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Corvette Funfest

The evolution of customer appreciation

Larry Jewett - November 22, 2012 10:00 AM

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The line grew late Saturday morning as the participants arrived on a day that featured perfect weather and a sea of great cars.

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Activity started with a Thursday Fun Run that end at the courthouse in downtown Effingham. Nearly 500 cars were in the massive parade.

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Several blocks were used to park all of the Corvettes on Thursday night. Locals and enthusiasts looked over all of the cars in attendance.

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If you didn’t bring the right apparel for chilly weather, this tent or the Fun Dome had what you needed. Business, like the wind, was brisk.

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There were plenty of dignitaries and familiar names who were on hand for the show. Ken Lingenfelter was talking with a customer at his display on Friday and was seen enjoying the show through the weekend.

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Living history with the 1960 Le Mans class-winning Corvette that was the subject of the documentary The Quest. The documentary was shown on Friday night as part of a fundraising gala.

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If you didn’t have a Corvette, you could have gotten one in the car corral. There were plenty of choices to fit preferences and budgets.

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With its place of honor, the 1963 split window Sting Ray celebrated its 50th anniversary in style. This unique offering held a reverence with those in attendance, but there were others privately owned that could be seen as well.

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In addition to a specially designed trophy, owners of selected cars got a ribbon to display, telling the visitors that this was a Celebrity Choice honoree.

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We had the opportunity to hang a ribbon on a car and, despite thousands of good choices, this 1965 model of Michael Martin from Alabama was selected. The car represented Vets with Vettes and Corvette Owners.

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Self guided tours of the nearby Performance Choice building were available. This is the manufacturing plant that makes all of the seat coverings and more that are available through Mid America Motorworks.

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In our June issue, we told the story of Mike and Blake Yager’s barn find. The car sits in its glory in the MY Museum, still on the trailer, a source of wonderment for many visitors.

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Visitors were encouraged to put their signatures on the street sign that was going into the nearby time capsule. This visitor actually gave the shirt off her back a few minutes later to have it in the time capsule, wondering later how she would explain to her husband (who bought her the shirt) how she went there with one shirt and came back dressed in another.

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Mike Yager presides over the time capsule dedication. It will be buried and resurrected on the Corvette’s 100th anniversary. A wide variety of items, including a number from the Yager collection, was destined for the box.

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Large chairs (called “Funrest”) and these cornhole boards provided a place to watch people or be watched in some friendly competition. It was just another aspect of how the thought of providing fun for everyone is utilized.

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An expert panel shared knowledge and viewpoints and even told secrets during a panel session Saturday morning. Moderated by Michael Yager (center), the panel included (l-r) Chip Miller (Carlisle Events), Kevin Mackay (Corvette Repair Inc.), Randy Leffingwell (author), Reeves Callaway (Callaway Cars), Mike Yager (Mid America Motorworks), Wil Cooksey (former Corvette plant manager), Dave McLellan (former Corvette engineer) and Ralph Kramer (former Corvette publicist).

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Cars came from more than three dozen states. Michael McKenney brought his car to Illinois from Maine.

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Check this one off the bucket list. I have been to the Corvette Funfest and found the reason for its success. That reason is so simple that I won’t be telling any secrets by revealing it.

It’s called “customer service”. It is one of the aspects that has been the foundation principles of Mid America Motorworks and it is never more obvious than the annual “party” in Effingham, Illinois. The 2012 edition, held in late September, was the 19th annual gathering. If you’re not successful, you seldom make it beyond five years.

Mid America founder Mike Yager wanted a way to bring his customers together to show his appreciation, so Funfest began. Now, on the verge of several important anniversaries in 2013 (and celebrating a few anniversaries this year), the party has grown to four activity-filled days with tens of thousands of “friends”.

“When we started this 19 years ago, we didn’t know what to call it,” said Yager during the opening ceremonies, joined on stage by wife Laurie and sons Blake and Michael. “It started as a customer appreciation day, but I have been the most blessed person. I am so fortunate to have so many customers. This party is still for you. It’s an honor to have you here and call you friends.”

