Written by editor on . Posted in 2011, Nov/Dec 2011

Championship Auto Shows brought the 2011 52nd Annual AutoRama to Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center November 24-27. With our novice effort in 2010 behind us, the Houston Viper Club picked up the gauntlet, stepped on the loud pedal and just like Texas native Ben Keating’s Viper Exchange ACR at Nürburgring, took it up a notch to win more fans and praise for the iconic Viper.

Sneaky Pete logos topped the stanchions that were linked together by snakeskin-covered chains setting off the 20’ x 60’ black carpeted Viper Club display area. Realtors want to talk location, location, location! Well, how about an AutoRama display location at the main entrance immediately behind the featured car – Dean Jeffries’ 1964 Mantaray of Bikini Beach movie fame – and the only display to receive the Hollywood red carpet treatment on all four sides. It doesn’t get much better.

There they were, under the Big Lights, six Dodge Vipers saddled up side by side and three deep looking as if the green flag would drop any second. Somewhere in the mix of 600 other wannabes who dared to participate, trembled the lone Ferrari and Lamborghini. Really, they were shaking in their Pirellis. The status of Corvettes and Mustangs will remain unmentioned other than to say that the term “below the radar” applies.

Each Viper had its respective stats and details on identically designed easel-mounted, logo-encrusted placards providing display visitors readily available and pertinent information. Vignettes of Houston Viper Club activities featuring track days, cruises, poker runs, pool parties and car shows played on a monitor depicting the great times we enjoy together as Viper owners and club members.

In the pole position for the 2011 Display sat Eric Karsten’s 1994 Black RT 10 Venom 600, Hennessey Serial # 001. This Snake’s resume includes entry in the Silver State Classic Open Road Race, making it an early and rare collector Viper with provenance. The popularity of this Viper often created a moment of concern when the occasional visitor attempted to enter The Venom’s cockpit. But really, who can blame them?

Outside front row belonged to Doug Watkins’s 2002 GTS Final Edition in Red with White Stripes. Its tweaks include upgrades to brakes, rims and tires. Doug won the award for detailing his Snake to the max and beyond all his fellow competitors. It was a dazzling performance from another Houston Club Bright Texas Star member whose help was invaluable throughout the show.

Inside second row was held down by Mike Quinnett’s Red 1999 GTS touting engine modifications delivering 500 HP at the rear wheel. I believe said HP is responsible for self powder coating the rims red to match this Snake’s skin color. Mike was also the owner chosen and interviewed by the Country Music Channel for their feature on AutoRama. His personal appeal matches his Snake’s, and all future contacts go through his new agent. Of course, that would be me.

Bill Westall’s entry, affectionately called Ole Blue, was fourth on the grid. It’s a 1997 Blue with White Stripes GTS, and is one of three cars Bill entered into this year’s AutoRama. Bill is credited with encouraging the Houston Club’s involvement in AutoRama, and it has been to the Club’s enhancement as we now have members partaking in area car shows i.e., Classy Chassis and Keels & Wheels (Viper Magazine, May/June Issue).

The third row inside e-ticket to ride slot was covered by a 2009 ACR skinned in the now classic Red/Black paint scheme seen on the ’08 7:22 Ring Record ACR. Curtis Burton owns this Sneaky Pete and a sizable stable of exotic/collector cars (including one built by a former Italian tractor manufacturer of which Curtis stated, “It drives like a tractor”) but proudly declares his favorite go fast ride is the Viper. No surprise to anyone who has driven a Dodge Viper, a true American exotic imported from Detroit.

Recent Whelen Time Trial NARRA entrant and podium finisher at Texas World Speedway, Adrian Gonzalez, managed to remove all the track scum from his brilliantly vinyl wrapped 2009 ACR to grab the last spot on the floor to make the show. And show it did as this racing Snake garnered more camera time from the crowd than a Hollywood box office super star on Oscar night. Although not related to the author, I see another contract addition to my Stable of Stars talent agency.

