caAs the jet touched down in Champaign, IL, (about 200 miles south of Chicago), I could see steam rising from the tarmac as we taxied to the gate. Still warm and humid, the last vestiges of a midwest summer clinged on resolutely, refusing to surrender to the inevitable coming of fall.
Champaign, IL may not be a household name, but it counts Netscape founder Mark Andreesson, gadfly George Will and arena rock band REO Speedwagon as just a few of it’s prodigal sons. It’s also home to Corvette impresario Mike Yager, albeit 40 miles away in the pastural hamlet of Effingham.
What started in 1994 as a customer appreciation party for a few hundred Corvette owners has grown to become the largest Corvette shindig in the world. Now in it’s 23rd iteration, Corvette Funfest takes place every September at Mid America Motorwork’s (MAM) corporate campus in Effingham and is truly the big kahuna of Corvette events.
A robust roster of Corvette seminars, product displays, fashion shows and Corvette clubs await show goers, culminating in the grand finale of former Styx lead singer Dennis DeYoung performing tonight at MAM’s on-site concert facility.
I arrived on the second day, and the party was already going full steam ahead with the 20th Anniversary of the C5, a homecoming for the C4 Grand Sport and Mike Yager’s rare collection of pre-production prototype C5 development cars and the “Last C4”
The first thing that grabs you as you walk onto MAM’s corporate campus is how big the place is. Sitting on 170 acres is MAM’s warehouse, shipping center and various outbuildings.
Be sure and check out Mike’s car collection in the MYGarage facility. The prototype XP-819 and C2 GM Styling Cars were the stars of the show for me, but there is tons of ephemera and memorabilia as well. A must see.
I was greeted warmly by MAM staff in the VIP tent and talked with Mr. Yager himself. The man is legendary in the Corvette community and is good fun in person (and has great taste in hats as well.) He epitomizes Corvette culture and passion and everything that’s great about our hobby.
My stomach was grumbling and lunch was on the house so I took them up on their offer of refreshments au gratis.
I loaded up my plate with salad and a sandwich and scouted out a place to sit. I glanced around and noticed that there were just a few folks scattered about, so I debated whether to eat solo or sidle up to a table and mingle.
Much to my surprise, I notice former Chief Engineer of the Corvette, Dave McLellan and his lady friend sitting in the corner. I approached the table and said “Is it okay if I join you?” They cheerily agreed and suddenly I was face to face with the friggin’ father of the C4 and ZR1.
This wasn’t my first contact with Mr. McLellan. I had a brief encounter earlier this year when I opened my email and saw a message from the emcee of the C4 himself.
It said, “I read your C4 Buyers Guide, you misspelled my name…”
“Great,” I thought to myself. I replied quickly and corrected spelling accordingly hoping that I hadn’t been relegated to pariah status with a hero from my younger days.
So you can imagine, when I sat down at the table, I felt a tad awkward. Dave was very gracious and after we ribbed each other a bit about the spelling kerfuffle, we were “off to the races.” We talked about all sorts of things ranging from Lexus brand development, driving the Nurburgring, his personal ZR1 and his thoughts on his new 2017 Malibu rental car.
He also asked me, “I read your article predicting the rumored mid-engined Corvette is actually going to be a Cadillac…” Aside from the thrill (and trepidation) that Dave McClellan read another one of my pieces, I replied “Yes I did write that and if I’m wrong, Ill have to eat a big slice of humble pie.”
Although retired since 1992, Dave upheld corporate protocol when I pivoted and asked “What do you think’s going on at GM with all the mid-engine mules we seen lately, captured by the automotive paparazzi”
He was adamant in stating that “I don’t work at GM anymore,” but then threw a crumb down and speculated that a halo model would seem appropriate and hinted Corvette could be a multi-model franchise. He thought Cadillac getting a high-end sports car was a bad idea, citing the XLR and other failed, non-Corvette GM 2 seaters.
Even in retirement, Dave’s a busy guy and he was booked after lunch to deliver a speech about how GM almost killed the Corvette in 1995, so from there we walked over to a big top tent venue and the mighty, former Corvette chief engineer took to the podium. For almost a hour he recounted fascinating anecdotes about Corvette, the development of the ZR1 and tales from deep inside the labyrinth that is General Motors. Truly a treat to hear his war stories.
We bumped into each other again later and talked some more but bid adieu and he shuffled away with a wave of showgoers. Thank you for your service and hard work on the Corvette Mr. McLellan!
For a fascinating look at his time with GM, be sure and check out his book, “Corvette From The Inside.”