By Alex Ristanovic
The stage was secretly being set in 2007 as plans to launch a huge gathering of Vipers were in the works. The idea was to create a unique trip centered on the Viper Club with very special events and set at a gorgeous location that would offer a “vacation feel” to members. The venue selected was one of the most beautiful parts of the Midwest—the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in the Mackinac Island area!
The Illinois chapter of the VCA worked with their Michigan brothers at Motor City Viper club to make it happen. The trip would include two car cruises, boat cruise, two car shows, town parade, Mackinac Island trip, casino cruise night, VIP brunch, lighthouse reception and great goodie bags!
This event was also planned around one of the largest annual local car gatherings in the Midwest—The 33rd Annual St. Ignace Car Show. The Vipers would be the feature car in the huge car show and parade! It’s a sight to see. The town literally shuts down and stages the biggest car spectacle around, drawing more than 100,000 spectators and 4,000 cars! This year our very own Roy “Father Viper” Sjoberg (head of the original Team Viper) was the guest of honor! So what better way to show our support than to create a Viper extravaganza that week?
Publicity started early as the local newspapers had front page coverage about the Vipers coming to town! We named the event “Viper Invades Mackinac”—and did we ever! We had a total of 51 cars and 115 members from 10 regions (including Germany) in attendance.
For most VCA members, the big trip began on Wednesday. A few large caravans got together to trek north. For one particular group from Illinois, the drive began slowly, only about 65 mph. But by the time we reached Michigan, blue skies and dry roads led to what might have been the fastest drive to the Upper Peninsula in highway history. We won’t document the speeds here—but next time we’re signing waivers and wearing helmets!
By afternoon, Vipers began to arrive in the area. The initial trip across the five-mile long Mackinac Bridge was a great welcome. St. Ignace began to shake and the familiar rumble of V10s brought smiles to many faces. Our host hotel was the beautiful Harbour Pointe in St. Ignace (just across from Mackinac Island). It’s one of the best hotels in the area, and being right on the lake it provided great views from the balconies. As members checked in, they received great goodie bags filled with “Viper Invades Mackinac” merchandise and a schedule of events.
Members had some time to wash their cars and get ready for the first evening. That night we kicked off our week’s activities with the Lighthouse Pointe reception. This property was a huge venue, protected by thick woods and surrounded by water. Only a small hidden driveway led you through the trees where you were then greeted by the lighthouse staff.
Everyone enjoyed the scenery and grabbed a bite of some fantastic food that was catered in for the gathering. The pier was a popular place for all to congregate and watch the sun set over the water. This was a marvelous place to unwind after a long trip.
Looking back on the day, we realized that it didn’t rain a drop even though the forecast called for some thunderstorms in the area. Strange but lucky, we figured we’d have plenty of rain to come in the next days as the weather forecast looked worse with each day. But this was paradise for now and Day One was in the books!
Thursday began with more arrivals, but for those already in town, the morning and afternoon were reserved for a Mackinac Island day trip. Members flocked to the docks to catch a jet boat and get whisked away to this historic place where the only wheeled vehicles allowed are horse drawn carriages. It was pure serenity. Members were enthralled with the island as the gentle clip-clop from the horses in the distance reminded them of a simpler time.
Many of the club members purchased tour tickets which led them on a group horse-drawn carriage ride throughout the entire island. Some of the stops included historic buildings, 200-year-old cemeteries and beautiful natural wonders. Some stopped at the exclusive Grand Hotel. (You actually have to pay to enter!) While there, a large contingent decided to eat in style at the hotel’s grand buffet—and yes, it was worth it!
Others walked the town to do some souvenir shopping and sample the world famous Mackinac fudge! It was hard to leave, but everyone headed back to the docks to grab a boat back to reality. Again, thoughts turned to the fact that we still didn’t see rain as expected. In fact the early morning gloom was replaced by gorgeous blue skies and puffy clouds as far as the eye could see! Viper Club–2, bad weather–0!
The early evening was upon us and given the beautiful weather (and a fear of future rain storms) a rare photo opportunity was organized in front of the famous Mackinac Bridge. The Vipers caravanned to a scenic park right in front of the massive 5-mile structure. We packed our cars in front of the bridge and took a spectacular panoramic photo that needed four sequential shots just to get all the cars in one photo!
Shortly thereafter we headed off to the next stop which was the Kewadin Casino cruise night and car show. All the Vipers arrived, and we had a great spot right in front of the live music. There were many other classic, modern and custom cars in attendance—but there was no other brand of car anywhere near in number to the Viper.
The band rocked in the background as members perused the cars, grabbed a bite or hit the casino. Following that was a very well organized, police-escorted cruise through town. The Vipers led the parade behind the squad car. Many locals knew of the cruise and collected along the route to see the cars go by.
We arrived back at the casino and, while some retired for the evening, others elected to stay and hit the tables (some actually won money this time). As we looked back on the day, we realized how lucky we were with the weather. But eyes were glued to the weather channel that evening as we witnessed the grimmest forecast yet. Looked like definite rain the next day.
Friday morning brought, you guessed it, more blue skies and sun! Somehow these storms were just missing us. The morning was free time for members and shortly thereafter, everyone drove together to the VIP brunch. Roy Sjoberg was already there, members gathered around to greet him. We posed for pictures with Roy in front of the Team Viper banner. A great sport and gracious gentleman, he also signed commemorative event plaques for all the members of the club. The brunch began and among the many announcements and presentations, Roy was presented with a plaque as the guest of honor this year. He was also presented the key to the city.
With bellies full, our Viper cruise started! All the Vipers met in the parking lot where the brunch took place and away we went! A marvelous cruise took us through back roads and small towns of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We were practically alone on the roads and the group did a great job at staying together. We drove up to Tahquamenon Falls where we visited the gorgeous upper falls. Again, no rain!
