Corvette culture crescendos at National Corvette Museum anniversary

Bowling Green is home to the equivalent of a cathedral for car enthusiasts: the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant, which has produced the world’s Corvettes since 1981. Across Interstate 65 from the plant is the “chapel”: the National Corvette Museum.

Bowling Green’s not called Vette City for nothing.

Last week, approximately 10,000 Corvette owners and enthusiasts in about 7,000 Corvettes descended on Bowling Green for the NCM’s 20th anniversary celebration, with festivities running from Wednesday to Sunday. You can probably guess who the reporter with little to no car knowledge was who got to cover the event.

I’ll admit off the bat that it was fascinating to see thousands of Corvettes glistening in the sunlight around the NCM and the new NCM Motorsports Park, which opened in conjunction with the anniversary. But what’s even more fascinating than the Corvettes is their owners.

Granted, some people were there to check out the sinkhole in the NCM’s Skydome. If you don’t know about it, perhaps you’ve been living in a hole. The wrong hole. (Some of my colleagues wrote about the initial collapse here.)

Before last week, I had a pretty good grasp on what Corvettes mean to their owners (think the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil), but the characters came out of the woodwork for the anniversary.

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Corvettes parked outside the National Corvette Museum for the NCM 20th anniversary.

I sat at a table in the museum’s hospitality room Friday afternoon with five women who were all NCM ambassadors and anniversary volunteers. The topic of Corvettes wasn’t a method of seguing into more general conversation about kids, grandkids, jobs or even the weather. The topic of Corvettes was the conversation.

“I inherited my ’67 Corvette in 1992…”

“We traded in our 2009 Coupe for the  Stingray, and we love it…”

“I have to say, I think the taillights on the 2014 Stingray are hideous…”

“No, my husband hasn’t had 56 Corvettes. He just bought his 55th…”

“My husband has had 37 Corvettes, and we’re about to order the new one…”

Being employed as a journalist who cruises around in what used to be her dad’s 2002 Chevy Impala, I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation.

By the day of this Round Table Corvette Discussion, I was pretty immersed in Corvette culture. It came a big rain on Thursday and I was surprised when I didn’t see a hoard of Corvette owners bursting out the NCM doors and rushing to their cars parked on the large grassy areas nearby to get them to asphalt refuge. And I had no doubt that every Corvette would look brand new by Friday morning, even if the owners had to stay up all night with nothing but a pen light and a rag eradicating every speck of dirt or rain evidence from the cars’ surface.

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A Corvette owner shining up his car at the NCM Motorsports Park Friday, Aug. 30, 2014.

I was so consumed by the culture surrounding me all week that I even asked one couple, “So, how many Corvettes do you have?”

“We’ve just got the one,” they said.

“Stopped at one, huh?” I said. I quickly laughed and said, “I just realized I ask Corvette owners about their cars the way I’d ask someone about their children.”

I wasn’t exactly off-base. The Corvette caravan captain from Arkansas I spoke with Wednesday told me, “We look forward to coming to Bowling Green every chance we get. The city is great, and of course it’s where all our babies were born.”

After spending a week amid cars that cost more than my life, I still can’t say that I fully understand the culture (owning an $80,000 vehicle that is kept in the garage and only taken out on special occasions and then sold in a couple years for another $80,000 vehicle of the same type, for instance), but I can say that the mentality is definitely contagious.

I realized how immersed I had become on Saturday as I parked on the grass near the NCM. When passing by the lot attendant, I said, “Uh oh. I’m feeling some rain drops.”

He smiled and shrugged. “Ah, it’s O.K. I’ve been here since 7 this morning.”

I paused. “Uh…I was actually talking about the cars.”

What can I say? There’s just something about America’s sports car.

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