It could be called an invasion, with the eye-catching skydome at Interstate 65’s exit 28 as its destination, but don’t expect anyone from Bowling Green to build a wall to keep out the four-wheeled invaders that are already well on their way.
From most parts of this country and a few others, Corvette enthusiasts are making their pilgrimage to Bowling Green for the National Corvette Museum’s 25th anniversary celebration that runs Wednesday through Saturday and includes both a Friday Hall of Fame induction, a Thursday evening concert by Jefferson Starship and a chance to see and touch a pair of the new mid-engine Corvettes called the C8.
Thanks to those attractions and others, this anniversary is shaping up as the biggest yet for the museum that has held anniversary celebrations every five years since its opening in 1994.
“I’m hearing lots of commotion about this event,” said Sean Preston, who became the museum’s president and CEO in June. “We’ve preregistered more than 7,100 Corvettes, which will be the largest ever. I’m hearing this will be the largest gathering of Corvettes in motion ever. It’ll be amazing.”
The Corvette caravans coming from all corners of the country are testament to just how big this silver anniversary will be.
Jeff Duda, a New Jersey resident who is National Corvette Caravan chairman this year, is seeing the type of enthusiasm from the 25 regional caravan captains to make him believe this year’s event could eclipse the record-setting 20th anniversary.
“With the last one, there was curiosity tied to the sinkhole,” said Duda, referencing the February 2014 sinkhole collapse that damaged eight Corvettes on display inside the skydome. “That generated quite a bit of interest. This one rivals that because the museum has changed with the addition of the motorsports park and the introduction of new cars. It’s the first opportunity for a lot of people to see those things.”
Which means it’s an opportunity for hotels, restaurants and attractions in and around Bowling Green to cash in.
“It’s going to be pretty busy in town,” said Beth Noffsinger, communications director for the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We had people calling a year in advance. We’re anticipating total occupancy in our hotels.”
Kacie Hood, general manager of the Hyatt Place and president of the Bowling Green Area Lodging Association, can back up that assessment.
“People started booking as soon as they could last year,” Hood said. “We’ve been sold out since last year.”
And that means the impact of the Corvette anniversary spreads beyond Bowling Green.
“People are staying in Elizabethtown and in Goodlettsville, Tenn.,” Hood said. “They’re renting cabins at Barren River Lake State Park. The economic impact is felt throughout the region.”
Such a response to the anniversary celebration shows how far the museum has come in a quarter century.
Wendell Strode, who is retiring after 23 years as the museum’s executive director, said: “I don’t know that anybody envisioned that the museum would be able to experience the success that it has. Our grand opening was almost a grand finale.”
Strode cites numbers to demonstrate how the museum has overcome a sluggish start.
“We’ve grown from 1,600 members to more than 38,000,” he said. “Our main focus has been on the Corvette enthusiasts, trying to make them feel welcome.”
It seems to be working. Strode said the museum now brings in visitors from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries each year.
“The Corvette has international appeal,” he said. “Corvette enthusiasts are traveling more, and one of the stops they have to make is Bowling Green.”