It’s not easy to kill a mean snake.
In July 2010, the “last” Dodge Viper to come off the assembly line made the evening news, created a little online buzz and saddened more than a few Viper fans, especially those who couldn’t afford – or couldn’t grab – one of the “Final Edition” Vipers — a batch of 50 specially configured cars to mark the end of an era.
But in a twist Mark Twain would have appreciated, proclamations of the Viper’s demise were premature.
Chrysler’s Street Race and Technology (SRT) crew was able to convince the powers-that-be to bring back its halo supercar. In April, the next generation Viper, reported to be a very different beast and integrate Fiat technology, is scheduled to debut at the New York Auto Show.
But certain parties weren’t about to let the “swan song” Viper glide quietly into that good night. Last fall, the Chrysler Group’s Street Race and Technology team hooked up with the Viper Club of America, Houston-area Viper maven, Ben Keating, and veteran racing driver Dominik Farnbacher to take on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, a 12.9-mile German road course with something over 700 turns that’s the gold-standard when it comes to performance-car bragging rights.
The crew accomplished their mission. At the helm of one of Keating’s showroom stock 2010 Viper SRT10 ACRs, Farnbacher eclipsed the production-car record with a blistering 7:12.1 run, just weeks after a Corvette ZR1 had run a 7:19.6 and a “Nurburging Edition” Lexus LF-A supercar put down a 7:14.6.
Keating’s a car dealer who happens to be one very hot shoe. He was bitten by the racing bug about a decade ago when his wife bought him a performance-driving course as a present and the school was Texas World Speedway.
It didn’t take long for the greenhorn to become hooked. “I call it an adrenaline flush, because it was one of the most relaxing experiences I have ever had,” Keating said, recalling what it was like to be on a hot track for the first time. “You got 20 minutes of total, intense focus and adrenaline, followed by an hour of total relaxation, over and over, all day long. It was the most fun I had ever had.”
The fact that he won the 2011 Viper Cup championship and came in 7th in the GT class at this year’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is testimony that he was a fast learner.
Keating and Bernie Katz, a fellow racer and Viper expert, have created a Viper nest at Tomball Dodge they call ViperExchange. In the tradition of legendary hard-core performance/racing dealerships in the ’60s like Baldwin-Motion and Fred Gibb Chevrolet, ViperExchange caters to the full spectrum of Viper owners, whether they just enjoy cruising or bring their cars in for modifications and take them to the track.
The two cars shipped to Germany for the record attempt were among ten 2010s the Tomball dealership had ordered with paint livery exclusive to ViperExchange. Farnbacher’s assault on the “Ring” was made with a black-and-silver Viper ACR. And it’s worth repeating: Keating and Katz report these were “showroom stock” cars – but these showroom queens pack a 510-cubic-inch V10 that crank out 600 horses.
You can learn more about these $110,000 machines, the achievement, and two “7:12” editions that are still available of the Viper at ViperExchange.com