Back in the fall of 1997 when Jack and Dor DeLong picked up their new Nassau Blue 1998 Corvette, they likely didn’t realize what a significant vehicle it would turn out to be, not only for them but also for other enthusiasts around the country.
Over the ensuing decades, it’s become a symbol of so many facets of the Corvette experience for them. The DeLongs drove it in the first National Corvette Museum Caravan in 1999, when Jack says they got their first taste of what the NCM would come to mean to them and eventually would lead to their donation of the car to the NCM at last month’s Bash.
“That really opened our eyes to what the Museum could be for us – the first time we ever cruised with a whole group of people like that,” Jack says of that fifth-anniversary celebration. “We met so many great people.
The last day when we caravanned into the Museum, our group from the East staged in Louisville. I said to my wife, we got to be there before 5 a.m., and of course I got the usual response of why, why, why and I said well, we just got to be there so we did. It was oh dark thirty – nothing but starlight other than the lights in this gigantic parking lot.”
Thanks to being the “early birds,” the DeLongs had the distinction of being the second car in line behind legendary Corvette engineer Dave McLellan. “I had the pleasure of not only having photographs right there but also following him into Bowling Green.”
In 2001, Jack was at the Daytona 500 race where Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash. Two years later, the NCM selected 100 Corvettes from across the country to pay tribute to the legendary stock car driver, and the DeLongs’ beloved ’98 was one of them.
“We were number 23 out of 100 Corvettes that went to North Carolina to pay tribute to Dale,” Jack says, “and before that event, I said I have to do something (special) because I was a rabid Dale Earnhardt fan and I was there when he passed away – last time I ever went to a NASCAR (event).”
Jack asked an artist friend if he would do an airbrushed tribute to Earnhardt underneath the hood. “He did a magnificent job,” he said. “We finished it up literally days before the event, and the first time I ever opened the hood with the tribute to Dale was in front of Dale’s shop in North Carolina. The thing that made me so proud was how many people came out of his facility to come out and look at that car. If there’s a memory, yeah, that would be it.”
Since then, Jack says he didn’t set out to collect signatures under the hood, but “opportunities just presented themselves” over the years. Now there are 24 recognizable signatures – “a who’s who” of the Corvette world, including engineers, executives, and other members of the Corvette team.
Even without the special touches the DeLongs have added over the years, this otherwise ordinary C5 Corvette would still be significant to them, Jack says.
“It’s the car that opened us up to what the potential of the Museum is,” he says. “It opened up all these friendships that we have all across the country and different car clubs that we all came together here. So yeah, it’s my favorite. It’ll always be my baby. I know our cherished ’98 is in the correct location, the National Corvette Museum, and hopefully many others can view this special Corvette and maybe understand what Corvette and the NCM mean to us. Our license plate said it all, 1ONR98.”
The DeLongs handed off the keys to Derek Moore, NCM lead curator, who pointed out that the ’98 becomes the third Corvette donated by the DeLongs, joining two C4s.
“This is a great vehicle to be donated this year, a great addition to the collection,” Moore said. “Has a great story behind it, and it’s also very fitting that there’s a Dale Earnhardt connection to this car (on the 20th anniversary of his passing).”
National Corvette Museum
1984 Corvette Billed as World’s Fastest Corvette is Donated to the National Corvette Museum
[VIDEO] Award-Winning 1961 Corvette Donated to the National Corvette Museum
Couple Donates 1970 Corvette Owned for 48 Years to the National Corvette Museum