.
6) I actually enjoy driving. I know this is directly related to point 1. The fact is, why would I spend a few hours walking around or stuck in traffic when I can drive on legitimately any other stretch of road. Why not explore the beautiful roads around the rest of Michigan? Sure, the Detroit area is very flat. However, once you get out of the urban sprawl, there are miles of smooth road to traverse. Perhaps take a trip out to the Irish Hills, or see what northern Michigan has to offer. There’s a lot of great driving in this state, and plenty of small cafes and bars to stop into for lunch.
Some of you may be asking, “What will you be doing on Saturday, since you’re too good/pretentious/smug to attend the Dream Cruise?” If you must know, I’ll be racing on Saturday. One of my best friends spends a lot of money trying to turn his car left at Flat Rock Speedway on Saturday nights. I’ll be there working on his car, hoping that he can turn left a little faster than the next guy. While watching a parade of beautiful (and a lot of shitbox) vehicles creep by you at 1mph may be enjoyable at times, I find it much more exciting to watch grown men compete for $50 and possibly a plastic trophy. That’s what it is all about anyway, isn’t it?