If you’ve ever owned, driven or celebrated a Chevrolet Corvette in the past four decades, you've no doubt encountered Mid America Motorworks and its founder, Mike Yager. Always approachable and personable to a fault, this specialist parts supplier followed his passion and built a famously successful business by tapping into the rabid enthusiasm that surrounds America's favorite car. That success, coupled with Mike's business savvy and his enjoyment of celebrating the cars and enthusiast owners he supports, has won today's Mid America Motorworks as many fans as there are Corvettes on the road.
Effingham, Illinois, native Mike was born three years before Chevrolet's fiberglass two-seater entered production, so it's not a stretch to say that the two have matured together. Growing up with influential car-enthusiast older brothers, he remembers the first time this car entered his consciousness: "I was 12 years old, and riding with my brother west on Highway 40 past the old Pillsbury plant, and my brother said, 'There goes a Corvette.' It was a silver 1962 model and it was at 4:30 p.m., I remember that. I was stricken with the Corvette bug," Mike says. "I still have that bug, and when I shut my eyes, I can still see that Corvette."
One of his brothers went on to buy a 1960 model, which further cemented his interest. The first Corvette that Mike would personally own was a three-year-old, four-speed, Marina Blue-over-white 1967 roadster. As a young journeyman tool-and-die maker, he was driving that Sting Ray in 1974 when he got a $500 loan to start a new venture. Instead of focusing his efforts on the automotive parts that commonly traded hands, he would work part-time to sell Corvette-themed accessories that appealed to followers of the "lifestyle" that this car inspired: embroidered T-shirts, jackets, patches, glassware, jewelry, manuals and the like. He sold his wares to the faithful at weekend swap meets and some of the Corvette specialty shows being held at that time, including Bloomington in Illinois and Cavalcade of Corvettes in Pennsylvania. In two short years, the nascent Mid America Enterprises became a full-time job, and Mike printed the first example of the company's now world-famous catalog: a two-page, black-and-white flyer.
"I worked out of my apartment, an attic and the trunk of a friend's car," Mike recalls; "I later moved to a home that served as my office, warehouse and shipping dock. When I started using shower stalls to store products, it was time to take the business seriously." The mailing flyer gained color images in 1978, around the same time it began listing a few Corvette replacement parts in addition to the aftermarket accessories and lifestyle products.
As the Corvette evolved into a powerful, world-class sports car through the 1980s, so did Mike's aftermarket parts and accessories business. With the support of wife Laurie, this pioneer soon offered a full-color Corvette parts and accessories catalog, as well as a full line of apparel. The first Mid America facility covered 1,200 square feet; this was traded for a 7,200-square-foot building, which has now given way to Mid America's current 140-acre Effingham campus.
The business continued to thrive in the 1990s, giving Mike the opportunity to pursue his collection of important Corvettes and automobilia, most of which is now displayed in his colorful "MY Garage" museum. Open to the public free of charge, this museum and restoration facility houses a restored 1910 filling station and shows the vehicles in nostalgic diorama-like settings that engage the viewer. Among the collection's highlights is the very last fourth-generation Corvette, built in 1996; Mike was able to watch this uniquely trimmed car be assembled in the Bowling Green plant, and even had all of the technicians who worked on it autograph the car. Other significant late-model Corvettes would join this car over the next 15 years, including the last C5-generation Z06 (in 2004), and to complement it, the first C6-generation Z06.
Among the 35 to 40 vehicles on rotating display are rare, low-mileage originals, including a 3,000-mile, unrestored 1954 roadster; and special Corvette prototype, concept and racing cars like the CERV 1, Zora Arkus-Duntov's circa-1962 open-wheel engineering prototype, the 1964 New York World's Fair Bill Mitchell styling exercise Coupe and the 1968 L-88 hardtop roadster that competed at Le Mans in 1972 and Sebring and Daytona in 1973. "The scope of the museum is not only the cars, but also the automotive memorabilia I've collected after more than 35 years as a Corvette enthusiast," he says.
