Ground Bound Blue Angel

Corvette has long-standing ties to the military and for John “Sparky” Lersch, his tie to Corvette is because of the military.

After a moderately successful high school football stint in Pittsburgh, PA, Sparky was recruited to play football for a number of college programs, including United States Naval Academy coach Steve Belichick (father of New England Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick). “I didn’t really want to go. After growing up in the north, I wanted to go south where it was warm and attend the University of Miami,” said Sparky. “My dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps – join the Navy, become a Navy pilot, fly off aircraft carriers. On the drive back home after talking to Coach Belichick, as we neared my house we drove right past the high school homecoming queen’s house. For her 16th birthday she had received a 1967 dark green Corvette convertible. Fate gave me the opportunity and nerve to say to my dad, ‘If I go to the Naval Academy, will you buy me a new Corvette?’ He extended his hand and our deal was struck. Tuition at Navy was free, so my dad, an accountant at the time, made out pretty well.”

Sparky’s Senior year he was finally allowed to have a car on campus, so he and his dad visited the local Chevrolet dealer who offered great deals to midshipman. Sparky picked out a 1973 Corvette, Dark Blue with Beige interior, fully loaded and stickered at $5,600. Eight weeks later, out of the St. Louis factory, his dream car had arrived.

“Up until this point I had never even sat in a Corvette. I wanted my first experience to be with my own car. I’m 6’2”, and that’s about as tall as you could be to sit in one at the time.”

Sparky kept the car about five years and put 75,000 miles on it. “You could eat off the engine, I kept it spit polished all the time. It was my pride and joy.” He kept the car for five years and sold it at the end of his first tour flying off the U.S.S. Saratoga outside of Jacksonville, FL.

Eventually Sparky became a Navy pilot and relocated to Pensacola, Florida. There he saw a 1962 hardtop convertible Corvette sitting on a lot. He paid $2,800 for the car, kept it a little while, then sold it for $3,000. “I thought I had made a lot of money off that car at the time,” Sparky laughs.

Later in life, Sparky started a habit of buying a new Corvette after returning from a Navy cruise, driving it until his next cruise and then selling it. “GMC gave us such a good military discount on the Corvettes I could sell it for a little more than I paid, and make a little money – basically driving the car for free! I ordered a 1978, ’79 and the last one was a 1980. I got out of the Navy in 1981 and sold it shortly thereafter. I worked in downtown New York City, which isn’t a good place to own a Corvette.”

That was the last time Sparky owned a Corvette until recently. As a 64 year old retiree with a 31 year career in commercial aviation at Delta Airlines,  Sparky was now facing a bladder cancer diagnosis. “What started out as no big deal turned into some mild chemotheraphy, which turned into some heavy chemotherapy, which turned into the famous ‘do you have your affairs in order?’ They were words you never expect to hear. Those questions give one pause.”

Sparky Lersch with his ground-bound rocket, a 2017 Stingray Corvette in true Blue Angel scheme.

Sparky went home and started flipping through an old photo album, running across a picture of his 1973 Corvette. “I decided the only thing on my Bucket List was to get one last Corvette.” The next day he went back to his Oncologist to get a more definable timetable of events in his suddenly short future. “Doctors are funny. They want to give you enough information to make preparations, but they have to leave enough wiggle room for both hope and probabilities. My doctor would offer me no definitive timetable.” So Sparky tried another angle, telling the doctor he had decided to go out and get a brand new 2017 Corvette, Admiral Blue with a big yellow stripe down the hood. “I said, ‘My only question for you Doc is should I get a one year or a two year lease?’ He laughed, having seen right through my ploy, paused a moment and said, ‘I think a one year lease would be best.’ The next day I found the exact car I wanted at a local dealer and signed a two-year lease. Motivation comes in many forms, and the idea of outliving the lease was mine.”

Sparky is now on his third round of chemo, and while the process has been unpleasant at times, things are looking up. CAT scans show the chemo is making good process, and he’s started to set aside money to buy out the lease in November of 2019. “I drive my Vette to every chemo session, because no matter how bad I feel, dropping the hammer on 460hp of a Stingray is just as much fun as it was 44 years ago. You just can’t feel sorry for yourself in the cockpit of America’s premier sports machine.”

We’re looking forward to seeing Sparky cruise around in his ground-bound Blue Angel!