Driving the beaches will be a lot more colorful Sept. 30 through Oct. 7 as Cruisin’ The Coast draws more than 8,000 antique and classic cars to South Mississippi.
Stop at a red light and sliding up next to you could be a Maui blue convertible twice as long and much more vivid than your silver Toyota. Heading home at night, a giant red Radio Flyer wagon with people riding inside might Cruise past as spectators whistle and applaud from their lawn chairs on the side of the road.
Being voted best car event in the country by readers of USA Today is a tremendous honor for Cruisin’ The Coast, said executive director Woody Bailey. It’s also an award for the people on the Gulf Coast, he said.
“They’re the ones who make this event very special,” he said, when they display trademark Southern hospitality by helping a Cruiser whose car has broken down or telling visitors where to find a great shrimp po-boy.
In return car lovers on the Coast get to share 8 days and nights filled with sock hops, a flame throwing competition, auto auctions, block parties and celebrities.
Cruisin’ The Coast is a mix of gangster cars and muscle cars, of locals from just down the street and visitors coming from as far away as Australia this year. Bailey said a couple will fly in from Australia, pick up an antique car in the Carolinas and drive it to the Coast for the event.
Even in its 22nd year, 1,186 of the registered Cruisers are coming for the first time, said registration director Craig Grisoli. That’s nearly 17 percent of the total.
It’s already on track to be another record year, and the number to beat is last year’s 8,308 registered cars. All Cruisin’ vehicles are 1989 or older and the oldest registered are a 1914 Ford Speedster and a 1921 Ford Model T truck, he said.
Grisoli said he doesn’t know if the Radio Flyer wagon will be Cruisin’ again this year.
“I don’t always know what I’m getting,” he said, even after 10 events. The Radio Flyer was registered simply as a Ford van.
“They kind of surprise me sometimes,” he said.
Traffic and cones
Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said Cruisin’ brings new people to Biloxi, fills hotel rooms and benefits local businesses, starting with the gas stations.
Yes, the traffic will back up, especially on the last weekend, and yes, Biloxi is putting orange rubber cones in place between lanes on U.S. 90 in case of an emergency situation.
“It’s just to be ready and to be prepared,” said Biloxi Police Chief John Miller. If something happens, such as a tanker leaks or some type of violence is reported, he said it would be too late then to put out cones. If necessary, he said traffic on U.S. 90 will be taken down to one lane in each direction, allowing an open lane on each side for emergency vehicles.
Turn-arounds will be allowed in designated areas along the route, he said. Biloxi PD provided information to the Cruisers in their registration packets and the city’s B-Alert provides traffic advisories by texting BILOXI to 888777.
Ask a Cruiser
Just as visitors appreciate advice on favorite restaurants on the Coast, they are happy to talk about their cars and the best Cruisin’ events — even if that Cruiser is the mayor or governor.
Gilich said he’ll be firing up his ‘65 Malibu that he parks in his mayor’s parking space at Biloxi City Hall.
Gov. Phil Bryant and First Lady Deborah Bryant will be Cruisin’ The Coast in the 1955 Chevy Nomad he bought when he first started driving. The couple will host “Field of Wheels” exotic car show at MGM Park Saturday. The fundraiser benefits Mississippi Center for Fragile Children and they’ve asked the Beach Boys to judge the cars inside the stadium.
It’s part of the “Fun, Fun, Fun” the Beach Boys and their fans will have during their Friday and Saturday night concerts across the street at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino and throughout the week before Cruisin’ The Coast rolls out of town.