Kustom Kulture! Cruisin Nationals Sizzles in Santa Maria
Story and Photos by Marc Gewertz
Kustom Kulture was full tilt Memorial Day weekend as sleds from around the country cruised California’s central coast. The West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nationals has been around since 1982. Originally held in Paso Robles, California for its first two and a half decades, it was affectionately known as “Paso” by kustom and traditional hot rodding enthusiasts.
But the Cruisin’ Nationals was forced to find a new home in 2008 due to typical small town bureaucracy (jacked up room rates, blah, blah, blah) and moved 60 miles south down California’s Central Coast to Santa Maria which is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Prior to hosting the Cruisin’ Nationals, the city was known for two things: Santa Maria-style barbecue and its world famous vineyards. In fact, the Santa Maria region is world renowned for its “Red Oak.” It is the only place on the globe this particular brand of oak tree grows and it’s been used for grilling prime beef for centuries. Turns out, carnivores and cruisers make a winning combination.
What a Memorial Day weekend it was this year. The 35th annual Cruisin’ Nationals kicked off with the traditional WCK Hall of Fame dinner on Friday evening, followed by the popular Friday night cruise up and down Broadway in downtown Santa Maria. Despite a persistent marine layer and cool temperatures, the cruise lit up the town known for its unique brand of barbecue. The downtown cruise brings this city and this event to life like no other. It’s bitchin.
By Saturday morning, more than 800 traditional hot rods and customs from up and down the West Coast and points east had crammed into the local Fairgrounds. It’s a chill place. The grounds offer a nice mix of shade trees, lawn areas tailor-made for left-over trip tip picnics and retro buildings. The event and venue go together like sheet metal and louvers.
The Cruisin’ Nationals is open to pre-1961 hot rods and may be the most colorful car show of its kind. It features an eclectic group of candy-colored, metal-flaked, pinstriped and flamed retro rides that bring a culture all their own.
These cars span the range of the 18-75 demographic. Age doesn’t really matter. What matters is the automotive art on display here. That alone creates its own lifestyle. Its own cult of cool. It is an experience not to be missed. This year’s great weather combined with the amazing iron, live music, vendors as well as the annual art auction all helped make the Cruisin’ Nationals a huge hit. Truth be told, it’s a huge hit every year.
Here’s to another year of sizzle in Santa Maria.