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Vipers should be DRIVEN !
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Posted on Mon, Feb. 09, 2004

Hill's Viper his new passion
Car owner tries luck in Pro Street class, which made stop at Bradenton Motorsports Park
DOUGLAS A. KAID
Herald Staff Writer

EAST MANATEE - Vern Hill said he was confident heading into his first Viper series race as a car owner.

"It's a fast car," said the River Wilderness resident of his 2002 Viper, driven by Gary Soltys.

About 90 minutes later, after recording the fastest qualifying time in his class only to lose in the second elimination round after Soltys missed a shift, Hill's mood and confidence hadn't changed a bit.

He'll gladly take third place in the Pro Street class - this time.

"It was fun," Hill said. "I feel great. When you finish a race and don't tear anything up, it was fun. That's OK. I'm proud of the car. The car is running good."

After his Viper was knocked out, Hill stuck to his earlier refrain.

"The car is fast - real, real fast," he said.

Decked out in his Viper cap and Viper jacket with a Viper sweatshirt visible in the back window of his car and a license plate reading VH-VIPER, Hill was among friends. Everyone who owns a Viper is in the official Viper Club of America, and a good number of people from that club were in town Sunday.

"There's no club in the world like the Viper Club," said fellow Pro Street driver John Canal of Orlando.

"It gets tremendous support from Chrysler. They do a lot of things for us and put on a lot of events around the country. This is kind of the epitome of the muscle car. You can't get much more than this."

Viper enthusiasts from across the country converged on Bradenton Motorsports Park for the finals of the Florida V-10 Nationals. The Dodge sports car has been a big part of Hill's life since he purchased his in 2002.

"It's a passion, you get hooked on these things, and you can't get away from them," Hill said.

A sprint car, street rod and funny car owner for many years, Hill said two years ago he read an article the Viper model Gen 2 (GTS body style) was in line for a change. He didn't like the new, convertible style so he decided it was time to order the last of that Viper model. Hill found his Viper at a famous place for racing, Hendrick Motorsports in North Carolina.

Hill, who takes care of the test and tunes but doesn't usually take the wheel on race day, said Sunday's event was one of six in a series planned for the season. Drivers have to compete in at least three of the races to qualify for the points title. The next stop is in April in Bowling Green, Ky.

Soltys, who also has a 2002 Viper after owning 1994 and 1996 models in the past, said he and Hill have become good friends. Soltys admitted Hill's car is faster.

And what do he and the rest of the guys at the drag strip talk about when they get together for these races?

"Vipers. What else?" Soltys said.

Hill said his car can go 132 mph and travel a quarter-mile in 10.5 seconds, but he can still drive it to the store if he wants. The only view most race cars have of the open road is through a hole in the side of the hauler.

"The beauty of these cars is that you can race them today, and then I can get in it and drive it home," Hill said.

The Street Pro class Hill and Soltys, a Port Orange resident, compete in is the second-fastest of the six series classes. Each has different modifications for speed. They all have V-10s, though, which is what makes them ideal for drag racing.

"Torque wins races, horsepower sells cars," said Hill, a retired businessman who recently moved to town from North Tampa.

There is also a Viper series raced on oval tracks, but Hill doesn't want any part of that.

"I don't want to crash my car," he said. "You can put $100,000 into these cars pretty quick."

TIFFANY TOMPKINS

The Herald


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Douglas A. Kaid , sports writer, can be reached at 782-1209 or [email protected]



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