These are exciting times for the Corvette and the excitement was obvious across the spacious campus. The centerpiece of the celebration was the 1963 split window Sting Ray, an example of which sat on prominent display near the vendor area. Throughout the field, there were more examples of the iconic car that prepares to celebrate its golden anniversary.

There was no shortage of Corvettes of all shapes and generations. While some shows take great pains to segregate the cars by generation, putting dozens to hundreds of similarly shaped rides together, Mid America does it refreshingly different. If there are any groupings, it’s because they are members of a club. There was a special area for high mileage cars and a special berm parking area for select cars, but the majority of the show field allowed club members to park together. Many of these clubs are not beholden to any specific generation, which meant you could find a solid-axle car parked next to a 21st century creation and it looked just fine that way.

Altogether, there were over three dozen states represented with a substantial number of the cars that were seen actually driven to the event. Representatives were on hand from at least three foreign countries, though there may have been a few that didn’t make the registry list who were just observing.

The expansion of the Install Dome was a big step as the area was in constant use with new exhaust systems and exterior modifications leading the charge. There were many Corvette owners who pulled out onto Route 45, loving the sound of their new exhaust note.

The activity actually began on Thursday, which included a Fun Run that involved 400-plus Corvettes following a giant Radio Flyer wagon. The caravan hit the surrounding countryside and wound its way to downtown Effingham for a street party, an event highly anticipated by the local residents who lined the streets to watch the cars ride by, then joined the group near the courthouse.

Friday dawned with an overnight rain dampening the grounds and lowering the temperature with the passage of a cold front, bringing some windy and cloudy conditions. While the attendance may not have been as strong as in years past, there was no shortage of activity for those who simply bundled up and took advantage of shorter lines in the Fun Dome and throughout the grounds. Experts were ready to go with informative seminars and cars looking for new homes were lined up in the car corral.

The nearby Performance Choice factory and MY Museum were open for self-guided tours and those who wanted to step out of the cool could find plenty to do. The day’s events were capped by the nighttime fundraiser that included a showing of the documentary, The Quest. The 84-minute video presentation highlighted the effort to find the class-winning Corvette from the 1960 Le Mans and restore it to its original look. The actual car, owned by Lance Miller of Carlisle Events, was on display throughout the weekend.

Mother Nature cooperated on Saturday and the evidence was everywhere as hoodies were replaced with Corvette T-shirts and the umbrella fell from prominent display space. Parking spaces were filled rapidly throughout the morning well into the afternoon. Celebrity judges had a far more difficult time coming up with one deserving pick against such a vast number, as hundreds of machines easily qualified for the fun awards.

In the morning, Mike Yager went to the museum to formally dedicate a time capsule that will be buried on the Mid America property. The capsule will be filled with select Corvette memorabilia and collectibles, to be opened at Funfest 2053, celebrating the centennial of the Corvette. Yager tried to convince a few showgoers to climb inside and be a part of history, without success.

When nightfall arrived, few left the grounds, choosing instead to pack out the viewing area near the main stage. Top flight entertainment has become a tradition of Corvette Funfest and this year was no exception. While perhaps the name is not as recognizable as some of the past acts, the World Classic Rockers gave those in attendance a reminder that everyone was there to party. Composed of former members of Boston, Journey, Steppenwolf, Santana and Lynyrd Skynyrd, this band played familiar tunes with vigor. It was a concert experience like you would expect in a football stadium.

The Sunday activity was a little more subdued as many chose to use the day as a means of getting back to where they had come from. For those who chose to attend, it was business and fun as expected. The unfortunate side of it was that it all had to come to an end … for now.

Next year will be the 40th anniversary of Mid America Motorworks and the 20th anniversary of Funfest. You know the wheels are turning to have the biggest blowout yet. Some Corvette owners already have their guitar pins, indicating they are registered for 2013. The event is planned for September 19-22.

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