Mike Yager’s “My First Corvette Moment”

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

Mike Yager in the sixties posing with a C2

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
friends attic.

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.

Mike Yager standing in a crowd
Mike Yager 2018 Enthusiast Corvette Hall of Fame

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

Young Mike Yager with pedal car

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.”

Mike Yager with a guitar in 1963 along with an image of the original Beach Boys
Mike Yager on stage playing guitar
Mike Yager receives a small loan
Mike Yager Posing with The Last C4

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.

Mike Yager posing with a C6

“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.

CORVETTE TODAY #170 – Celebrating 50 Years Of Mid America Motorworks and 30 Years of Corvette Funfest

Corvette Funfest #1 -1994. Special Guests Zora Arkus Duntov and Larry Shinoda

Recently, Mike Yager Sr. and Michael had an exclusive conversation with online podcast host Steve Garrett of Corvette Today. They delved into the incredible journey of Mid America Motorworks, family owned and marking its impressive 50 years in business, and the legendary 30-year legacy of Corvette Funfest. This dynamic trio brings you the inside scoop on these iconic events.

Mike, Michael and Steve – long time friends with a shared passion for Corvettes, are the ultimate Corvette insiders. With a friendship spanning over a decade, they discuss Corvette the Past, Present and Future of Mid America Motorworks founder, Mike Yager

Don’t miss out on the podcast interview that explores the rich history of Mid America Motorworks and the enduring legacy of Corvette Funfest. This is your chance to dive deep into the heart and soul of the Corvette world, guided by experts who live and breathe everything Corvette.

Tune in and enjoy the excitement, passion, and insights that Corvette Today and Steve Garrett deliver in this exclusive episode. It’s a must-listen for all Corvette enthusiasts and fans alike.

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2018 Corvette Hall of Fame Induction

Left to Right: Tom Wallace, Joe Greenwood (accepting his late father’s award), Burt Greenwood and Mike Yager

Enthusiast Category

The Corvette Hall of Fame was established by the National Corvette Museum in 1998 to confer official recognition upon the most influential individuals in the history of the Corvette and honor their achievements. Corvette Hall of Fame inductees have distinguished themselves, not only through their accomplishments, but also by their high standards of integrity and character that reflect and enhance the reputation of the Corvette and the National Corvette Museum.

Mike Yager bought his first Corvette in 1970 when he was just 20 years old. When he saw there was no Corvette Club in his area, he started one. As the club grew he made the observation that there wasn’t a place where a Corvette fan could purchase Corvette merchandise. To remedy that, he bought whatever he could find that related to Corvette and started making it available at Corvette club events and car shows. When that worked out, he got a $500 loan to start a company that has now grown to become one of the world’s largest suppliers of parts and accessories for Corvettes… Mid America Motorworks.

Just as famous as his company is the annual festival that he started to celebrate the people who have made it all happen—his customers. It is an event called Funfest, which brings together thousands of Corvette people each year for a good time that ends with a concert featuring bands like REO Speedwagon and The Beach Boys.

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The Gus Grissom Corvette

Back in the summer of 1966 I was staying the summer with an older brother in Satellite Beach Florida. That summer, Jim Rathmann Chevrolet had a grand opening of their new dealership. For the weekend celebration, they were having ”the Astronauts” and their Corvettes there to meet the public and had the bank Procol Harem as the entertainment. Now that was about as close to the moon as any 16 year old could get. Corvettes, Astronauts and live rock music. I did not make the event – as I had to work.

The Gus Grissom Corvette
The Gus Grissom Corvette

Fast forward to July 1998 and unbeknownst to me at the time, I purchase a group of Corvette motors from the bankrupt Corvette Americana Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York with a connection to Jim Rathmann Chevrolet and the Astronauts.  Around the year 2021, I decided to sell a few of those engines from the MYGarage Museum in Effingham, Illinois. I placed a 427/435 Horsepower block with all original stampings on eBay. As activity mounted, and a Canadian customer called me and asked if I knew what I was selling. Of course, an original 427/435 block belonging to a 1967 Corvette, serial number 7102849. That information informed me that this was not  just any 427/435, but the original block from Gus Grissom’s Corvette. Upon searching the web, I found the restored red Corvette and its chain of auctions.

The auction results and many calls later, I contacted the presumed owner Donald Latham, a car dealer and Corvette collector.  For some reason, we never spoke, and the sales of the block just ended.

Going forward to May 2023 and once again we decided to sell the motor.  This time, I was going to find what I now knew was 194677S102849 THE Gus Grissom Corvette. My first call struck a dead end. So, I checked out Mr. Latham on Facebook and sure enough, I found his dealership on Facebook and left a message of what I had and what I wanted. Don called me and we immediate knew we were kindred spirits and made arrangements to meet at the Mecum sale – Indy 2023. The bad news, he had sold the car. Now, another dead end. Once again, I head back to Google and find that Bill Sefton of Red Vette Ranch now owned the car. Bill’s Red Vette Ranch is a large car collection, and I just knew he would want the block to finish the story on the Gus Grissom Corvette. Contact ws made, and true to form, he no longer owned that Corvette. Bill did send me the email address of who he thought owned the Corvette.

Now as they say, for the rest of the story. On a windy Saturday afternoon, May 6th, I received a message to call Ed Greene. When we finally made contact, I finally found the current owner. When we spoke, I told Ed my story and his immediate response was – I will buy it. As a collector, I thought I ws the only one that made a quick ‘I will buy it” decisions on items relating to a Corvette that was in my collection. Deal!

As I go through life, I realize more and more each day that things happen for a reason and are very often connected to our lives in many different ways. Going back to that summer day in Florida and the Astronauts at Jim Rathamnn Chevrolet, I finally added my piece to not only a great Corvette, but a life connection to that day 57 years ago. And, added new friends to my Corvette world.