At the end of July 2003, the East Coast Nationals came back to Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. This was the second year in a row that the show was held at the racing complex. Hopes were high that the turnout would be the largest the state of Virginia had ever seen for a custom car or truck show.

For the East Coast Nationals staff, the show started long before the gates opened to enthusiasts and show hopefuls on Friday. The ECN crew began setting things up as early as Wednesday so they'd have everything in place by the time the first contestants showed up. Unlike years past, this ECN staff knew exactly what had to be done to prepare for a show such as ECN and the pre-show setup was flawless.

By Friday, custom trucks were lining up down the very long entrance area, and the ECN staff was there to greet contestants, take entry fees, and usher the rides into the show area. Every type of truck, car, street rod, and even sport bike and cruiser motorcycle, showed up to show off its accomplishments this time around. Friday was a great day to kick back and see the early birds, without having to bust ass and clean your ride. There was no judging -- just cool peeps hangin' out and enjoying the day.

This was also the time to visit the vendors since there weren't any long lines. You can haggle a hell of a good deal on parts if the seller is bored or if you bother them long enough. There were so many more vendors at this year's ECN that hours could've been spent looking through all the custom paraphernalia that was on display and up for grabs. When night fell, the showgrounds emptied out as everyone left to prepare their rides' final detailing before Saturday's judging.

Saturday morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed show participants began filing back through the gates at the raceway, knowing the competition in all the classes would be steep. By noon, the showfield was filling up -- and we're not talking about a field full of so-so rides. ECN drew tons of top-notch, high-quality rides this year and everyone we talked to was impressed but apprehensive about the competition.

The apprehension most competitors felt, though, soon turned into camaraderie as they participated in games, listened to tunes from the DJ on stage, and ate and drank to their heart's content. Late in the day, the ECN staff went on the hunt to judge the few remaining trucks that were missing registration sheets. Do you know how hard it is to find a blue S-10 in a huge field of custom trucks? We found out just how much fun finding that needle in a haystack can be, as the MT staff helped judge some of the categories.

Late Saturday afternoon, ECN hosted the East Coast Nationals bikini contest. Richmond's finest hotties took to the ECN stage, trying their best to impress the elected judges. Despite a few onstage antics, the bikini contest went well and the crowd loved every second of it. By the time the winner was declared, everyone in attendance felt as though they'd won their fair share, too, since there was more than an eyeful for anyone standing nearby (wink).

Things started a little later on Sunday, but there was still plenty to do. The ECN staff didn't penalize people for leaving in the middle of Saturday's show; the judges just kept hunting for those trucks still needing to be officially ogled over in case they were in contention for a show trophy. ECN's Best of Show awards were also determined on Sunday.

By 2 p.m., Sean Barnard, the show's official emcee, began announcing the awards. Sean's as warped a person as you'll ever meet, and he's always been a great guy for announcements. As a rule of thumb, don't let him get near June bugs; he thinks they're a delicacy. The MT staff had to bail around 3 p.m. to catch a plane, but the awards continued until the winners had received their much-deserved show trophies. With the awards handed out early, most participants headed out of town at a decent hour.

In all, this was the best ECN we've attended. The show's quality and quantity was at an all-time high. Mini Truckin' has been a loyal supporter of the event since its inception. We hope to see you and your full show ride there this coming summer. For more information, contact: East Coast Nationals, Dept. MT, 2140 Tsena Rd., Providence Forge, VA 23140, (804) 966-2043, www.eastcoastnationals.com.