|Rich TenBarge of Holland, MI, recently took ownership of this 1994 Dodge Viper. Rich and his wife Pat are good friends of the Hammes family and share Jerry's interest in automobiles. The Viper was not purchased, but was a gift from Rich's late friend Ron Nordstrom. Rich and Ron had been friends for 30 years and Ron too had a love affair with automobiles, at one point having over 30 collectible cars. In May of 1994 Rich and Ron drove to Indianapolis in a one way rental car to pick up Ron's new Viper. Ron was the Kenworth truck dealer for Michigan and his friend Eldon Palmer was the Kenworth truck dealer for Indiana and he also owned all the Dodge dealerships in Indianapolis. Vipers were very hard to get a hold of in 1994 since they had just come out in 1993. Ron's friendship with Mr. Palmer got him on the list for a car. The two day trip to pick up the car began with the afternoon of the first day going out to the Indy race track and watching time trials. While at the track a very connected Mr. Palmer introduced Rich and Ron to Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., and A J Foyt during their visit to Gasoline Alley. The next morning Rich and Ron went to the Dodge store where the red Viper was sitting on the showroom floor surrounded by a white plastic chain link fence. The service manager drove it off the floor and into the dealership lot. Ron and Rich had smiles a mile wide just thinking about driving this red beauty back to Grand Rapids, MI on a sunny 75 degree day. Vipers were rarely seen in 1994 and the sight of one on the road brought great attention. The story goes that Rich and Ron tangled with a new 1994 Corvette on I-69 coming back to Grand Rapids and left the owner of the Vette and his wife or date quite embarrassed. What a day, two friends driving what was the most popular sports car at the time. They took turns driving the car and even took pictures of themselves in the reflection of a stainless steel milk truck as they passed by it.
Rich's friend Ron enjoyed driving the Viper for 5 years before he had a terrible accident. Ron slipped and fell on the ice on December 29, 1998. The accident broke his neck and left him a quadriplegic, kept alive only by the help of a ventilator breathing machine. The friendship that Ron and Rich had continued with weekly visits from Rich to discuss cars, family, and friends over the next ten years. Ron past away in May of 2008 and a year before his passing Ron had told Rich that he was giving him the Viper. Rich said, why are you doing that? Ron replied that two good friends never had more fun with a car than they did bringing that Viper back from Indiana. He reminded Rich that they both had gotten sunburn on their balding heads. Ron told Rich that he didn't get the car till he died and Rich replied, I hope I never get it.
When Ron had his accident in 1998 the Viper only had 2,600 miles on it. Over the next ten years Rich drove the car 300 more miles entering it in the many car shows and cruises that always included at least 20 of Ron's red cars. When Ron passed away in May, 2008 the Viper had 2,900 miles on it and was never driven again until Ron's wife Helen called Rich in June of 2009 to tell him Ron's estate was settled and would he like to come take ownership of the Viper. On June 22, 2009 Rich and Ron's wife Helen went to the DMV to pass ownership of the Viper. Rich drove the car home that day with a very uneasy feeling. He said he didn't feel right driving it. After conversations with several mutual friends of Ron, Rich came to understand that his friend wanted him to enjoy that car the way he had and didn't want it to be sold to a stranger.
Mr. Hammes told Rich the "Ron and Rich's Viper adventure" would be a great item for his automotive website so Rich agreed to be interviewed on this very personal matter.