Photos and story by Bruce W. Smith
Seventeen years ago a small group of Mississippi Gulf Coast car lovers put on a car show called Cruisin' the Coast. The turnout was small, with some 300 classic cars and trucks gathering for a couple days.
But the idea caught on like the sweet, spicy flavor of blackened redfish, and the organizers dreamed of a day when 1,000 vehicles from the muscle car and hot-rod eras would roll into town.
That dream came true several times over this year when more than 7,100 classics, hot rods, custom cars and pickups registered for the 2013 event in what has become the largest car event of its type in the country.
Event officials say another 2,000 vehicles rolled into host cities, but were not registered to get the official goodie bags and special comps that come with being a Cruisin' the Coast participant.
Cruisin' the Coast registration director Lisa Burnett said this year's participants traveled from 45 states and Canada to be part of the event. "One of these years we're going to get all 50 [states]," she said.
Never heard of Cruisin' the Coast? That's not surprising since the event's phenomenal growth seems to have come from word of mouth as attendees spread the word — that this is a different kind of car show — from car club to car club.
"Part of the attraction is we are a driving event, so they get to drive their cars," Burnett said.
They also get a taste of Southern hospitality.
Six cities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, from Ocean Springs to Bay St. Louis, all linked by coastal U.S. Highway 90, a smooth, four-lane road bordering the edge of the Mississippi Sound, participate in the event that runs Sunday through Sunday the first week of October. Every city along the nearly 30-mile route embraces the cruisers and those who come to see classic vehicles.
"This is our fifth year coming here," said Dan Heard, who traveled with family and friends from Deerpark, Texas, to cruise the coast in his spotless 1966 Chevy pickup truck. "The friendliness at the venues, restaurants and hotels is great. Everyone we've encountered are just so nice and really makes us feel welcome here."
"This is our second year coming to Cruisin' the Coast, and we wouldn't miss it," said Sherry Newsome as she sat next to her bright yellow, customized 1933 Dodge truck listening to a nostalgia band and sipping a cold beer. "My husband says being here is like eight days of being 18 again," she added.
Hundreds of pickups of every era and type could be found, from Chevrolet Rat Rods to Pro Streets to classic to custom, all mixed in among hot rods and muscle cars.
The majority of the trucks were 1940s, '50's and '60s, either clean restorations or customized. But Rat Rods from the '40s are growing in popularity, their rusted beds and bodies the perfect complement to some creative engines and interior modifications.
Organizers plan parades, free outdoor concerts and special events in each city. There's also a three-day car auction, drag races and a swap meet. Participants put hundreds of miles on their cruisers and leave with lifelong memories that will always bring smiles.
In addition to the Cruisin' the Coast events, participants and visitors alike get to enjoy the South's best golf courses, offshore fishing, casinos and warm weather. So whether you love pickup trucks, classic cars or muscle mobiles, Cruisin' the Coast is a big win.