Gratiot Cruise shifts the fun gear into overdrive

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published July 23, 2014

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Tracey Moro said that as long as the weather is beautiful, not much can go wrong at the 2014 Gratiot Cruise.

Moro is the director of communications for the cruise and has been for the past eight years. In her experience working and figuring out the logistics with the event, she has seen the event continue to grow to bigger heights.

That is due in part to the amount of entertainment provided by the cruise committee and the sponsors who lend their own hands during the event, which takes place Sunday, Aug. 3, this year.

Moro said that police tallies totaled around 200,000 people in attendance during last year’s cruise, and the committee expects a similar crowd during this year’s festivities.

Among the additions to this year’s event is a new grand marshal. Jeff Gutt, who was the second-place participant on the TV singing competition “The X Factor,” will lead the way. There will also be more going on at the Midway — the regional plaza shopping center on Gratiot Avenue — in terms of food and live music. There will even be an audio company that updates the stereos of older, classic cars.

Shanon Rupkus is the chairperson of the event and has been for the last four years. She said the mix of familiar entertainment that coincides with newer aspects of the event — such as a celebrity figure as grand marshal, the presence of local charitable organizations, new booths and food choices, and activities for kids — is what keep people coming back for more.

She thinks the event has really taken off in recent years because it reminds a lot of the older attendees of the “old days,” when they would walk two miles down Gratiot Avenue, eyeing the different kinds of automobiles and just spending time with friends and family.

“I think it’s largely in part because we try to include different groups and different charitable organizations,” Rupkus said. “When you ask different groups or businesses that aren’t on Gratiot and invite everyone that is a township business or not a township business, you showcase what you have and have a chance to get 200,000 people to tell them what you showcase.

“I think we have a lot of success in growing the event because it’s different from other cruises because we base it on a family community-type cruise. We’ve seen a huge increase (in participation from other communities) once word of the family aspect got spread. We love to brag that in all the years we’ve had no felony arrests, never had any fights or serious problems or crimes.”

And as in years past, safety along Gratiot is not anticipated to pose any kind of threat.

“We haven’t had any major concerns on cruise day or during our car shows,” Moro said. “The police have been thrilled with what’s going on. We don’t perceive anything out of the ordinary.”

Lt. Anthony Green, of the Clinton Township Police Department, said that officers from the township will be joined by officers in neighboring municipalities that include Fraser, St. Clair Shores and Harper Woods, along with state police officers.

Police will have motor units, bike patrol units, foot patrol and headquarters set up by Star Theater. In the near-decade of police presence for the cruise, police know what to look for and expect little to no trouble. Officers will be roving to especially keep an eye out for speeding, tire burning and attendees who consume excessive amounts of alcohol.

Green said there was one OWI a couple years ago, and that has been the biggest issue the department has faced while patrolling the event.

“Officers are assigned to a two-mile stretch, and we have the full contingent working on the regular shift, so there’s ample coverage,” Green said. “Those 35 officers are dedicated just to patrolling and providing police presence along Gratiot Avenue.”

The cruise will officially kick off at noon at cruise headquarters, at the southeast corner of Metropolitan Parkway and Gratiot Avenue, which is where the parade will start along with the singing of the national anthem. Notable attendees usually include Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon, Macomb County Treasurer Ted Wahby, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

The Gratiot Cruise has gotten attention not only from car enthusiasts from around the state, but also from an influx of residents in the tri-county area. Strong participation and an assortment of activities have revved up the fun.

“It truly is a day you can bring your family, and see and enjoy the cars, and there are games for kids to play,” Rupkus said. “People from outside realize that there’s a lot more than just cars and spend the day with their family.”