CRUISE CENTRAL, GULFPORT -- A picture-perfect Sunday morning capped off a week of beautiful Coast weather.
Executive Director Woody Bailey greeted the cruisers on hand for the finale: "We have 45 states, the District of Columbia, Sweden (among the registrants). One of these days, I'm going to be able to tell you we had all 50 states represented here."
Bailey, with help from celebrity emcee Dennis Gage of TV's "My Classic Car" fame, announced Jerry Cuevas as the randomly selected winner of the Gene Oswalt Volunteer of the Year award from among the volunteering car clubs.
He also acknowledged the efforts of the hundreds of volunteers, and the Masked Cruiser seconds the motion.
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Bailey presented the proverbial big check for $25,500 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which represented its share of the raffle car proceeds.
The raffle car itself, Bailey announced, was won by James Roark of Louisiana, who had headed for home but returned to collect his prize, the 1967 Chevelle SS 396, when her learned by phone that he was the winner.
Cruisin' attendance for this year tallied 7,639 registered Cruisers. As of 11 a.m. Sunday, 1,028 cars had been preregistered for the 2016 Cruisin' The Coast. An interesting statistic shows the commitment of the Cruisers -- fewer than 500 of 2015's Cruisers had not preregistered.
Between the spectators -- whose numbers could easily have topped 50,000 -- and the registered Cruisers, it is estimated well more than $20 million went into the local economy.
As the ceremony drew to a close, the 2016 Make-A-Wish raffle car was revealed to be a customized 1965 Ford Mustang convertible with a 289 cu. in. engine, automatic transmission and a ton of chrome bling under the hood.
Cruisers immediately began lining up to buy their raffle tickets for this car.
All in all, 2015 Cruisin' The Coast was bigger, better and more fun -- and the buzz is the 20th annual event will top everything we've seen to date. Make plans early -- 2016's CTC will be a must-see.
After the Troy Ladner band took the stage to add some music to the fun, Cruisers said their goodbyes -- some to folks they won't see again for a year -- exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, revved up their motors and headed out to take advantage of the wonderful weather for a final Coast cruise.
I miss 'em already.
Keeping the pavement rolling under my wheels, 'til next year.