By Alex Ristanovic
A Viper is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face. But what happens when nearly 125 Vipers get together for a good time? It’s a rare event and can consume entire cities! It happened again recently; and the Viper Club was responsible!
Each year the Viper Club of Illinois puts together a traveling event that has a vacation feel, takes over an interesting city, and makes a very public splash with the Vipers. 2009 was no exception as Vipers Invaded Niagara Falls!
The earliest beginnings of this trip took place on a Tuesday as large groups of cars began to make their way to a free “pre-event” in Detroit which was available only to those who were doing the Niagara trip. At this point, over 100 people and 55 Vipers congregated at the Marriot hotel in the northern suburb of Troy, filling the hotel’s back lot completely. The next morning was a real treat as chartered buses whisked everyone away on a special Chrysler car tour. But the fun was only beginning.
Upon returning to the hotel, there was a media blitz as news stations, radio and Web reporters were interviewing people and taking photos. The car enjoyed some great publicity as the club members were in full effect telling the world how much they love their Vipers. But the day wasn’t over. The second part of the afternoon included a special lunch prepared at none other than the home of Chrysler design VP Ralph Gilles! [Editor’s note: Just two weeks later Ralph was named President and CEO of Dodge. He will retain his design responsibilities. Could this be a portent of great things for the Dodge Viper?] Tents were set up, lunch was catered, there was a free raffle, an auction, a PartsRack furniture reveal, tour of Ralph and Doris’s home, special items on display, and many, many very well known VIPs in the Chrysler world! An airplane fly-by was even arranged to take aerial photos of the spectacle!
Later that afternoon, Vipers left Detroit and headed to Canada. Vipers crossing the border were an interesting sight. Among the many other passenger vehicles and large trucks, the shiny band of sleek sports cars stood in wait, stretching back across the bridge in one long line. The border guards, having been made aware of our entry into Canada, helped move the cars through rather quickly. The subsequent trip through the countryside was wonderful. Along the way pictures were being snapped by camera phones and by tourists watching the Vipers rumble through. During the trip more cars joined the group as the early evening brought Vipers pouring into the city in ?huge numbers!
Vipers drove in from all directions, coming from nearly every state. One club member even flew in from Europe to be part of this grand event! The Hilton Embassy Suites in Niagara Falls, Ontario, was proud to host the Viper event. They really rolled out the red carpet. Upon our arrival, the hotel staff helped guide the cars directly to their reserved spaces on two entire levels of the underground parking garage. Nearly a dozen Vipers adorned the paddock area in front of the hotel as a special display for the crowd to enjoy!
Thursday’s schedule was built to give everyone a chance to leave their cars for a whirlwind view of everything that is Niagara. The day included a Niagara Falls 4-D experience: A Behind the Falls tour, Maid of the Mist boat trip, Dave and Busters lunch, Aerial cable car ride, whitewater walk, power plant tour and Skylon Tower viewing. What a day! Everyone got their fix and CONTENT was the word of the day. That evening was also exciting as the club rented the Copacabana restaurant in Niagara Falls and treated everyone to a Brazilian steakhouse experience. By this time, the buzz of the Vipers had rippled throughout the city. You could see from across the street the Vipers were drawing quite the crowd in front of the hotel!
Friday morning brought the rumble of V-10’s as Vipers awoke and prepared for a great cruise day. The city of Niagara Falls had been advertising the Vipers visit for months in advance. The Vipers made their presence known as they passed through the area in one massive group! The cars drew many onlookers for what was over a “Mile-O’-Viper.” The car owners themselves were having a great time as it’s not often you drive in a line of Vipers so long that you can’t see its beginning or its end!
The Vipers visited many local towns and toured the countryside. Several stops were made throughout the cruise, which included the well-known Chateau Des Charmes Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the nearby town of Port Dalhousie, and a visit to the interesting Lock 3 of the Welland Canal. Everywhere the cars went, there were people wanting to be part of the action. Viper Club members in particular are a very welcoming group, always willing to answer questions and even let people sit in their cars at times. And when the group was away from their cars enjoying one of the stops, traveling security kept a watchful eye over the parked snakes.
Upon returning to the hotel, it was cleanup time as Vipers were getting washed and prepped for the next day. But that evening was also a very special one. The club reserved a segment of the huge Keg Steakhouse & Bar in our host hotel. Here members enjoyed a great dinner with stadium seating that overlooked Horseshoe Falls! Even here you could see the support for the car as many members proudly wore their Viper clothing. After 9 p.m., the illumination of the falls began as a stunning lighting effect was created onto the running falls. And at 10 p.m. the group was treated to a fantastic fireworks display right over the falls. What a way to end the night!
Saturday was a huge day as the city shut down one of its main streets for what was probably the most stunning Viper car show in history as the cars painted three blocks in wall-to-wall Vipers! Several sound stages were setup among the cars and many bands played throughout the day. The streets of Niagara Falls had a picturesque small town feel with beautifully manicured flowers everywhere. Viper owners interacted with onlookers and hit the many restaurants, coffee shops, and stores. Over 200 specially designed “Viper Invades Niagara” frisbees were handed out to grateful visitors. Even more excitement was added to the day as the Viper Club arranged for ?a 150 foot crane to be erected in three places to allow brave club photographers the rare opportunity to photograph the spectacle while they dangled in a basket 150 feet above the cars!
The event was brought to a close in the afternoon as cars fired up and slowly departed. The evening and Sunday were left open for club members to kick back and do what they wanted. The smile on every face was an indication that the trip met their expectations.
Many people came together to help plan this event, including many sponsors who stepped up to make this a VERY affordable trip for club members. Huge thanks to our biggest sponsors Dodge, PartsRack, and Roanoke Motor Company. Other sponsors included Prefix, Details by D, Northern Trust Bank, OnTrack Insurance, and the IL VCA.
This was an historic event, which affected so many people, involved a complete city, and greatly supported Dodge, our carmaker. A total of 123 Vipers and over 225 people were involved with the event! The publicity before, during and after this event was magnificent! The Vipers were in several newspapers and made front page news twice – before and after the event. This was a treat for both Vipers owners and spectators alike. And judging from the occasional burnout patch seen from time to time on the streets, I can say for certain – Vipers left their “mark” on Niagara Falls – and the city will never be the same again!
A Note from Viper Headquarters
When Illinois VCA President/Midwest Zone Officer Alex Ristanovic told VIPER Magazine about the fabulous Niagara Falls “Invasion” we were incredibly envious. The Illinois VCA doesn’t do anything halfway, so we knew this would be a big one and we found ourselves scheming about ways to go along. Alas, deadlines and other commitments here at Viper Headquarters prevented our attendance, but, when we noticed that the trip included a “Pre-Event” in Metro Detroit, we called Alex and slithered our way into the snake pit for a day. The experience was no less than fantastic—a quick trip to a secret Chrysler stopover and then lunch with Ralph Gilles, Sr. V.P. of Product Design and soon-to-be President and CEO, Dodge Car Brand (he’s the new leader of the Viper Nation, among other very important duties—and he’ll be doing a column in VIPER Magazine). Here are a few photos from our excellent mini-adventure.