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Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! At Detroit Dragway!

Don Garlits takes off in his “Big Daddy” dragster. Garlits raced frequently at the Detroit Dragway.

Gone forever are the nitro fumes, roaring engines and loyal spectators at the Detroit Dragway on Sibley and Dix. Since 1959 hot rodders, racers and gearheads met at the strip to test their engines and their nerves.

Detroit Dragway was quickly initiated into racing by sponsoring the National Hot Rod Association’s top event, the U.S. Nationals in 1959 and 1960;its first two years in operation. During its long history the strip also hosted races sponsored by the American Hot Rod Association and the United Hot Rod Association. Racing always began on Saturdays at 8:00pm and continued on Sundays at 2:00pm. The dragway achieved national recognition not by the races it hosted or the drivers and record setting runs but by its radio commercial, “Sunday Sunday Sunday at the Detroit Dragway.” “I’ve run into people in Times Square (New York) who’ve heard those commercials,” said Kohn.

Funny car driver Della

Funny car driver Della “Funny Honey” Woods of Pontiac, Mich., stands with her 1968 blown Dodge Charger. The other member of her team is her brother, Bernie.


In addition to the U.S. Nationals the dragway was a standard venue for the AHRA’s Grand American drag racing series by hosting the Michigan Grand Nationals; the fifth race out of a ten race series. The pay out for the Grand Nationals was $20,000 for fuel dragsters and $10,000 for super stock drivers. Detroit also hosted the main event of the UHRA; The Grand Nationals Championship. Top speeds of 125.7 mph and times of 11.117 to 8.45 seconds were recorded during the early meets at the strip.

During the 1960s factory or “stock” cars ruled the Detroit Dragway competition, giving the average guy a chance to be a drag racers or even a national champion. The Big Three got involved too. Ford, General Motors and American Motors sponsored factory drag race teams, often ran by their employees. The most notable team was the Ramchargers sponsored by Chrysler. The Ramchargers were a group of 20 engineers from Chrysler’s Central Engineering Division, who dominated the Detroit Dragway as well as other strips nationwide. Stock machines weren’t the only ones to race. The dragway also accommodated dragsters, altered and modified machines, hot rods and street stocks.

There were other dragways in the Detroit area, including this one in Livonia. The 1954 photo above looks like a scene from the classic '50s movie

There were other dragways in the Detroit area, including this one in Livonia. The 1954 photo above looks like a scene from the classic ’50s movie “Rebel Without a Cause.”


By the mid seventies the hot attractions at the strip were the top fuel dragsters and funny cars. Screaming down the track at 215 mph in 6.6 seconds, the 1978 NHRA Summer Nationals drew a crowd of 30,000 spectators for the three-day event. Also showing up for the event were some of the biggest names in drag racing: “The Bounty Hunter” Connie Kalitta, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, Gary Burgin and three time top fuel world champion Shirley Muldowney. All were competing for the largest purses ever awarded at the track, $40,000.

The 1980s saw an overall decline of the dragway. A string of misguided managers caused the dragway’s spectators and racers to leave and the strip to deteriorate. Attendance at the dragway dropped from 35,000 during its heyday in the in 1960s to 500 in 1991. Ed Law was hired in 1992 to restore the strip and bring it back to profitability. Law remodeled the concession stand and restrooms. He also added new landscaping to the entrance. The 1992 annual track’s driver meeting attracted nearly 500 racers.

Larry Miller of Dayton, Ohio, leaves a clous of burned rubber as his Class A dragster hit more than 160 mph during qualifying runs for the national drag championships at the Detroit Dragway in 1960.

Larry Miller of Dayton, Ohio, leaves a clous of burned rubber as his Class A dragster hit more than 160 mph during qualifying runs for the national drag championships at the Detroit Dragway in 1960.


1994 brought an effort revive the dragway’s racing spirit. The NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) arrived in Detroit with a multi million-dollar development plan to raze the old strip and build a new racetrack stadium on the same location. NHRA officials also had plans to host an annual drag racing event at the new track. Sadly, the proposal failed due to public opposition.

In its heyday the Detroit Dragway witnessed fierce competitions (for the big purses) between the pros such as “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Arnie ” The Farmer” Beswick, Roger “Color Me Gone” Lindamood, and Della “Funny Honey” Woods. Every weekend for 39 years the Detroit Dragway allowed dreams to scream down the track. But most importantly, it was a place where the average person could become a red-eyed, fire-breathing drag racer in the family sedan.

This Fiat hot rod hits 140 mph at the dragway in 1961

This Fiat hot rod hits 140 mph at the dragway in 1961.


(This story was compiled using clip and photo files of the Detroit News. To view images available for sale from our photo collection please visit our Photostore of historic galleries. )

By Julia Daniel / The Detroit News