National Corvette Museum President Talks Sinkhole, C8, and 30th Anniversary Celebrations

Courtesy National Corvette Museum

In 1994, the same year that Ayrton Senna left this mortal coil, the Channel Tunnel connected the United Kingdom to France, and Dale Earnhardt won his seventh and final NASCAR Cup championship, the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, opened its doors. The Corvette had just celebrated its 40th anniversary. That spring, the plant in Bowling Green had delivered 25 special convertibles to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the inaugural running of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400. Around 23,000 copies of the 1994 model year Corvette, the third-to-last model year for the long-running C4 generation, would leave Bowling Green for garages around the world.

Today the C8, midengine Corvette is in its fifth model year of production. More than one team is campaigning the successor to the C8.R GTE, the Z06.R GT3, in the 2024 IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship, and the National Corvette Museum is preparing to celebrate its 30th anniversary in late August of 2024. Earlier this year, I interviewed Sharon Brawner, president and CEO of the museum from 2021 to 2024, to talk about the big milestone and to hear her thoughts on where America’s Sports Car is going next.

NCM CEO Sharon Brawner portrait
Courtesy National Corvette Museum

First, we had to discuss another, less happy anniversary for the museum: The sinkhole disaster on February 12, 2014.

“There are folks who still always ask about [the sinkhole], or [the sinkhole is] how they know about the National Corvette Museum,” said Brawner. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s one thing that [the sinkhole] put this museum and Bowling Green on an international stage. On one hand, that’s a benefit. On the other, it’s obviously a negative, too. Tragedy, unfortunately, does seek attention.”

According to Brawner, the 1980s-1990s technology used in the initial geological survey determined that all would be well for building the museum. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, and if today’s tech had picked up on the limestone formations under the museum’s Skydome—which would collapse, swallowing several one-of-a-kind Corvettes 20 years after the museum’s opening—plans would have been made to build elsewhere.

“The museum tried to do everything that it could at the time to allow people to learn more about this museum and our collection and what we do here, even in the face of a tragedy,” said Brawner. “The [staff] did a tremendous job not letting it define us, but at the same time, taking advantage of it.”

When she took the reins in 2021, Brawner’s mission was to make clear that while the sinkhole disaster is a part of the museum’s 30-year tale, it’s not all that the museum is. To emphasize this stance, she organized a limited-engagement exhibition, named “Ground to Sky: The Sinkhole Reimagined,” which will be open through the summer, starting on June 14, 2024. This new exhibit covers the last decade since February 12, 2014, with an emphasis on what the museum, and the model that it celebrates, have accomplished in the last 10 years.

NCM C8 Corvette beside Kentucky wall mural
Courtesy National Corvette Museum/Robby Berry

“If you know anything about Corvette history, then you certainly know the name Zora Arkus-Duntov,” said Brawner. “Zora started dreaming of a mid-engine Corvette back in the ’50s; this is not a new idea. It took many decades to find the right time and the right engineering prowess to pull off a very competitive, high-performance Corvette with a mid-engine [placement]. It’s not really all that surprising to all of us following [the car’s] history; it was really just a matter of time. And I think that when GM did it, they did it very well.”

Another evolution of the Corvette is in showrooms now: the hybrid E-Ray. Though this new Vette’s hybrid system is tailored more for performance than for fuel conservation, the fact that it’s a hybrid at all is more than a sign of the times, especially in light of General Motors’ push to convert its portfolio to battery power. Is it only a matter of time until the Corvette goes fully electric? And if so, when?

“I’m not privy to anything more than the general public is as far as how [the Corvette] will continue to evolve,” said Brawner. “I think that, from a historical perspective, how the car continues to develop in its engineering and design prowess is exciting for us as we make sure that we’re marking these historical moments, that [the museum] will allow our guests to understand what it means when these things happen with this car.”

The 30th anniversary celebration of the National Corvette Museum will have plenty to offer fans of America’s Sports Car, starting with the Corvette Caravan. Brawner says the museum is expecting 8000 Corvette fans from around the world to make the pilgrimage to southwestern Kentucky; if its predictions are accurate, the crowd will be the largest the museum has ever seen. Entertainment will feature a few country artists to be announced at a later time, while all sorts of celebrities from the Corvette world are expected to be in attendance. The city of Bowling Green will be a part of the 30th anniversary extravaganza as well, according to Brawner, with related events taking place away from the museum.

