It’s already shaping up to be an exceptional 20th Cruisin’ The Coast. Hurricane Matthew is steering far away from South Mississippi and the forecast for the next week calls for bright color and shiny chrome, rockin’ music and even a few poodle skirts.
On Friday, Cruisers were heading to South Mississippi with their antique and classic cars, getting into the spirit of the week by listening to the ’60s music channel on Sirius XM radio. One called the station, said Woody Bailey, executive director of Cruisin’ The Coast, and the radio host knew about the event. Their Cruisin’ chatter went on for about 5 minutes.
National publicity like that could drive more people to the Coast over the next eight days. That is just what the organizers hoped to do in 1996 when they borrowed the idea of Hot August Nights car show from Reno, Nevada, and organized the first Cruisin’ The Coast.
We want to build on it, and next year it’s going to be a big, fun-filled family activity.
Chevis Swetman, chairman of the board for Cruisin’ the Coast, in 1996
In the intervening 20 years it has grown from a 3 1/2 -day festival with 374 registered cars to eight official days and the largest event in the state. A record 6,630 cruisers were signed up when early registration ended in August. The registration number to beat is last year’s record of 7,639 cruisers.
The 20th Cruisin’ logo T-shirts will be collector’s items, and Bailey said, “Our apparel will be available at all three locations Sunday.”
As usual, Hardy Court in Gulfport will be the first place to see the cars starting at 9 a.m. Sunday, and then the events move toward the beach for ’Goula Cruise at the beach park in Pascagoula at 11:30 a.m. and View the Cruise in downtown Gulfport at 2 p.m.
U.S. 49 between 17th Street and U.S. 90 in Gulfport will be closed from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday to accommodate View the Cruise.
Among Monday’s highlights will be navigating the autocross course at the Coast Coliseum — which is free to registered Cruisers and fun for spectators — and the parade of cars in Long Beach.
As the week progresses, cars and their drivers will be blessed in Diamondhead, pulled over in D’Iberville and issued a coveted Cruisin’ Citation. They’ll have a part in helping salute our veterans at MGM Park in Biloxi and heating things up at the flame-throwing competition at Island View Casino in Gulfport. Car owners and admirers can enter a fish-tossing contest as Cruisin’ meets the Gautier Mullet Festival on Saturday.
Parts will be swapped, cars will be auctioned and the years will slip away, taking people back to the 1960s and earlier, when even the music was about the cars. All of the cars and trucks in Cruisin’ are model year 1989 or older, or approved replica vehicles of classic cars.
Cruisers will be everywhere this week — driving Beach Boulevard, under the oaks at Cruise Central, cruising our coastal towns and on the highway. The annual economic impact of Cruisin’ is more than $22 million as visitors frequent area restaurants, stores, hotels, gas stations and casinos, according to an impact study commissioned by Cruisin’ the Coast.
The first Cruisin’ had three venues, Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Rice Pavilion in Gulfport and Point Cadet in Biloxi to spread out the cars, traffic and economic impact. It has since expanded to five cities and many special events all across the Coast.
The idea was to create “a big, fun-filled family activity,” said Chevis Swetman, chairman of the board for Cruisin’ The Coast then and now.
“And it’s going to expand the tourist season too,” he said in 1996, “because September and October are usually pretty thin.”
The first weeks of October are no longer “thin” but cruisin’ in South Mississippi.
Cruisin’ schedule for Sunday
Cruise In, Hardy Court Shopping Center, Gulfport, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
’Goula Cruise, Pascagoula, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
View the Cruise, downtown Gulfport, 2-6 p.m.
Feature Car Appearances
▪ Hardy Court, Gulfport, 9 a.m.-noon
▪ ’Goula Cruise, Pascagoula, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
▪ View the Cruise, downtown Gulfport, 2-6 p.m.
Mario Mena Duo, 8 p.m., IP Casino, Chill Ultra Lounge
Cruise the Coast with MDOT
Travel and weather information is available from state Department of Transportation at MDOTtraffic.com, by dialing 511 in Mississippi, or by downloading the free MS Traffic app from the App Store or Google Play.
MDOT suggests drivers use Interstate 10 instead of U.S. 90 during the Cruisin’ events to avoid heavy traffic.