With its definitive tension between elegance and brute power, there is no car as distinctly American as the Corvette, and there are few places where you can see that distinct flavor on display as clearly as at Mid America's annual Funfest customer appreciation party. Held in September, the event usually brings somewhere around 15,000 Corvettes and their owners to Mid America's sprawling 150-acre corporate campus in Effingham, Illinois, to meet Corvette celebrities, attend seminars on various facets of the Corvette, and to just generally enjoy themselves.
After attending my first Funfest in 2008, I made a point of blocking off my schedule for the next one, and in the due course of time, I was headed back up the arrow-straight I-57 in my battered, blacked-out Crown Vic, hurtling through the darkness for Effingham. In truth, when I got there Friday night, I was already late; the formal festivities had begun the day before, with a "Corvette fun run" road tour of the area and a lunch with Mid America founder Mike Yager.
For those who don't know the story of Yager and Mid America, it's worth retelling. Like many of us, Yager had simply fallen in love with the Corvette, and although he was already working as a tool-and-die maker, he took out a $500 loan and made himself a second job selling Corvette shirts and accessories out of the trunk of his car. Two years later, he quit his job and went full-time into the Corvette aftermarket business. Two thousand-nine marked the 35th anniversary of that first loan, and in that time Yager's passion for Corvettes has blossomed into a multi-million dollar business that's an industry leader in the sales and manufacture of aftermarket parts and accessories for Corvettes, Porsches, and air-cooled VWs. No doubt, it's a true American success story, and Funfest is Yager's way of saying "thank you" to the customers who have made it possible.
Every Funfest has a different focus. Past years have been themed around the Chevy Corvette Summer car, or the Challenge racers. Two thousand-nine, however, was more oriented toward participation, so that those who came didn't simply attend Funfest, they were part of it.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference was the far greater number of seminars this year than at previous events. While presentations by those well-versed in the field are an integral part of the Funfest experience, customer input led Mid America to add still more. "More" to the tune of 70-plus seminars, which covered every imaginable facet of the Corvette hobby.
For example, renowned Corvette restorer Werner Meier of Masterworks Auto gave a series of three presentations, each on different facets of Corvette ownership: the first on acquisition of a Corvette; the second on maintaining, storing, and insuring one; and the third on restoration. While the restoration presentation covered selecting shops and sources for various services, there were other presentations oriented more toward those who, like me, want to do it themselves. Such as Kenny Yager, who spoke on stripping paint from C1-C3 Vettes, and accompanied his talk with a demo of actually stripping a door. Glassworks actually built a Corvette hardtop on-site over the course of about six hours.
For fans of the more modern cars, there were presentations on C5/C6 tuning and tweaking by veteran automotive journalist Dave Emanuel (who also covered emission-legal exhaust upgrades) and late-model horsepower from Kevin Woodruff of SLP Performance Parts. More system-specific presentations came from Goodyear's Jay Robinson, who covered run-flat tires, Tom DeWitt, who spoke on cooling, and Michael Jonas of Stainless Steel Brakes, who was there to address braking systems in the C4-C6s. And for those who believe that things were meant to be used-and, occasionally, flogged-racer and author Richard Newton gave seminars on autocross and track-day events, as well as on suspension modification.