Speed Week – from Daytona to Northville
Posted on 02/29/2024
Mayor Brian Turnbull Northvillians and friends,

Speed week edition – I am known (among other things) as being the “Motor Sports Mayor.” In my life I have raced, turned the wrench, restored vehicles, and even owned some hot rods through the years. I continue to religiously (40 years now) make the pilgrimage to the Daytona 500, the “World Center of Racing,” for inspiration with other motorheads whom I’ve grown up with.

This year, for the third time in my history attending the Daytona 500, I missed Sunday’s main event because it was held late on Monday due to a rainout. City commitments had me flying back home the day of the race. Still, this annual Daytona event always reminds me how many Northvillians are drawn together in common pursuits. In the late 1960’s when Michigan International Speedway opened, it became a family event for many of us after attending the NASCAR inaugural event there in 1969.

Northville, over the years, has also been the center of various racing activities in which many of us have participated, watched, or heard about from our elders. Racing history at Northville Downs has included not only the gladiators navigating their horse chariots (sulkies) around the track, but also thoroughbreds, motorcycles, bikes, cars, snowmobiles and even go-carts.

As we are coming off NASCAR’s Speed Week, it reminds me of my own youthful racing aspirations. I used to race Trans Ams in club activities in the 70’s and even got certified to race in NASCAR’s inaugural Truck Series. As youngsters, many of us had dreams of being a racer, firefighter, police officer, or some other exciting career. With that youth dream in mind, we’ll look at some racing activities in the Ville over time in this issue.

Chili’in the Ville – Last weekend’s contest winners by popular vote were:
• Firehouse Chili winner – Northville City Fire Department
• Restaurant winners – Top vote getters were 3rd - Brown Dog, 2nd - Center Street Grill and 1st was Los Tres Amigos (15 Restaurants participated/14 Ice Sculptures)
Of note,  more than 600 folks came to the “Northville Folk” show at the conclusion of the Chili Fest at the Marquis Concert. Next concert there is 4/20 - Magic Bus

What’s going on today
• Bicentennial Task Force and Cemeterian team meetings - Bicentennial Task Force 3/27 & Cemeterian (Cemetery) Task force 3/28 (City Hall, 7:00 PM, see you there)

• Tipping Point Theater’s “The Chinese Lady” by Lloyd Suh (until 3/3).

• Day of the Dude (3/6, 4-10PM, Downtown). Take it easy, watch The Big Lebowski at Garage Grill, hear live music at Genitti’s, and help support the new Ford Field playground.

• Mill Race Village – Kit Houses of Northville (2/28, 7pm). The Historical Society is looking for pies for their Pie Day event (3/14).

• Great White Buffalo Brewing Company 1st Year Anniversary Party – 3/2, Magician 2 PM, Music from Bugar Brothers at 4:30 PM & Alexandria N Transit at 8 PM. Food & drink specials throughout the day.

Racing in the Ville over time

Car racing
• 1957 – Even before the first Daytona 500 was run in 1959, Northville’s historic 4th of July activities included a Stock Car Race (NASCAR) at Northville Downs. In 1957 the “Northville 100” was run with over 10,000 fans on hand at the Downs to see some of the best drivers in the nation compete for the Northville Trophy.
Motorcycle racing
• 1924 – There were motorcycle hill-climbing events near Randolph, (The Record).
• 1957 – On Memorial Day, Motorcycle racing occurred at Northville Downs (and again in the 70s). Speeds approached 90+ MPH on the straightaway.

Northville go carting
• 1950’s & Early ’60’s – Before my time, I’ve been told by Northvillians that there was a go-cart track right behind where CVS is today. Many a youth cut their racing teeth there.

Bike races
• 1897 – The Record touted a bicycle race starting at Fish Hatchery Park on 7 Mile and raced to the Opera House (Dunlap/Center). Hundreds of folks lined up near Wing & Dunlap to witness the finish. You can see, biking has always been part of the Northville DNA (more recently, Rotary’s Tour de Ville).

• 1971 – Snowmobile racing hit town, taking place at Northville Downs. Titled the “Motor State Snowmobile Classic,” Manufacturers Teams along with some 500+ competitors signed up for the race. Over 12,000 attended this wild and exciting event.

Foot races in town
• Northville has previously hosted the State High School Cross Country Championships at Cass Benton Park (Men’s Cross Country Team reigning State Champions ’22 & ’23).

• Today, you can still witness countless high school and college teams competing in Cass Benton Park in 5K and 10K races. The challenging Northville topography was a great draw for competitors and the course runs through Michigan’s oldest Arboretum. Additionally, multiple road races have been hosted in the Ville, historically finishing at Ford Field, Northville Downs and even right downtown.

Horse racing
• 1888 – Articles appeared in The Record about Horse Racing on Dunlap. Then in 1893, an article spoke about the 4th of July street races and mentioned that “It was the largest crowd ever seen in Northville.”
• In the late 1800’s a group of businessmen built a small golf course where the Downs is today, and they had an informal track on the premises.
• 1907 – This local group built a certified track and hosted the Wayne County Fair there until 1944.
• 1944 – The Carlo Family put Northville on the map by modernizing the facilities at Northville Downs, updating the track, and readying it for consistent racing. The Carlo’s also installed lights for night racing and built brand-new overnight barns.

This Speed Week edition has touched on multiple forms of racing that have occurred through time in our town. You can see that a lot of horsepower has been on display in Northville through the years (no wonder our mascot is a Mustang). Now it’s time for you to join the race and engage your time & talents for the betterment of our community. Be part of the future trajectory for Northville.

Keep racing into the Northville future!

Brian Turnbull
Mayor – Northville
[email protected] / 248.505.6849

racing cars, signs