Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Royal Oak
Dream Cruise celebrates 20 years without pomp
By Robert Guttersohn and Tiffany Esshaki
Posted August 13, 2014
ROYAL OAK/BIRMINGHAM/ BLOOMFIELD — Communities along Woodward Avenue are gearing up for another weekend of excitement as the annual Woodward Dream Cruise celebrates two decades of classic cars and family fun.
Jim Ellison, the mayor and a lifelong resident of Royal Oak, says cruising Woodward Avenue as a teenager was about two things: fast cars and girls.
“And the faster car you had, the more girls you had,” Ellison, 62, said.
When the Woodward Dream Cruise started back in 1995, Ellison said, it was about the memories of that era of muscle cars and drive-ins.
Turning 20 on Aug. 16, the cruise is still about memories, organizers say.
There will be no special event that day to celebrate the milestone that Greg Rassel, president of the Dream Cruise, said no one anticipated would be reached.
“It’s always been a celebration of the car and the people, and not about the cruise itself,” Rassel said.
In the first year, Ellison said, 250,000 car enthusiasts showed up.
The event is expected to draw 1.5 million people and 400,000 automobiles this year to the nine communities along Woodward Avenue in Oakland County.
It will kick off with the third annual Cruise in Shoes 5k run/walk, which will offer participants the rare opportunity to run on a closed Woodward Avenue. The race starts at 7:30 a.m.
The cruising will officially begin after the run and goes through 11 p.m.
There will be car shows in both Memorial Park, at 13 Mile Road and Woodward, and the Northwood Shopping Center, 30915 Woodward Ave.
Just north of Royal Oak, the Triangle District of Birmingham has become the center of cruise festivities, according to some organizers.
The city will host its own car show on South Old Woodward from Merrill to Lincoln featuring 300 classic cars of all makes and models — some dating back to the Model A-era — just off the hussle and bussle of M-1’s main drag.
Like in years past, General Motors will set up shop in Birmingham with a full line of display vehicles, including a Jeff Gordon NASCAR speciality vehicle and vehicles from the “Transformers 4” movie.
To keep the energy going, WXYZ Channel 7 news and WOMC 104.3 FM will broadcast live throughout the day from Birmingham.
“There’s a lot to see and do,” said John Heiney, executive director of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District, in a previous interview.
Birmingham is also a great place to park for the big day, with five parking decks and lots of metered parking. In the decks, parking is free to visitors for the first two hours of their stay.
In fact, according to Cmdr. Terry Kiernan of Birmingham Police, the biggest problem his officers typically have on a cruise day is parking within residential neighborhoods.
“People park and block a road or park and block a driveway, and that’s really the greatest number of complaints we tend to get,” he said, noting that crowds in the city have always acted responsibly during the annual event.
The 10th annual Bloomfield Township Classic Car Show will be held 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 16 at Mercedes-Benz of Bloomfield Hills, 36600 Woodward Ave. A parking lot just north of the dealership will be available for those solely interested in taking in the sights.
Car clubs are invited to participate in the Bill Wells Car Club Classic, which will be held in the adjacent lot at Comerica Bank.
The family-friendly event will showcase dozens of classic automobiles of all makes and models from local residents, including an extensive collection of DeLoreans.
“Whatever they’ve got, they love to show them off. We have a good number of cars participating. It’s a good showcase for the township,” said Greg Kowalski, director of community relations for Bloomfield Township and an organizer of the event in a previous interview. “We always have an excellent turnout, but it’s so dependent on the weather. Last year, the weather was phenomenal. We want to re-create what we did last year.”
During its 20 years, the cruise has evolved from “controlled chaos” to become the “world’s largest church picnic,” Ellison said.
Organizers largely attribute the family feel of the event to the presence of the Royal Oak and surrounding communities’ police departments.
Royal Oak Police Chief Corey O’Donohue, who was a rookie cop 20 years ago, said the police coordination has evolved as the cruise has grown.
“The public safety plan for this event has evolved over 20 years,” O’Donohue said during an Aug. 5 press event for the Dream Cruise. “We are always improving that.”
Kiernan echoed that sentiment, saying that the crowds in Birmingham on Cruise Day are respectful of the police and their fellow revelers, and rarely is there an incident where police need to be involved. Much of the action happens before Dream Cruise Saturday, he said, as motor heads venture out to Woodward a few days early and try to sneak in a few drag races.
“We’re not writing cheap tickets; we’re out there looking for aggressive drivers. We get complaints in the days leading up to that time about drag racing along Woodward, and we try to keep a lid on that,” he said.
He added that with the nice weather meteorologists are predicting, Birmingham officers are expecting large crowds as usual — and they’ll be ready.
“We’re not going to be doing anything different than we’ve done in past years. We’ll have adequate personnel out there to handle anything, but it tends to be a busy day for the people out there and a quiet day for us,” he said.
O’Donohue credited the collaboration between police departments for the successful events in recent years, and thanks officers from the communities up and down Woodward.
“We have a lot of good collaboration among our neighboring communities,” O’Donohue said.
For the future, Ellison doesn’t foresee the Dream Cruise growing any larger.
He said the people who grew up in the muscle car era and worked at the auto plants are growing older. The Big Three’s factories are spread throughout the world, and they now compete for market share with auto manufacturers from around the world.
The Dream Cruise, Ellison believes, is at its peak.
“The Dream Cruise is ultimately going to have an end date,” Ellison said. “I don’t know when it is. I hope it’s not soon. I hope it goes on beyond me. I can just see those of us who are the enthusiasts are getting older, backing off, and I don’t know if there’s a generation to take our place.”
For a full list of Woodward Dream Cruise happenings, visit www.WoodwardDreamCruise.com.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Scussel contributed to this report.
About the author
Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki covers Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township as well as Oakland County Parks and Recreation and Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center. Esshaki has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2011 and attended the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Oakland Community College. She’s the recipient of an Excellence in Journalism award from the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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