Life-Changing Issues

Written by editor on . Posted in Parting Shots, Spring 2010

By Darren Jacobs

It’s funny, sometimes, the way inspiration can strike. Earl Kessler had hit rock bottom in 1996. In rehab for alcohol abuse, he was looking for something, anything, to kill time, to distract him from the urge to take a drink. A magazine in the rehab facility, probably left behind by a visitor as an afterthought, caught Kessler’s eye—the Summer 1996 issue of VIPER Magazine, featuring the Dodge Viper GTS Coupe on the cover. In that moment, Kessler’s life was changed for the better forever.

Kessler marveled at the cover. It became a motivational tool he employed to survive his stay in rehab. “I had never seen a Viper Coupe before,” recalls Kessler. “I read that magazine every chance I could during my stay. On my last day I made a deal with myself that if I could stay sober for ten years, I would buy myself a Viper Coupe.

“The Viper absolutely helped me pull through. It gave me lots of hope and something for which to look forward. I looked forward to buying a Viper, and I would never have found out about it if it hadn’t been for the magazine.”

Kessler is very fortunate to have many friends and family that encouraged him on the road to recovery, “My family and friends were there for me when I needed them,” Kessler emphasized. “I would not be where I am today without their support.”

The early years of sobriety weren’t easy on Kessler. “The first two years were the hardest, since I had to completely change my lifestyle,” he says. “I just stayed focused, even when the Viper Coupe was retired in 2002.”

Four years later, in 2006, Kessler celebrated his 10th year of sobriety. Lo and behold, what should appear on the cover of the Winter 2006 issue of VIPER Magazine, but a homage to the 1996 cover which inspired Kessler, featuring the exact same layout but this time highlighting the new 2006 Viper SRT10® Coupe. Coincidence? We think not—after all, twelve-step programs do emphasize the need to submit to a Higher Power!

“I couldn’t believe it,” recounts Kessler. “It was like it was meant to be. There was ?no way I couldn’t buy a Viper now.” He wasted little time, purchasing his Viper in 2006. He stills owns the 2006 SRT10 twin turbo coupe. “I just keep making it meaner,” says Kessler. “I had RSI double then triple the horsepower; now it’s at 1500 hp. It’s sweet.”

The 46-year-old contractor remains sober today. “I feel very grateful that I was able to make it,” says a thankful Kessler. “I’m a hard-working person. I stay busy and have fun with my car and family on the weekends. I’ll come home really tired and sore from working all day, and all I have to do is peek in that garage and I’m feeling better.”

As with all VCA members, Kessler receives a free subscription to VIPER Magazine with his Club membership. He also pays for a second subscription out of his own pocket, and leaves each issue at different businesses he visits, hoping to pass on his muse to others.

“When I go to my AA meetings, or I’m at the county offices pulling permits, all the different areas I visit, I leave a VIPER Magazine behind,” says Kessler. “It definitely changed my life when I read that magazine, so I like to share it if I can. Who knows what’s going on in people’s lives? Maybe it will have the same effect it had on me.”

Accelerating His Life

Written by editor on . Posted in Parting Shots, Winter 2010

By Darren Jacobs

It’s fitting that the Winter 2010 Parting Shots column features VCA member Andrew Wheeler. The former Navy serviceman is known for shots of his own—witness his dazzling Viper pictures displayed on this page.

Wheeler recently ended 10 years of active duty serving with the United States Navy Band, Washington, D.C., also known as “The World’s Finest.” During his years of service, Wheeler performed at the White House, Pentagon, State Department, Arlington National Cemetery, and the White House Visitors Center in Washington. Audience members included Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, W. Bush and Obama. On the somber side, Wheeler also performed over 1,300 full honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery for fallen shipmates.

Wheeler, who has had his work published in automotive magazines, now focuses on photographic pursuits—which, for some reason, currently center on the Dodge Viper. Perhaps it’s because Wheeler just purchased his first Viper, a 2003 SRT10,® in March 2009 while still serving with the Navy. Wheeler quickly caught full-blown Viper fever. Unfortunately, the newbie Viper owner, still serving with the Navy, was scheduled to embark on a 30-day concert tour around the nation just two days after buying his Viper. Needless to say, the now-Snakebit Wheeler lamented leaving his new “baby.”

“Believe me, it was all I could think about the entire trip,” says Wheeler, who recently moved from D.C. to Houston, switching from the Virginia/Maryland VCA Club to the Houston VCA Club. “I had finally found a way to purchase my dream car, and then I was gone.”

The trip didn’t stop Wheeler from making modifications to his SRT10, in his words, “right out of the gate, as soon as I got on the tour bus! By the time I returned home from the tour, Alain at Modular Concepts had a set of carbon fiber-faced 19/20 wheels sitting at my front door, wrapped in a nice sticky pair of Nitto Invos.”

