Monday, June 09, 2008

Paso Robles West Coast Kustoms car show forced to Santa Maria Fairgrounds draws over 30,000 car enthusiasts over memorial day weekend

May 25, 2008

The 2008 West Coast Kustoms 27th annual Cruisin' Nationals roared into its new location at the Santa Maria Fairpark on Saturday, welcomed by larger-than-anticipated crowds.

“We were guessing around 5,000, but we didn't know,” show spokesman Ken Smith said.

The gates opened to the public at 8 a.m., and there was still a line to get in hours later. After the ticket booth shut down an hour before gates closed for the day, newly arriving custom car lovers in search of chrome and special paint jobs were turned away.

Show organizers said the spectator count for Saturday had exceeded expectations, but couldn't say yet how many people attended. The number of vehicles broke records as well, with nearly 1,000 on display.

Most of the spectators and participants agree what the real draw of the show is.

“The cars,” a group of four onlookers said simultaneously, when asked.

“It's really the cars, and the lifestyle,” elaborated Brian McCraney, 31, who traveled south from San Francisco with his friends specifically to see the show.

“There's just a little of everything here,” said Tom Furey, 32.

Alicia Schmidt, 24, said she particularly liked a 1957 pink Cadillac.

The group planned on spending the night to see more of the show today, before driving home.

Santa Maria's Chuck Small was among those displaying prize possessions.

“It's what we do to have fun,” he said, standing next to his 1937 Ford, with custom installed 1996 Corvette engine.

As the 73-year-old Small knows, custom car showing can be a family affair. Small's grandson recently won his first show award, and Small's son-in-law, Ron Albright, displayed his own Ford custom car just one spot over.

“It's an appreciation for cars and an appreciation for things you create,” Small said about the multi-generational draw of the custom car culture.

“I like the variety of the show. You can see your rattiest looking rat rod, to your most expensive looking custom job,” said Larry Board, 55, of Ridgecrest.

As he spoke, Board inspected a 1930 Ford hot rod owned by Ray Bannister of San Lorenzo. The interesting thing about the primer gray car with a stripped interior, Board explained, was the addition of a fuel-injected Cadillac engine.

Board, who builds his own hot rods and had previously attended the show at its prior home, said he liked the new location.

“It's the best car show on the West Coast,” Board said.

West Coast Kustoms took place for 26 years in Paso Robles, with vehicles lining the streets of the city's downtown. Size restrictions and safety concerns led co-founder Penny Pichette and the show organizers to seek a new location.

“We didn't know the people would support it,” Smith said, adding that Santa Maria had been welcoming.

Pinstripe artist Tommy Herrara, of Bakersfield, said he was nervous about how the move would affect the show, but was impressed with the turnout.

As a bonus to the show's new location, vendors selling everything from tiki-style T-shirts to parts for classic Fords, could set up in the fairground's indoor exhibition space.

“You can pinstripe anything,” Herrera said while customizing a toolbox.

Nearby artists worked on a scooter, Thermos and a computer notebook cover.

Herrera said several of the cars on display also bore his artwork.

Each pinstripe artist created one original piece of art for a charity auction to raise money for Alzheimer's research.

The show runs today from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a second pinstripe auction at 2 p.m. The Santa Maria Fairpark is at 937 S. Thornburg St., Santa Maria, California.

Tickets are $12 for adults; $6 for seniors over 60 and children under 12 years old. Active-duty military personnel will be admitted for free.