NCM 2022 event group drone aerial
Courtesy National Corvette Museum/Robby Berry

“This is a very important time for folks,” said Brawner. “They take off and make this their big summer vacation. We need to make sure that we’re really rising to the occasion to give them a variety of exciting events and activities to take advantage of. I can remember when the museum opened. I remember the thousands of Corvettes all up and down I-65, and what it meant to the people who love this car. There are many museums in this country that never see 30 years. This is a proud moment for this museum to boast that it’s been here for 30 years and going strong.”

NCM parking grounds drone aerial
Courtesy National Corvette Museum

We would be remiss to not mention another historical milestone for the National Corvette Museum: Though she has since moved on from her role as president and CEO of the museum, Sharon Brawner is the first woman to hold that position, having originally come over from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, where she spent nearly two decades before her appointment to the highest role at the National Corvette Museum. She may be a native of Kentucky, Brawner never thought she’d leave Nashville for Bowling Green, but COVID-19 changed her path.

“COVID changed a lot of things for a lot of folks, and I felt like it was time for me to take a break,” said Brawner. “I didn’t have a position when I left my tenure at the Country Music Hall of Fame; I just needed a break. I needed to move away from being in charge of so many things and lots of responsibilities. I needed to recharge. I actually left my position with no idea of what I was going to do.”

For six months, she spent time with her family. She celebrated the birth of her granddaughter in May of 2020 and, upon the passing of her father in 2019, moved her mother in with her and her husband. While she was bonding with her family and thinking about what would come next, the National Corvette Museum’s search team came calling. The opportunity was not one to pass up for Brawner, who had interviewed for several other positions, including the big one. After a lengthy interview process, Brawner became the museum’s fourth president and CEO in September 2021.

NCM parking grounds drone aerial
Courtesy National Corvette Museum

“I am very proud of [being the museum’s first woman CEO],” said Brawner. “I’ve had several steps in my career where I had been the first woman to do something, and I enjoy that. It’s not something that I have on my list of things I have to accomplish. I was the first woman to run an arena football team. I was the first woman to run a Triple-A baseball team. And I was the first woman to run this museum. Not many women run museums, period.”

Though some were skeptical about Brawner’s appointment, with some cynicism thrown in about her being just another big diversity hire, she says those concerns fell by the wayside due to her not only being a museum professional but also being a dyed-in-the-wool Corvette fan; she owns one and has grown up around America’s Sports Car. She has visited the museum frequently over the decades, starting with Opening Day back in 1994, when she attended with her father.

NCM C8s racing on track action
Courtesy National Corvette Museum/ABI Photo

“One of the most interesting things about this museum is that we just continue to keep growing,” Brawner said. “We opened NCM Motorsports Park 10 years ago. Fifteen years ago, we opened our own insurance agency for collector cars. And the museum is 30 years old. What I can tell you is that this organization is not through growing. We continue to talk about future campus plans for this place. We’ve been fortunate and thoughtful enough to acquire land around the museum so that we can have future growth, whether it’s during my time as president and CEO or if it’s the next one.”

If you’re one of the thousands of fans headed to Bowling Green this summer in your beloved Corvette, make sure to tip your crossed-flags baseball cap to Brawner, who helped organize the party for America’s Sports Car—and the museum that holds its legacy.


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    I visited the Corvette Museum on August 31, 2019. They had an exhibit about the sinkhole which was pretty cool, the new one sounds like it could be even better. They also had the introduction of the C8 Corvette that weekend also. It’s a very cool place even if you don’t own a Corvette.

    Is the museum still open to the public? I heard once it was closing down for some reason.

    As of March 1st, they’re open 9 am to 5 pm 7 days a week. The factory tours stopped in February due to “manufacturing advancements” at Bowling Green Assembly, and it is unknown if they will resume in the future.

    Before Lyndon Johnson took me away to Asia, I drive a wonderful 1955 roadster. The car sat in my dad’s garage until I returned from overseas. Sadly, the Covette had to go, since I returned to school and wanted to start a family with my new bride. The Corvette was sold and I never saw it again. I often wonder where it ended up…

    Im proud of you too Sharon. Take the bull by the horns. Gotta give respect when its due. You’re earned. And by the way, you do not look like a grandmother. Your picture shows a strong, intelligent, mature woman with a glow about her. Take care and enjoy your loved ones.

    Sharon was one of the best architects for growing the museum. Her passion for the car, and the staff who are dedicated to the success of the museum was always felt by those who could see her vision. She is truly missed by us.

    Good story, but it could have mentioned who followed Ms. Brawner since it mentioned she was no longer in that position.

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