MY Garage is also home to some special vintage Volkswagens, which represent another side of the Mid America Motorworks business plan. "I have a brother who has a Volkswagen salvage yard, and I saw a new market there," Mike explains. "The VW Bug is a cult car, just like a Corvette. The air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle has worldwide appeal, and the Corvette has as many fans around the world as Volkswagen does. There is a large market out there for these iconic cars." To this end, in 1998, Mike purchased Volkswagen parts and accessories supplier The Real Source, which he wrapped into Mid America Motorworks as the firm's air-cooled Volkswagen parts division. He added to this in 2004 by taking over Rocky Mountain Motorworks, and as with his Corvette business, Mid America Motorworks is now this country's largest supplier of mechanical, body and trim parts for air-cooled Volkswagen Type 1s, Karmann Ghias, Buses, Type 3s and Things.
Back in the late 1990s, Mid America faced the same issues as do many businesses that rely on outside suppliers for their merchandise--they struggled with locating reliable sources for high-quality, reasonably priced seat covers, carpet sets and other interior components. Mike took the plunge in 2002 and became a vertically integrated manufacturer, starting his own manufacturing operation that is housed in a 36,000-square-foot facility. This division, called Performance Choice, makes seat upholstery, molded carpet sets, door panels, shifter consoles, headliners, convertible tops and soft interior trim.
The two-page handout flyer that gradually became a full-color mailed catalog is now a booming business; around six million of the roughly 400-page-thick Corvette catalogs are periodically mailed to customers every year. "We have 80,000-plus products," Mike notes. "I've been doing this for 38 years, but I still get excited when we launch new products."
That excitement, and his desire to engage with and give back to his customers, prompted Mike to host Mid America Motorworks' annual Funfest events, as well as the old-fashioned spring and fall Swapfest swap meets. The Corvette Funfest started in 1993, when it drew some 300 Corvettes and 1,200 spectators; "We had over 17,000 Corvettes and 45,000 people at our 18th annual event in 2011. The community we live in has 12,400 people, so our event magnifies the community by four or five times," he says proudly. While the Volkswagen Funfest, which started in 1999, is smaller in scope, it still draws thousands of cars and new participants each year.
Another way that he has shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with the car world at large was by authoring the 2007 title, Mike Yager's Corvette Bible. This 302-page book is a resource for all Corvette owners and enthusiasts, regardless of their level of knowledge about the cars, and it includes his authoritative advice on every model year and model/engine/trim variation, from the hand-built 1953s through the current C6 generation. Also thriving is Mid America Motorworks' Internet presence: The primary website (www.mamotorworks.com) is split into Corvette and air-cooled Volkswagen sections, while MY Garage (www.mygaragemuseum.com) and Mike's personal blog (http://blog.autotainment.com) have their own addresses.
So as you've already gathered, Mike does things his own way. In 38 years, he went from one man and a $500 loan to 170 full-time employees and more than $50 million in annual sales. But this success hasn't gone to his head: Instead of calling himself Mid America's president or CEO, the title on his business card is "Chief Cheerleader." "I feel that I am a better leader than president. If I review in my mind presidents and historical world figures, my role models are leaders who allowed those around them to be the best they could be," he says. "I believe true leaders develop and encourage those around them to take chances and get outside the box, and they support them when they err." Mike says that most people have their own idea as to what a president does, but few, if any, know what a chief cheerleader does. "It has opened many doors of conversation for me. Mid America Motorworks is a fun business, serving a fun group of customers, people enjoying their cars. Why shouldn't I have a fun title?"
On a personal note, we couldn't have Vet Fest 2018 without the cooperation of Mike and his team. I find him to be a very approachable individual so if by chance you see Mike walking around with his trademark straw hat, be sure to tell him thank you.
A little bit of information about Mike Yegar and Mid-America Motorworks