Wheeler also lowered his Viper with a set of Eibach springs, front and rear, and added a Corsa Cat-Back™ exhaust, which he installed in his garage, as well as a K&N intake. He also added a MGW short shift knob, a set of Lloyd’s car mats and real carbon fiber interior trim. Another new edition on the way is a carbon tonneau cover.

With his service to the country complete, Wheeler has wasted no time in documenting his new love on film (or should that be pixels?), as his amazing Viper photos illustrate. He may have found a new role as an official photographic correspondent for VM. Keep that camera clickin’, Andrew!

A Ripple in the Water

Written by editor on . Posted in Fall 2009, Parting Shots

By Lance Kouchi

Like a single drop into a still pool of water, the same rippling effect happens when the keys to a Viper hit your open palm for the very first time. Waves of energy radiate outward and quickly become entwined with others that share a similar fortune. That is what draws and bonds the Viper Family together.

Dave Cawthorne spent 32 years as an international captain piloting 747s for the Flying Tigers. If he wasn’t in the air flying, he was with his wife, son and daughter in their SSC Saleen racing at various track events. Dave eventually found himself in his retirement years and purchased a brand new 2002 Race Yellow Viper GTS. The keys hit the palm of his hand and he sent waves across the pool. Armed with years of experience and a creative desire to tweak and improve each and every “weak” point in the Viper, Dave started developing replacement and upgrade parts for the Viper.

He found himself back at his favorite track, Willow Springs International Speedway, testing parts on his own Viper. He engineered a way to adapt the fantastic SRT10® brakes to the early Vipers and quickly became known as “Big Brake Dave.” He shared his knowledge with everyone, always providing helpful information, and treated others like long lost friends. He would say, “I build this stuff for me,” but the reality is that he did it for all of us. He did it because he truly loved the Viper and interacting with other owners.

I met Dave in 2005 and will always remember his warm greeting to the club which made me feel very welcome. He rarely missed a club event and always played an integral part in some way. Whether it was organizing an event, mapping out a cruise route, or leading a long line of Vipers through the San Diego back roads, he always found a way to contribute. His energy was contagious and it drew people in. Over the last four years, we shared countless meals, e-mails, phone calls and laughs, and put over 15,000 miles on the odometer together. He was a true friend and a big part of my family. While I was lucky enough to know him face-to-face, there are many people in the Viper Nation that shared the very same vicarious friendship by reading and interacting with him through his posts on the Viper forums. His waves of energy traversed all distances.

He closed out 2008 with another Member of the Year award and was ready for another full year of events in the Southern California Club. In spite of not feeling 100 percent health-wise, he coordinated the first club cruise of the year in January, provided technical advice at our Tech Day and took up his position trackside watching over all of us at NARRA/Viper Days in February. He still wasn’t feeling any better when the Western Zone Rendezvous in Las Vegas rolled around in March, but nonetheless, he was there helping out and leading us around the Las Vegas Speedway road course. As soon as he returned home from Las Vegas, his doctor put him through a series of tests, and determined that he had colon cancer …

He calls me at work and instead of the usual, “Hey dude, what’s going on?” I hear a quavering voice shudder, “Bad news … I’ve got cancer.” It was a solid blow to the mid-section. As hard as it was to hear, it was even harder over the coming weeks to sit and wait, hearing his voice deteriorate, and not be able to do something to just make it go away. As word spread, everyone shared the same desire to do something, anything.

So the Viper Family far and near rallied to show support for our friend by “stacking the deck” in his favor. Playing cards with well wishes were sent to his house from members all over the Viper Nation as well as numerous “get well soon” posts on the VCA forums. He felt our waves of energy, but his body was losing the battle from within. In a final outpouring of support, over 30 Vipers and other cars assembled in a day’s notice and paraded past Dave’s house. There in the garage sat Dave in his yellow track chair, his wife on one side and his Viper on the other, waving a final goodbye. One week later, on July 10, 2009, our dear friend “Big Brake Dave” peacefully passed.

A tear rolls off the cheek and sends ripples in the water … He will be missed!

VCA Members Make Dreams Come True on ABC’s ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’

Written by editor on . Posted in Parting Shots, Summer 2009

It’s no secret in the Viper Nation that VCA members give their all in support of a long list of charitable causes. However, the entire world got a recent glimpse of the giving side of Viper owners, thanks to the efforts of Central California President Jerry DeYoung and his wife, Paula. The DeYoungs, through their third-generation construction company, DeYoung Properties, joined the Emmy award-winning, hit reality show, ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” to build a new, quality-constructed DeYoung home in just seven days for one deserving family in Fresno, Calif. The episode aired on March 8.