We parked our cars, filling one complete section of their lot. Of course many passers-by flocked to the spectacle and kept a good eye on our cars while we were away. Members began the relaxing walk through the preserve to get to the big river. We took our time following the trails and taking pictures along the way. There were several places you could access the falls including an observation deck right alongside. It was a great photo opp and a wonderful outdoor experience for everyone.
People had a chance to buy souvenirs and grab a drink or ice cream before hopping in the cars for the swift ride back. At the hotel, club members freshened up and cleaned their cars for the next event which was going to be really cool!
Cars are a big deal during show time in St. Ignace and they always arrange a huge parade that literally shuts down the streets through downtown. Many people line the streets to watch the cars drive by. We lined up for the parade at the local airport. Now at this point, we had some dark clouds coming and we knew we’d be in for rain. We prepared for the worst and moved on. The vehicles were then staged on the street just in front of the parade route. It was a good chance to take pictures.
The Vipers had their own section of the parade. We were near the front of the parade led by our very own Roy Sjoberg in his red RT/10 and custom mini-Viper trailer. The first two cars were given special permission to do something that for years the parade committee did not allow (due to safety concerns). Special commemorative Viper Frisbees were made by the club and thrown to the spectators from the lead cars. A total of two hundred Frisbees were thrown into the crowd. They absolutely loved it!
Just around the time we were reaching the end of our Frisbee stockpile, it began to drizzle. Tops went up on the Vipers and a heavy rain hit the area. Luckily for our members, we had the best (and driest) seats in the house. It didn’t put a damper on our fun. We finished the parade and most Vipers parked in a nearby lot to watch the rest of the cars and floats go by. By the time the parade was over, the rain was done and we headed back to the hotel. Many members made it a late night at various bars and eateries throughout the downtown area.
The next morning—and our last day—began with the big St. Ignace car show. Now, the day was doomed again as far as the weathermen predicted—and it finally looked like they’d be right this time. Members figured it would be a wash out. Setup began in the early hours and it was gloomy but not raining. Downtown was shut down to all traffic as the streets were converted into a virtual automall of spectacular cars. The Vipers were arranged facing each other on opposite sides of the street; it would make you grin to see. And as always, the Viper club was intent on doing something special for its members.
Several tents were trailered in along with coolers and club signs. Three big tents were setup right behind the cars (we rented the lot), orange cones were placed to keep non-club people out, and huge stand up signs welcomed the VCA members. We had our own show-side chalet!
Vipers continued to arrive and were guided in to their positions. The morning continued to clear as we polished up our cars. And by show time, the sun even began to peek out. The streets slowly began to fill, and by 11 a.m. it was a full blown car show, under open skies and bright sun! No one could believe it. It got even busier as the day progressed because the weather was SPECTACULAR and more visitors filled the streets, you could barely see anything through the sea of folks!
It was a great time. Members wandered among the TWO MILE stretch of cars, vendors and attractions. Lots of folks lounged under the tents to get out of the sun. Folks passing by would look at the large tents and see the signs. They saw that we like to do everything in style!
About 4 p.m we began to pack up and soon, the Vipers fired up and left their spots. We headed back to the hotel to freshen up and prepare for the grand finale!
As always, our group thrives on doing special things. What better way to cap this trip off than with a lake cruise? Better yet, this was a custom chartered two-level boat rented for VCA members only. We arrived at the dock and as members boarded the tour boat, they grabbed drinks and appetizers as the captain slowly backed the ship from the dock.
The beauty of having our own charter was that our club designed the route. We planned an absolutely beautiful cruise that started off with an up-close and personal view of the Mackinac Bridge. The captain took us under the bridge while giving us a narration of some extraordinary facts about the structure.
We then turned around and headed toward Mackinac Island. The boat slowed a bit for a steady ride and it was around this time that dinner was served. The food was great and so was the company! The waters were calm and comfortable and members spent time enjoying the view below or climbed on the observation deck to feel the open air! Cameras never stopped taking photos.
The boat arrived at Mackinac Island and the captain brought us into the bay and turned the boat so that everyone got a great look of the island. He then followed the shoreline, bringing us very close to land. We viewed the beautiful houses, watched the horse drawn carriages and took a ton of pictures!
The captain then brought us past the Mackinac lighthouse and then continued to follow the shore of the island to our next stop. It was around this time that the engines were cut and a short presentation took place. MCVO President Mike Cipponeri and I presented Roy Sjoberg with a special poster signed by all members in attendance on this trip. Roy was touched and he has yet another thing for his walls in the garage.
The engines fired back up and thank yous were extended to all those who helped arrange this great event. But it wasn’t over yet. We passed by the famous Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. It was a sight to see from the water (this place is not small). After a slow cruise along the shore, the boat turned around and headed for open water. It couldn’t be a better ending to a fantastic voyage that the more than 100 people made together in the spirit of the club.
The next day you could see (and hear) the Vipers slowly departing in different directions. The energy was great and the people were indeed content with all they experienced. We didn’t just get lucky this trip, we were given a gift! Good planning, great venue, fun events, great people, and near perfect weather created what was probably one of the most unique and diverse Viper Club events done in the Midwest in some time! Hats off to everyone for attending, this was a truly passionate group.
So, would we do something like this again? Well, rumor has it that planning has already started on the 2009 event!! Hint: It’s someplace very different and just as overwhelmingly beautiful—it’ll be worth the trip! Where will it take us? We think you’re going to like it. We’ll just plan on seeing you there!
Alex Ristanovic is the president of the Illinois chapter of the Viper Club of America and a frequent contributor to VIPER Magazine.