The article below is posted with permission from www.vette-vues.com Bill and Bonnie Wolf Editors/Publishers.
From Mike’s Passion For Corvettes, He Built A Corvette Empire
By K. Scott Teeters
If you have a new or previously owned Corvette, odds are you have a Mid America Motorworks catalog on your Corvette book shelf. Younger, newer Corvette owners likely don’t know that in the early days of the Corvette hobby, there were no Corvette catalog businesses. Many of today’s long standing Corvette catalog businesses grew out of swap meets that started in the 1970s.
Before catalogs, if you needed replacement parts you had to go to your
local Chevrolet Parts Department for new Chevrolet manufactured parts or
swap meets to find acceptable used parts. Performance parts and
accessories were offered by small Mom & Pop speed shops or independent
Mail order catalogs have been around for a long time. They started in 1861 when a company in Wales called Pryce-Jones began selling flannel fabric through the mail. Then, in 1872, a man named Aaron Montgomery Ward made mail order catalogs popular in the United States. He turned it into a kind of paper store where people could buy important things they needed. In 1881, another company called Hammacher Schlemmer started doing mail order too. And eventually, the most famous mail order catalog was Sears, followed by Sears and Roebuck.
By the early ’70s Chevrolet was into the third generation of Corvettes
and the Corvette hobby and lifestyle was gaining traction. Racing
Corvettes had become a force to be reckoned with in road racing and drag
racing, Corvettes were making big splashes at cars shows, and many
Chevrolet dealerships were sponsoring Corvette-Only shows in their
dealership showrooms. The Corvette “lifestyle” was coming together.
Mike Yager had a head for business even as a young man. Mike saw an
opening for Corvette product, besides parts and accessories. In 1974, with a
$500 loan, Mike started attending shows offering Corvette t-shirts, jackets,
glassware, patches, and jewelry. In the beginning, Mike worked his
business out of his apartment, the trunk of a friend’s car, and another
If you are not familiar with Mid America Motorworks, you might be
surprised to know that Mike also has a passion for Volkswagon Beetles.
When Mike was growing up, VWs seemed to be everywhere. The cars
were well-built, affordable, easy to work on, and fun to drive. For decades,
it seemed the Beetles were everywhere, today they are rarely seen on the
road. Mike saw opportunity within the “fun” aspect of the popular aircooled
Bugs and started offering Beetle accessory and performance parts to
Bug owners, and continues to do so today.
Over the years, Mike’s business grew steadily. It began in a 1,200
square foot space, then expanded to a much larger 7,200 square foot
building. In 2002, Mike took a big step by starting “Performance Choice,”
a manufacturing venture that occupied a spacious 36,000 square foot
facility. This new endeavor produced a wide range of factory-quality items
such as molded carpet sets, door panels, convertible tops, seating
upholstery, headliners, shifter consoles, and interior trim.
Fast forward to today, “Performance Choice” has evolved. They sold
part of their business and now operate from a more manageable 55,000
square foot facility in Effingham, Illinois. They have an impressive
collection of over 80,000 parts and accessories available on their campus.
But lets back up a little to 1993 when Mike launched his Corvette Funfest events. There’s no argument that Corvettes are all about fun. They’re fun to drive, fun to look at, it’s fun hanging out with fellow Corvette owners. Occasionally they can be a pain in the neck to own, but the fun factor makes up for the occasional trying times. Mike’s enthusiasm for all things Corvette has earned him the nickname, “Chief Cheerleader.” Mike’s signature look is his flat top straw hat with a red Corvette sash.
Mike’s enthusiasm, and dedication to the Corvette community paid off for him in 2018 when Mike was inducted into the National Corvette Museum’s Hall of Fame in the Enthusiast Category. So, how did this all get started? In hindsight, I guess it was inevitable that young Mike Yager would become involved in something to do with cars, given that he has six older brothers that were into cars. One brother was into restoring old cars and another was into building hot rods. You could say that Mike was a “car guy” before he was a “Corvette guy”. Like many young car guys, Mike regularly watched the popular TV series that ran from 1960 to 1964, “Route 66”.
