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The Corvette Lifestyle
Written By: Tom Olsen
Photos By: Derek Hieb
“I’m one of the lucky ones…my business and my hobby are the same, and I get to meet some wonderful people along the way.” That’s not a statement you hear every day when visiting with people about their work. But, that’s exactly what Barry Konken of Jerry’s Chevrolet and Corvette Center told me about his job…and his hobby.
For the past 11 years, Barry has been the Specialty Vehicle Manager at Jerry’s Chevrolet. And, he’s been an active member of the Sioux Falls Corvette Club for many years. Those two roles are tightly intertwined.
Barry’s love of Corvettes all started with his dad, Gerald. He recalls that his dad had a bunch of drag racing trophies he had won with a red ’63 Corvette “split window” he owned. In the fall of 1963, Gerald sold the car because he needed $2,500 for the down payment on a house. While that memorable car went away, Barry’s memory of it never did.
Gerald kept track of the ’63 ‘Vette and tried to buy it back some years later, offering as much as $25,000, but the owner never would sell. (Now, of course, it’s worth even more!) Howard Goehring, at Howard’s Corvettes, a former college roommate, was eventually contacted. He suggested that a later model might be a more practical choice for all-around enjoyment and travel. Howard told Gerald, “Leave those memories alone.” In 1980, a “perfect” red low-mile ’79 Corvette was bought. As an 11-year-old, Barry remembers going for rides and to car shows with his dad in this Corvette. That’s where the Corvette “disease” all started.
In 1986 it was time to move up, and Gerald bought an ‘84 Corvette. That same year, he and Barry climbed in the Corvette and drove to a rally they heard about in the Black Hills, the Black Hills Corvette Classic. They got lucky and found a room at the host hotel in Spearfish, right in the middle of all the action. They had a blast at the rally, and Barry and his father haven’t missed one since!
Late that year, the ‘84 Corvette was sold and, in the spring, an ’85 was bought. Buying one Corvette in the spring and selling it in the fall soon turned into a couple Corvettes each season. Barry then met the Nelson brothers who operated “Deals on Wheels” and began marketing Corvettes throughout the country. Many years later, when selling Corvettes at a shop near Tea, Barry met Jerry Barr from Jerry’s Chevrolet. That friendship soon evolved into Barry going to work managing Corvette and specialty vehicle sales at Jerry’s Chevrolet in Beresford. Now, “the hobby has grown into a business and a lifestyle.”
And, what a lifestyle it is. Barry is totally immersed in the Corvette culture! He has been a member of the Sioux Falls Corvette Club for years, and envisions his role in the club as one of public relations. Barry is quick to point out that the Black Hills Corvette Classic is the longest operating Corvette event in the country run totally by local club volunteers. Many of those volunteers have been with the club since it originated in 1971. For the club members, “it’s all about the passion for Corvettes.”
Barry works hard at promoting the “Classic” and involving Jerry’s Chevrolet. “I still get excited about the event…it’s like Christmas for me!” They are now event sponsors of the rally and host the Welcome Event on Wednesday at the dealership. Jerry’s is always trying to “ramp up” the event by bringing in GM engineers, the Ron Fellows Driving School, and automotive dignitaries.
In addition to his involvement with the Black Hills Corvette Classic, Barry participates in Corvette events around the country, many involving racing. He started autocross racing as a 16-year-old, and has been racing ever since. Barry has raced on several high-speed tracks including competing in One Lap of America. Jerry’s Chevrolet also rents the MPH track in Hastings, NE, for a day each summer and invites friends and customers down for a day of instruction and racing. Whenever he can, Barry competes locally with the Sports Car Club of Sioux Falls when they operate at the fairgrounds.
In addition, Barry enjoys participating in high-speed open road races around the country. He has participated in the Silver State Classic in Nevada, and the Sandhills Open Road Challenge in Nebraska. These events are held on two-lane public highways that are closed down by authorities for the event. A variety of challenges are offered; Barry has been competing in the 1 mile and ½ mile challenges. In a previously-owned 2009 Corvette ZR1, he ran 198mph in the standing start mile. In his current 2016 Corvette Z06, Barry’s best is just over 154mph in the ½ mile. (Keep in mind this is on a closed 2-lane public road with no shoulder!) That’s getting right with the program! Barry particularly enjoys the Sandhills event, and has only missed it twice in the last 18 years.
In visiting about new Corvettes, Barry informed me of the Corvette Owners School at the Ron Fellows Corvette Driving School west of Las Vegas, NV. For new C7 Corvette owners, Chevrolet pays at least 60% of the tuition for the two-day driving school. In addition to that opportunity, Jerry’s Chevrolet reserves a school exclusively for their friends and customers. It has proven so popular that, for the past two years, they have reserved two schools simultaneously for 36 drivers. Barry is proud the company is able to offer this experience where customers can hone their driving skills and learn the capabilities of their Corvette in a safe environment.
Looking around the showroom at Jerry’s, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the assortment and quality of the Corvettes on hand. Barry tells me they try to have 40-45 Corvettes in stock.
“Last year was our best year ever, but it’s always a struggle to find the highest quality, lowest mileage cars available”, Barry explains. They find that many of their customers have a trade cycle of about every three years. Customers will initially buy the Corvette of their dreams, and then trade up in a few years. “Once a person has made that investment, it really doesn’t cost that much to move up.”
As I admired a stunning 2019 “Sebring Orange Metallic” Grand Sport just inside the front door, Barry explained exciting things going on in the latest Corvette line-up.
“The big news right now is the new ZR1, with 755 horsepower; the most powerful Corvette ever!” I tried to pry any “insider information” from him about the rumored mid-engine Corvette in development, but if he had any insight there, he sure wasn’t letting on!
Beyond the actual cars, our conversation kept drifting back to the Black Hills Corvette Classic and the people involved. Barry looks forward to it each year to renew old acquaintances and meet new friends.
“The caravan to the rally is the world’s longest Corvette caravan. And, once there, people can’t believe the spectacular scenery and roads the Black Hills has to offer,” he shares.
The more we talked, the more apparent it is just how much Barry loves Corvettes, the people, and his place in the Corvette lifestyle. A favorite comment to Barry by a rally friend is: “I came for the cars…I keep coming back for the people.” I think that sums it up well.
The 47th annual Black Hills Corvette Classic is July 18-21, 2018. Jerry’s Chevrolet will be hosting the Welcome Event at the dealership on Wednesday, the 18th, and will be attending Hot Summer Nites in downtown Sioux Falls that evening. Hot Summer Nites is a fantastic family event. You owe it to yourself to stop down and see what the Corvette lifestyle is all about!