Cruisin' the Coast

Put some nostalgia in the tank and get Cruisin’ The Coast

Nostalgia has fueled Cruisin’ The Coast for two decades, and nostalgia is what will bring antique and classic car buffs back to South Mississippi on Oct. 1-8.

This is the 21st year, and through sunny skies and tropical storms, car owners and their fans have made Cruisin’ the most popular event in Mississippi and one of the top car shows in the country.

Bring out the poodle skirt and crank up the Elvis tunes, it’s time to go back to the days when cars were big and graceful or fast and colorful.

What keeps people returning — and many come every year — is a big helping of Southern hospitality, the people, the cars and the views.

The 26-miles from the Biloxi Bay Bridge to the Bay of St. Louis Bridge are spectacular vistas of sand and water, spiced with new restaurants to sample and graced with hotels that provide a front-row seat to the rolling car show Cruising by.

That’s the difference at Cruisin’ The Coast. The cars aren’t just settled in parking lots, although there are plenty of opportunities to see them parked at block parties and throughout the downtown cruise ins. This is a week to drive those classics down Beach Boulevard, parade in Long Beach and get blessed in Diamondhead.

What’s new

For 2017, Cruisin’ stretches 15 miles farther across South Mississippi for a reach of about 50 miles from Pascagoula to the east and Bay St. Louis to the west.

“Pascagoula has come on board this year as a three-day venue,” said Woody Bailey, executive director of Cruisin’ The Coast. The city hosted single-day events in the past, and now joins Ocean Springs, D’Iberville, Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis in hosting day-long events and music Thursday through Saturday of Cruisin’ week.

Bailey calls it “an incentive venue.” Registered drivers who get their card stamped at all venues to be eligible for prizes on the last day of Cruisin’ and will get an extra $100 if they have the Pascagoula stamp.

Also new this year:

▪ Burn ’Em Up in the Pass is one of the most anticipated new events, as registered Cruisers burn-out on the Thursday night of Cruisin’ in Pass Christian.

▪ Salute to Our Veterans is back on Tuesday at Cruise Central in Gulfport.

▪ Cruisin’ the Decades is a new opening-day event in Gautier.

Stormy drive

America’s Largest Block Party began in 1996 as casino executives looked for a way to extend the season into early fall, when the weather is still delightful on the Coast. The casinos still play a major part in Cruisin’ by hosting events and bringing in The Beach Boys and Chubby Checker.

Hurricane Katrina canceled Cruisin’ in 2005, although many of the long-time Cruisers came anyway to volunteer or they donated money to the recovery.

Last year Coast residents returned the favor as much of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was flooded. This year Cruisin’ folks will remember the people impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida.

“I suspect a lot of people in Texas haven’t even thought about Cruisin’ The Coast yet,” Bailey said in mid-September.

As they did last year for those from Baton Rouge, the Cruisin’ organizers will refund registration for those whose homes or cars were damaged by this year’s storms.

About 600 people come to Cruisin’ each year from Texas and Bailey said, “We’ll be hearing from them, I’m sure.”

Most of the Cruisers from Florida live in the northern part of the state that was less impacted by Irma. The hurricane did move a National Street Rod Association event, typically held the same time as Cruisin’ The Coast, to March and Bailey said he expects some car owners who never made it to Cruisin’ will drive over to South Mississippi this year.

Tripp Rabalaif, general manager of Vicari Auction, has friends in Florida with antique cars in risk of being flooded during the hurricane.

“The old cars you can redo,” he said. He saw a car the company once owned rusted and abandoned in a car lot after the flooding in Baton Rouge.

“Somebody got it,” he said. “It’s perfect again.”

Ride on

For fans of the antique and classic cars, the first week of October is the most wonderful time of the year.

For the organizers who went through some lean years at the beginning, Cruisin’ the Coast has accomplished its mission of boosting the local economy. Last year more than 7,000 cars were registered, setting a new record, and the economic impact to the state was almost $29 million. Cruisin’ boosts business for restaurants, bars, hotels, attractions, stores and gas stations. It also boosts the spirits of the car owners and admirers who bond over chrome grills and barbecue grills and recall the cars they owned and the cars they always wanted and now drive to Cruisin’ The Coast.

Cruisin’ The Coast by the numbers

374 cars were registered for the first Cruisin’ The Coast in 1996

6,630 cars were signed up for the 2016 year when early registration ended in August 2016, setting a record

7,117 cars are signed up so far this year from 39 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Germany, another record

1,200 of this year’s pre-registered Cruisers are coming for the first time

7,957 cars from 41 states, Canada and Australia were registered in 2016, another record

1910 Ford is so far the oldest registered vehicle. Registration opens again on Oct. 2 at Cruise Central

$29 million was the economic impact of Cruisin’ in 2016, up from $20 million in 2011