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The Judges’ Word is Gold For Corvette Enthusiasts

One of the aspects that makes the Bloomington Gold Corvettes USA show -- appearing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway through Saturday -- the biggest and most prestigious of its kind in the world is the judging that takes place, offering Corvette enthusiasts confirmation that their Corvette meets the highest standards.

“It’s what we’re known for,” said Guy Larsen, Bloomington Gold Corvettes USA president. “Even though it’s 130 (cars being judged) of the 5,000 cars that are here, give or take, it’s still what people know us for. If you watch auction events in different places, they may announce that a car has Bloomington Gold certification, and it’s pretty well known throughout the country and in some parts the world.”

There are three separate judging awards that Corvette owners vie for at the Bloomington Gold Corvettes USA show at IMS:

  • The “Survivor” award is designed to recognize those Corvettes that are “worn in, but not worn out.” A Survivor Corvette is over 20 years old and significantly unrestored, unrepaired, or unmodified and meet a variety of requirements.
  • A “Gold Certified” award is presented to a car for appearing as it would just after completion of “typical factory production.” It means that a Corvette has been preserved or restored within 95 percent of the way it appeared when it left the factory – no better, no worse, no different. The standards for authenticity and condition are clear – to attain historic perfection, not cosmetic perfection. Cars not achieving a Gold Certified award are eligible to earn Silver or Bronze awards.
  • “Benchmark” certification is the ultimate standard for unrestored Corvettes. To achieve Benchmark status, a Corvette must attain Gold certification and excel in all four categories of Survivor judging during the same weekend, and this year that only happens this weekend at IMS. To date, fewer than 200 Corvettes have earned the prestigious Benchmark Award.

For Corvette owners, earning Bloomington Gold certification is a lofty goal that adds value and prestige to a car.

“It will last forever and we keep records of every one we’ve ever done,” Larsen said. “If somebody purchases a car and thinks it was certified, we can look up the records. Whether they resubmit it and do it again, that does happen for a variety of reasons. Let’s say it did not get a Gold, that it attained a Silver and they want to make some corrections, which you can do in certification. They can be restored cars, so it’s permissible to go back and improve some things by correct, original, authentic parts and put them on or correct the finishes to it as it left the factory. By doing these type of things you can achieve a higher award.

“Sometimes people just bring it back because it was a number of years ago that it was certified and they want to redo and make sure it’s still in that condition.”

A considerable amount of Bloomington Gold’s reputation as the world’s No. 1 Corvette show is built on the quality of the judging process, so the judges have to be highly qualified to tackle such a demanding task.

“That’s not somebody you just stumble on to,” Larsen said. “Our judges don’t use manuals, books or data – they just know the information. So you’ll have judges who may only judge one or two years, and only one section of the car because that’s what they know, and they will know the details of that particular section including the finishes, the installation manner and the configuration of whether a nut goes in the front or the back. They know all those things.”

This marks the first year that Corvettes built in 1995 have been eligible for Gold Certified judging, and Jason Sharkey of Lebanon, Indiana, took advantage of that opportunity. Sharkey, who recently purchased a replica 1995 Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Car in Chicago, had no idea when he bought it that it would ever be judged.

“I really wanted to get into the Corvette game and it’s my first Corvette, and I literally bought it so I could drive the heck out of it -- just beat the tar out of it -- and enjoy it,” Sharkey said. “I like working on cars and I have restored a ton of DeLoreans and they take a lot of work, and I wanted a car I wouldn’t have to maintain as much. So I bought this Pace Car and I got a really good deal on it, and when I got it back I started looking at it and it’s a low mileage car with a lot of documentation with it, and it was really, really nice. I’ve owned a lot of collector cars and when you get something that to you feels like it’s brand new, it’s a neat thing, especially when it’s a 20-year-old car.

“A friend of mine (Thomas Beeler of Indianapolis, who collects Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars and replicas) suggested I have this thing judged and get that certification before I start really using it as a driver. So I did some investigation into it and I decided to try it, and we really didn’t know what to expect.”

As his Corvette was being judged, Sharkey grew to admire and appreciate the individuals who thoroughly examined every square inch of his prized Pace Car.

“The guys, you could tell they’re put into a tough situation where they’re looking at hundreds of cars and they have to accurately assess them, and the last thing you want to do is insult somebody’s car because they’re collector cars and they mean a lot to people, but they were wonderful,” Sharkey said. “They went over the fixes for the little things with me and that was nice. They don’t have to do that, but they did. They were personable and the concept of the way that they judged was very well thought out. It impressed me.”

Although Sharkey was undecided about whether or not he should have his car judged at the Bloomington Gold show at IMS, when his car earned the coveted Gold Certified award, it confirmed he made the right the decision.

“It just means that I had a really nice car,” Sharkey said. “It’s a neat thing to say that you have a Corvette that’s been Bloomington Gold certified. It holds prominence that’s special.”

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