First legal drag races roar through Detroit

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published September 28, 2017

 Zach Richardson, from Emmett, is ready to race his dragster during the Motor City Showdown at Detroit City Airport Sept. 23.

Zach Richardson, from Emmett, is ready to race his dragster during the Motor City Showdown at Detroit City Airport Sept. 23.

Photo by Donna Agusti

DETROIT — Engines roared and tires screeched across the runways of Detroit City Airport Sept. 23 for the first-ever Motor City Showdown drag races.

The event featured the first legal drag racing in the Motor City, and a crowd of more than 7,600 people attended. It was the passion project of Brian Olatunji, a drag racer and Detroit native. He helped found Lead Foot Events, a company to help host the races.

“It was a vision I had years ago, but it took a few years to bring it to fruition,” explained Olatunji. “I was a professional drag racer, and I looked back to my hometown and wanted that excitement back here. We’re the Motor City, so it makes sense to have this here. I grew up right near where we held the event, and I wanted to bring what I love back home. We went through a lengthy process to secure the airport as a site. The Federal Aviation Administration, the city of Detroit, Mayor (Mike) Duggan and (Police) Chief (James) Craig were all instrumental in that, and Detroit City Airport itself for helping us.”

The Motor City Showdown featured racers from all over the state and some of the fastest cars in the world. Spectators could also check out a classic car show where metro-area motorheads could show off their sweet rides.

“The event began with our grand marshal, Detroit Police Chief James Craig, at our opening ceremony,” said Olatunji. “We had 32 drivers in two categories: 16 drivers in small-tire vehicles and 16 in big tire. Our big-tire champion was Detroit resident Diamond Hugo, and small-tire champion was Mark ‘Junior’ Southwell, from Pinckney.”

Despite some issues with parking in and around the event, mostly due to the unanticipated popularity, Olatunji thinks the event was a great success. He said it could prove to be a great thing for Detroit and its residents.

“We had high temperatures, but the crowd was absolutely tremendous,” continued Olatunji. “The car show was very well-attended. The spectators who came out for the event were really enthused, and they were very pleased we had legitimate drag racing in the city. Underground Resistance, a world-renowned techno group from Detroit, were there and provided a soundtrack to go along with the horsepower on the airstrip.”

Duggan’s endorsement was a factor in bringing the Motor City Showdown to fruition.

“The mayor met with the group that had the idea and made it clear he was very supportive of it,” said John Roach, spokesman for the mayor. “He let the chief of police take it from there to make sure it was done in a way that was safe and controlled.”

Olatunji believes it is a perfect fit for Detroit and is working with his fellow organizers to bring the Motor City Showdown back next year with more races and more attractions.

“We want to continue enhancing this and make it an annual event in Detroit, much like the auto show, the fireworks and the Thanksgiving parade,” he said. “We would like to enhance the experience, and we want to be able to accomodate more people. We want to secure more parking so more people can enjoy the show. We want a similar program (as this year), but we will be looking for any way to make it better. We would consider different kinds of cars, but it will remain specifically a drag racing event.”

It had long been a complaint among drag racing enthusiasts that there were no legal races of the kind in the famed Motor City. Olatunji said he had seen firsthand how many great racers and fans were present here, and he thinks that passion is why the event turned out so well.

“This city has some of the best drivers, crew chiefs, engineers, technicians, designers, crew, fabricators and teams. We wanted to highlight them,” remarked Olatunji. “We want to thank everyone for coming out; it was a great day, and we’re looking at making it even better next year.”