If your town is like most in this country, you have cruise nights at local shopping centers or burger joints where “car people” can gather, show off their pride and joy, and swap lies (er, stories…) with friends old and new. And, if you’re lucky, your town or one nearby may be cashing in on the publicity and hospitality generated by a large crowd, by blocking off one of the main streets on a Saturday night for a large-scale car show and block party.
Such gatherings are good family fun and a great way to show off restored stock cars or custom street rods, and often involve a contribution to a worthy charitable cause as well. Such is the nature of the car guy or girl throughout the country that invented, and sustains, hot rodding.
So where would you look for the biggest and best cruise night in the country?
Why right in the heart of the U.S. auto industry.
The Motor City.
That’s right. Metro Detroit.
And, just suppose that you were hoping to find more than a static display of hot rods, customs, and restored originals. Suppose you were looking for real cruising — y’know, the kind of cruising portrayed in the movie American Graffiti. And the kind of cruising that those of us of — ahem — a certain age — actually participated in, in younger days. You know, real V-8s thumping through glass-pack mufflers, 5-spoke Cragar SS wheels glistening in the street lights, even the whine of the occasional blower hiding subtly (or not so subtly…) under a hood or two.
If the thought of more than forty thousand hot rods rumbling down a main drag sounds like your kind of car show, then you need to put the Woodward Dream Cruise on your summer calendar.
Yup. Forty thousand cars. On the move. On a sixteen mile stretch of one of the most storied boulevards in hot rod history — Woodward Avenue, the Metro Detroit area. August 20, 2011.
How Do They Do It?
That’s kind of like the would-be musician wandering through Times Square asking a passer-by, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
The standard reply? “Practice, practice, practice.”
And that’s just how the folks in Michigan manage to do it, after some fifteen years of practice with ever-growing numbers of cars and spectators.
Originally conceived as a fund-raiser for an athletic field in the Detroit suburbs, the Woodward Dream Cruise has grown into a world-class event under the auspices of a registered non-profit corporation, and with the able assistance of thousands of volunteers. Funding is provided by sponsors that include local media outlets, local businesses, and even the Salvation Army, all of whom provide support that allows the event to be free to participants and spectators alike.
As a result, the managing committee and all of the other volunteers are now in their 16th year of presenting this extraordinary event, and have perfected their techniques in marshalling, crowd control, traffic flow, emergency preparedness, and other necessary tasks. This allows them to conduct an event that is fun, safe, very family-friendly (and alcohol-free…), and surprisingly well-organized.
But Why Do They Do It?
A combination of factors. First and foremost, they do it as a celebration of the hot-rodding spirit, a uniquely American creation. Street rods, stockers, modifieds, and full-customs are all part of the genre that is American hot-rodding at its very best. And the event is conducted in the region that is synonymous with American car design and manufacturing. With participants actually “cruising,” and not just part of a static display, spectators are able to savor the sounds and smells that help define the hobby.
A second reason for the event is that it is very good business. A recent study revealed that the Woodward Dream Cruise provides the area with business approaching sixty million dollars, giving it the distinction of providing the greatest economic impact of any event, ever, in the entire state of Michigan, eclipsing even that of the 2006 Super Bowl held at nearby Ford Field.
A third reason for this event is philanthropic, with more than 100 local charities and non-profits benefiting from the proceeds generated by sales of official merchandise and refreshments.
And no list of purposes would be complete without mentioning civic pride, for a region that has seen more than its share of ups and downs in turbulent economic times. The event is a tremendous morale-booster for a metropolitan area that deserves far more positive publicity than it receives.
So Just What Do They Do?
Specifically, organizers dedicate an extraordinary 16-mile stretch of legendary Woodward Avenue as it wends its way through eight suburban communities. While still officially open to local traffic, during the day of the Cruise most of the vehicles navigating this roadway are hot rods in the two outer lanes in each direction, with local traffic for those with the courage, using the inner lanes.
Spectators line virtually the entire stretch of the Cruise. A festive party atmosphere keeps the focus on the cars and the people who own/drive/built/love them. Given the alcohol-free nature of the event, behavior problems are few. And a prevalent and positive police presence, on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles, helps assure the safe, fun nature of the event. Plus, a network of additional volunteers serve as observers, reporting any errant activities by drivers or spectators. It all works very well.
Local restaurants and stores and shops do a booming business, as do hotels and other hospitality-related businesses. They must, since the event, with its 40,000+ vehicles, draws a crowd that numbers more than a million and a half people, making it the world’s largest one-day automotive event.
In addition, local fields and parking lots double as staging areas and show fields, where spectators can wander amongst hot rods of every description, and talk with car owners about the history and engineering displayed in the vehicles.
What Do I Have To Do To Attend?
Just make your hotel reservation early and show up. No pre-registration is needed or available, for cars or for spectators. That’s part of the beauty of this event. While being very well organized in terms of logistics and safety, it is also surprisingly impromptu, in keeping with the heritage of the days when hot rodders would gather informally at a local burger joint for gab sessions, girl-watching, and the occasional (OK, often more than occasionally…) challenge to a drag race on a deserted nearby two lane road.
But that’s what hot rodding was, is, and always will be — cars, girls, and coming of age.
And that’s a good thing.
more information at www.woodwarddreamcruise.com
by Glen Quagmire