When the closing bell rang Sunday night, the stage set up and car placement that had required one and one half days now had five hours to reverse the process. The flurry of activity to pack and load up the display ensued. Completed in twenty-five minutes by all members present, this outstanding team effort was instantly followed by the sound of 60 V-10 cylinders totaling 3400 HP, firing up and leaving the building on cue. Elvis could not have orchestrated a better “Vipers have left the building” moment. On behalf of our membership we extend kudos to every entrant, their families and those club members who took a turn manning the display. All had surrendered a sizeable portion of the Thanksgiving Week Holiday. They are now part of another relevant chapter in the Houston Viper Club’s history of continuing growth and success.

The Super Six Viper Entrants earned a spectrum of awards from the judges and represented the Viper Nation at one of the most prestigious national auto shows in America. I hope you agree that it was a task well done on all accounts, and we encourage other clubs to consider an AutoRama, or similar show appearance, when they come to your neighborhood. It offers a unique venue for Viper owners to strut their Snakes under the big top, and an additional opportunity to build a stronger local Viper club.

On Safari in Daytona Beach, Florida

Written by editor on . Posted in 2011, Nov/Dec 2011

When it comes to auto racing, I’ve never been a huge fan.  that was until I experienced the Viper Cup Racing League and Viper Days (NARRA) this last month at the Daytona Speedway.

I’m sure you remember a little blurb in last month’s Viper Magazine about a young man named Dominik Farnbacher. He took a stock Viper ACR and captured back the production car lap record at the Nurburgring….

Well, as President of the VCA Ohio Region I’m always trying to find ways of raising capital so that we can do events throughout the year. I had an idea, so I contacted Dominik Farnbacher to see if he would help us with producing some autographed banners commemorating the record at the Nurburgring. He was happy to help. One thing though, Dominik is in Germany and I’m in Ohio. To solve this problem Dominik invited me to meet him in Daytona for the final 2011 Viper Cup race that he was driving in.

Now it was time for me to play Daktari. I jumped in my Land Rover Defender (actually one cleverly disguised as a Lincoln Town Car) picked up the banners from Sam Goldfarb and headed down to Daytona Beach, Florida to see the Dodge Viper in it’s natural habitat. Some of my VCA Ohio friends Jim and Kathy Stout, David Pintaric, and VCA IN/KY friend Mansen Way were also heading down to Daytona.

I’d never been to a Viper Cup race or a Viper Days (NARRA ) event before. The first thing that was very impressive is that you can go right down and walk through the garages and talk to the drivers and their crews. No formalities. Everyone was singing out of the same hymn book, the Viper hymn book. Husband and wife team Jim and Kathy Stout own Coastal Pet Products Motor Sports. Jim races in the GT1 class, and Kathy races in GT2. They brought both of their Viper Comp Coupes and their Viper ACR-X. David Pintaric brought his SCCA STO Viper Coupe and was pulling some of the fastest lap times at Daytona. Mansen Way was getting his feet wet with his “Frankenstein” Viper. It was originally a convertible, turned coupe, turned race car. Mansen was participating in the Viper Days event in conjunction with the Viper Cup weekend. Jim won the GT1 Championship and Kathy came in 2nd in GT2 for the year. David Pintaric came in 3rd in his race on Saturday. Dominik won Saturday’s Viper Cup Race. He made it look as effortless as his video from the Nurburgring. Ben Keating won the Viper Cup Championship for 2011.

Vipers at Daytona Speedway is like seeing animals run in the wild. Of course most of us see our Vipers at shows or like animals at the zoo.  What these cars are capable of doing in their natural habitat is breathtaking.  And the way these drivers can control these beasts is an art for in and of itself.

So my advice to you is to go to www.narraonline.com and get yourself to a Viper Days (NARRA) or a Viper Club Race in 2012.  You’ll never look at your Viper in the same way again.

It was a GREAT trip.  Dominik signed all the banners and we sold them out in less than 48 hours, and in three short days I developed a whole new appreciation for my Viper.

