Before the Dream Cruise: Old Schoolers remember the ‘Good ol’ Days’
By Harry M. Anderson, Jr.
Special to the Michigan
DETROIT — As another year of the Woodward Dream Cruise rolls around, some Detroiters are experiencing nostalgia as they recall their own days of auto showmanship. These urban hot rodders would meet up at White Castle on Livernois and West Warren in Detroit to race at various areas across the city, as well as the Detroit Dragway and Milan Dragway.
These are the memories of Detroiters Marcus Moore, Keith Wheeler and Floyd Lusk, each in their fifties. The good old days of the urban hot rodders in Detroit during the 1970s and 80s … before the Woodward Dream Cruise.
A graduate of Henry Ford High School, Moore loved hot rodding so much he now owns and operates his own small business, Moore’s Motorsports, a repair shop in northwest Detroit. In one section of the shop, he displays his love of hot rod muscle cars: a 1967 Camaro, 1967 Nova, 1969 Chevelle, 1969 Camaro and a 1956 Bel-Air.
Moore and his friends reminisced about the “glory days” when cars were easier to work on and the price of gasoline was only $1-2 a gallon. “We’re all just friends who are a bunch of hot rod guys that get together to have a little fun with our cars,” he said.” When it comes to driving and revving up the cars, we get a thrill and an adrenaline rush.”
Moore remembered his first hot rod when he was a 16-year old student at Henry Ford High: a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro with a big block 396 cubic-inch V-8 with 12:1 pistons. Wheeler recalled racing his 1969 Chevy Camaro from 1975-85 at the strip and on the street.
“We built our own motors and added our own ways to go faster,” said Lusk, also a graduate of Henry Ford High, who had a 1970 Nova with a 4-speed inline shift.
Moore, Wheeler and Lusk said they had their own version of the movie “American Graffiti” when they met at their favorite hangout for Detroit’s urban hot rodders, the White Castle in southwest Detroit.
Wheeler said the guys would drive their cars to work during the week and meet up at the White Castle on the weekend. Over a thousand cars and 2,500-3,000 spectators flooded the southwest area. But there were only 10-20 actual racers, the friends recalled.
“Most of them were there just to show off their cars,” Lusk said. “In other words, they were spectators to come to watch the races.”
Moore added that even with the large crowds at the meeting and racing spots, violence and crime was not a problem. “There was no fighting, guns or drugs. There wasn’t any trouble; we just looked out for each other as well as the fans,” he said. “It was the ‘drop of the hand,’ and the race was on.”
Lusk spoke of the loyalty they had among themselves. “There was camaraderie because we tried to help each other with our cars.”
The friends described the support of all the participants, including residents in the area. Wheeler said some of the residents would block off the side streets so traffic wouldn’t interrupt the races.
That didn’t go over well with the local authorities.
“(Mayor) Coleman Young called for a crack down on the street racers,” Lusk said. “The (Detroit) police would have the fire department flood or wet down the streets with hoses or hydrants where we raced to stop us from doing it.”
“When we found out that was happening, we would just find another spot to hold our races,” Wheeler added. But all the racing wasn’t illegal.
“Detroit Dragway was our place,” Lusk said. “It was the closest track around. We would test and tune (test drive) our cars every Tuesday for more speed.”
“When I raced at Detroit Dragway, it ran the strip with my Camaro in 13 seconds,” Moore recalled. “That was a great car!”
“I didn’t win a lot, but it was a lot of fun,” he added. “Ain’t nothing like a car to ‘pin you back in the seat’ going all the way at high speed!”
Those days at the White Castle are long gone, but the memories will last in the minds of Moore, Lusk, Wheeler and other urban hot rodders.
Of the Dream Cruise, Lusk says, “It’s alright. It’s just guys showing off their cars. It will never be like the times we had at the White Castle.”
Wheeler agreed. “The Dream Cruise will never match the times and fun we had with our cars. Those times at the White Castle, I wouldn’t trade that for nothing in the world.”