On September 2, 1994 the Corvette hobby celebrated a historic event, after many years of planning and fund-raising, the National Corvette Museum (NCM) opened in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Many Corvette celebrities were present, including Zora Arkus-Duntov. The Bowling Green Corvette Assembly plant is located about a quarter of a mile north of the NCM. This close location allows visitors to take a plant tour and visit the NCM on the same day. Many enthusiast groups became involved in helping the museum grow and flourish. During its 20 years the museum has reached a number of milestones. Many of these can be credited to longtime Bowling Green banker Wendell Strode. Wendell became the NCM’s Executive Director in 1996 and has dedicated himself to putting the museum on sound financial footing. This included expanding the facility to accommodate more visitors in 2009. The finished expansion now covers 115,000 square feet.
Work on developing the 20th Anniversary Celebration began several years ago. The NCM staff continued promoting this event, including appointing someone to help organize a nationwide Corvette caravan. This task fell to longtime NCM member Paul Mariano of Huntersville, North Carolina. Paul was named chairman of the National Corvette Caravan and appointed caravan captains and starting locations for every state in the U.S. and Canada. Thousands of Corvettes flocked to the NCM during the Labor Day weekend. They were parked everywhere and the museum scheduled continuous events to keep every visitor occupied.
The biggest news was the grand opening of the NCM Motorsports Park. Tour buses ran for extended hours transporting visitors from the museum to the Motorsports Park. Once they arrived they could attend seminars and take part in driving events during the three-day event. Meanwhile, back at the museum the Bowling Green staff were present to answer questions and explain the new features of the ’15 Corvettes. A wide variety of new models were parked in the courtyard in front of the museum. This included several of the new Z06s that will be available early next year.
Many informative seminars were held at the museum, including one by former Corvette Chief Engineer Dave McLellan. Dave talked about why the ’83 Corvette was never built. This was the only year a Corvette was not produced since production began in 1953. Only one ’83 Corvette exists and it is located inside the NCM. Drs. Leslie North and Jason Polk from Western Kentucky University discussed how the NCM sinkhole happened. They explained that Bowling Green is a well-known karst area. Karst is formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, or gypsum. It creates underground drainage systems that cause sinkholes and caves like what happened in the NCM Skydome. The best solution is to completely fill the site with concrete grout and steel reinforcement. On August 30, 2014, the NCM board voted to do exactly that. Work will begin in November 2014 and is expected to be completed in six months. All of the eight damaged cars have been relocated into the Skydome so visitors can inspect them. The NCM board also announced that only three of the eight damaged Corvettes would be repaired. They are the ZR1, the 1-millionth, and the ’62 convertible. Chevrolet will fund an outside resource to restore the ’62 Corvette and Chevrolet will restore the other two Corvettes in-house. The remaining cars will be put on permanent display in their as-recovered condition. Filling the hole was a difficult board decision as attendance has soared 66 percent, but this is a safer and less expensive option than keeping even a portion of the sinkhole preserved. General Motors is providing $250,000 to help the museum recover from some of its sinkhole expenses.
Several authors were present to sign their books, including retired Corvette Plant Manager Wil Cooksey. His book titled No Time to Cry covers his difficult childhood and how he conquered hardships through dedication and hard work. Wil spent many hours signing and discussing his book for his fans. Wil was inducted into the NCM Hall of Fame in 2013. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, three new Corvette celebrities were inducted during the anniversary weekend. They were Corvette engineer and racing driver John Heinricy, author Jerry Burton, and the late Dave McDonald, a former Corvette racing champion. On Saturday, the event ended with a parade lap around the new Motorsports Park. By the many smiles we saw on the visitors faces, the 20th anniversary celebration was a huge success. The NCM is alive and well, which is a great tribute to the best sports car in the world—Corvette!