“I love it when a plan comes together…”

2011 SRT vs VCA Autocross

Written by editor on . Posted in 2011, Nov/Dec 2011

Bench racers. You know the type: guys and gals that sit on a park bench (or these days at their computer keyboards) and discuss who would win a race. They take into consideration the cars and their modifications, and usually the drivers of those cars. Would a 2010 Viper Roadster beat a new Lamborghini around a road course and by how much? How much would driver skill factor into it?

The one thing that the SRT division of Chrysler lacks is bench racers. That is because they are actual racers themselves. Fiercely competitive, even their accountants seem to have SCCA trophies somewhere in their past. These guys aren’t about theoretical races, they want to see how it actually unfolds in the real world on a real course. That is pretty obvious by the products they turn out.

And so that reality unfolds every other year at the Chelsea Proving Grounds just outside Detroit, pitting the VCA against SRT in an Autocross Challenge. The Viper Club of America sends their best-of-the-best autocross drivers as determined in Zone events earlier in the year. These drivers have proven themselves in VCA autocross competitions or sent alternates in their place if they couldn’t make it. If one or two of those people happen to be ringers (similar SCCA trophies on their mantels), then so be it – SRT has won this competition for as long as most can remember. Did we mention that SRT is very, very good?

On October 30th the two groups met at the Proving Grounds to see who would take home the coveted prize for 2011. Marv Spatz would lead Team VCA while Erich Heuschele would be coaching Team SRT. Oh, and there was one added twist: Because there are no Vipers being produced and none available for this year’s challenge, everybody would be competing in Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 development mules.

As predicted, the competition was fierce and the times were amazing. To see SUV’s tearing up the course at full speed was truly a sight to behold. In addition to the Zone winners, the VCA had Bernie Katz and Ben Keating from the Viper Cup Series – Ben would go on to win the Viper Cup Championship a few weeks later at Daytona. SRT had two previous SCCA champions in Erich Heuschele and Chris Winkler, the latter having set the Laguna Seca record in a Viper SRT10 ACR in 2009. All bets were on Marco Diniz from SRT Vehicle Dynamics, as the Jeep SRT8 was his baby – he spent more time developing and driving it than anybody else there. And of course he has his own racing trophies sitting at home as well. Needless to say, there were no bench racers to be found this weekend.

The morning session would finish with the best time coming from Erich, followed by Marco and then Ben. The afternoon would be filled with surprises, not the least of which was Mark Trostle from SRT Design setting the time to beat at 58.006. Even the SRT engineers were amused that a designer would be taking the lead from chassis engineers, etc. While Marco would turn a phenomenal 57.95, he killed a couple cones in the process and penalties increased that time to 59.95. Ben’s morning run of 58.914 would hold the lead for Team VCA, followed by Steve Katz from the New York/CT region and Rich Kautz from the Ohio region (not typos, they almost shared the same last name).

But the day was not over. No, the most competitive of them all would have one last run. Earlier in the year a few foolish detractors thought he won the Viper Celebrity Challenge earlier because his “employees” (including NASCAR and NHRA drivers) sandbagged to let the boss win. No spark from him in the morning session, it was obvious that his employees at SRT wouldn’t sandbag either – he was far back in the pack. Marco in particular was determined to take the top honor for the best time. None had a chance: SRT CEO Ralph Gilles would make one of the last runs of the day and turn a blistering 57.817. No cones hit and a run that all could only watch in awe. In the end all times were averaged and the winner declared: SRT had won yet again with an average time of 59.684 to the VCA’s 60.713 – the closest separation in recent memory.

Of course the best part of the event is the bonding between manufacturer and customer. The folks from SRT get to spend lots of time with Viper owners and learn more about what makes them tick and what makes them buy other SRT products. Viper owners learn just how passionate the manufacturer is about building the very best vehicles in the world. Between Ralph’s jubilation and Marco’s dejection, you know that these guys take winning very, very seriously. As the day ended and dusk settled in, you could still see Marco making a few unofficial “last runs” to set the time he knew he could. The boss still won.