Mike’s First Corvette Moment
One day in 1962, when Mike just 12-years-old, he was riding with one of his brothers when a silver 1960 Corvette rumbled by in the other side of the road. His brother said, “Hey, that’s a Corvette!” Mike snapped to attention an burned the image of the car into his visual memory. Mike recalls, “I can still see that silver Corvette in my mind’s eye. It was just the coolest-looking thing I’d ever seen. From that moment forward, everything was about Corvettes for me.”
“After we got home, my brother took me to our local Five & Dime store where I bought a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe AMT model kit. Since my older brothers were all into cars,one of my brothers let me have his stack of car magazines. I read every one of them, cover-to-cover, over-and-over. I started a file folder of Corvette articles and photos that I cut out of magazines. One magazine had a cover shot of a 1958 Corvette that I pasted to the front of that file folder. I was just totally into Corvettes.”
For most of us that become Corvette obsessed kids, the next question is, when was the first time you got to ride in a Corvette? For Mike, his first “ride” in a Corvette was also the first time he got to “drive” a Corvette. Mike explains, “One of my brothers got a 1960 Corvette and let me drive it when I was twelve-years-old! We lived in a very rural area, and it was a very different world back them.”
“I got my first ride in a new ’63 Split-Window Coupe one night coming home from the drags. That was really something. The view looking forward over the hood of the Sting Ray was very different from my brother’s ’60 Corvette. Looking forward in the ’60 Corvette the view was basically flat. But the Sting Ray had those beautiful fender humps and center hood bulge. I still get excited looking over the hood of Sting Rays. That’s a view I never get tired of seeing.”
For those of us that were youngsters when we got the Corvette infection, everything comes full circle with our “first” Corvette. Mike shares his “first” Corvette. “I was twenty-years-old and it seemed like I’d been wanting a Corvette forever. I always loved convertible Corvettes, so my first Corvette was a Marina Blue ’67 327/300, 4-speed Convertible. I absolutely loved that car! I was only 20 and my daily driver was a beautiful Sting Ray. It’s the car I had when I started my business.”
“After seven years of ownership (seven years when you are in your 20s seems like a long time), I sold the car to a gal in Iowa. I had the VIN number, so many years later I knew that she still owned the car. I contacted her to see if she might be interested in selling the car back to me. When I described the car to her, she was a little spooked and said, “Have you been in my garage?” We ended our conversation with her assuring me that if she ever decided to sell, I’d be the first person she’d call.”
“Every so often I’d give her a friendly call her about the Corvette until one time in the early 2000’s she said, “Oh! I’m sorry, but I completely forgot about you and sold the car, but I still have the hardtop, so I bought it. I kept looking for the car but never found it. About three years ago I sold the top to a guy with a Nassau Blue ’66 Convertible. He was thrilled because it looked like it was the original hardtop for his car.”
Over the years Mike has owned many Corvettes. His “MY Garage” (“MY” standing for “Mike Yager”) is renowned in the Corvette community. It is a Corvette “palace” that is open to the public, free of charge. I asked Mike what his alltime favorite Corvette is and his answer was surprising, considering how many Corvettes he has owned.
“My favorite is my 1996 Last C4 that I special-ordered and got to not just see the car move along the assembly line, but got to tighten lots of bolts. Typically, when the “last” of a number milestone (such as the 1993 1,000,000th Corvette) is being build, the workers like to sign their names on the various parts that they put on the car. My Last C4 has over 3,000 signatures. That experience holds lots of memories for me. Of course, today the “first” and “last” of all generation Corvettes is on most Corvette collector’s wish list. For a while, I owned the “Last C5 Z06.”
Many “thanks” to Mike for sharing some time from his very busy Corvette life and his unique “My First Corvette Moment” story. We will be bringing you more “First Corvette Moments” stories from prominent people in the world of Corvettes.