Mary Ann Riojas and her family were understandably surprised when Ty Pennington, team leader of “Extreme Makeover,” accompanied by his design team, knocked on their front door in early January and announced their home was chosen to be drastically revamped. The DeYoung Properties team went to work right away, tasked with overseeing construction on the intense, one-week build while maintaining the highest standards of quality craftsmanship, design, earth-friendly features and energy-efficiency in creating a dream home for the Riojas clan. All labor and materials for the makeover were donated by the DeYoungs and their trade partners.

DeYoung Properties was chosen as the builder for the “Extreme” project in large part because of their 30-year tradition of giving back to their Central California community. DeYoung Properties supports local schools, non-profits and community groups, in addition to its neighborhood building activities. The company donated two homes to benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2007 and 2008 and will donate a third home in 2009.
“DeYoung Properties’ unwavering passion for their community was clear,” said Conrad Ricketts, executive producer of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” “We are looking for ‘Heroes in the Community’ and both the family and DeYoung Properties are wonderful representations of our theme this season.”

“We were honored to have been asked to be the builder for this extraordinary project to help change one family’s life forever,” said Jerry DeYoung, president of DeYoung Properties.

“What a way to begin a new year!” chimed in Paula DeYoung, executive vice president of DeYoung Properties. “To be asked to build a safe, quality-crafted home for one deserving family in one week with all labor and material donated, is the Super Bowl of home building, so we were honored to say yes.”

For further information on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” or DeYoung Properties, visit or

My Viper Journey

Written by editor on . Posted in Parting Shots, Spring 2009

By Jason Mattinson

Greetings Viper Nation! I am beyond excited to finally be a Viper owner and a member of the VCA. This past September I purchased a yellow 1995 RT/10 and have loved every minute of it. The Viper has been my dream car as long as I can remember so I wanted to share my story with VM.

Back in the early ’90s I remember getting several car posters to hang in my room. One was a Ferrari and the other was a Viper; both red. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of my Viper journey. A few years later I saw the blue and white GTS coupe for the first time. This was a major turning point and my obsession would only begin to grow.

I started out small by collecting scale models of the Viper in various colors. Then I stumbled upon an issue of VIPER Magazine in a bookstore. I purchased it on the spot and read it from cover to cover immediately (Ironically, it was the fall 1998 issue that had a yellow RT/10 on the cover.). Two years later I signed up for a subscription. I received a red Sneaky Pete key chain with my first issue.

About this same time I turned 16 and earned my driver’s license. I begged my parents to let me get a car with a manual transmission. My reason was that I wanted to be able to drive a stick in case the opportunity ever arose to drive a Viper. Through a weird twist of events, my dad promised that we could go “Viper shopping” if he had a good year at work. The year ended great and my dad kept his word; we were off to the local Dodge dealership.

They let us test-drive a red 1994 RT/10. I then built up the courage to ask my dad if I could drive it. At best I was hoping for a big parking lot so that I could say that I actually drove it. The day got even better when he let me take it out on the roads for a few miles. The dealership wrote up the paperwork but we did not buy the car. My dad made it clear that my education was more important. I kept that paperwork to use as motivation for future Viper ownership.

With the help of my parents, I made it through college and into the working world. I kept the Viper as a goal the entire time.

Finally this past fall I was in the position to purchase one. I took that Sneaky Pete key chain I had been saving for eight years so that I could finally add Viper keys to it. Then I hung the “No Parking except for Jason’s Viper” sign in the garage. The sign was a gift from my grandparents from several years back that I had been waiting to hang.

Even though my road to Viper ownership spanned nearly 15 years it was well worth the wait. I cannot thank my family enough for helping me through school and teaching me the value of hard work and going after your dreams. I also need to thank my wife for being very understanding of my Viper obsession. We purchased the car only six weeks after tying the knot. And one final thanks goes out to the Viper community. Many people have helped to answer all kinds of questions before and after I made the purchase. I am very grateful for the help and hope that I can give back to the community to show my thanks.

In the lap of Luxembourg

Written by editor on . Posted in Parting Shots, Winter 2009

Hello Viper Friends!

I’m sending this message from Luxembourg, a small country in Europe that only has eight Viper owners. As far as I know, we have two 1994 RT/10s, a 1997 GTS, a 1999 GTS, three SRT10s and my yellow 1995 RT/10 in the entire country.

I wanted to share these photos of my Viper, along with some of my other vehicles. In my garage I also have a 1972 Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 cid engine, and a Ram pickup.

My wife Martine, our son Billy and I are all big Dodge fans. I also have a large collection of models and most of them are Dodge and Mopar® products. Thanks for making such a great car.
I will always be a Dodge and Viper enthusiast.

René Mahr

Luxembourg, Europe

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