When Bernie Katz first saw the Dodge Viper back in 1991, he was immediately in love. At the time, he was building up his own business, so he knew it wasn’t the time for him to buy one when they released in the near future. Years later, he found a new passion in the wild Plymouth Prowler and Harley Davidson motorcycles. This passion led him to buy four Prowlers and actually become the President of the Virginia Prowler Club.
Still, Katz had the Viper in the back of his mind and his passion for the car grew every time he saw the powerful American monster. Eventually, he pulled the trigger on a 1997 Dodge Viper with 3k miles thanks to a trade that involved one of his Prowlers. Just one week after owning the Viper, he took his Viper to Viper Days, a Viper race venue that gave owners a chance to test their skills behind the wheel of Dodge’s insane automotive creation. It took this one event to have Katz hooked on racing his Viper.
After that, he began modifying his red Viper, starting with a few upgrades made by Steve Dryer of Autoform. Then came more upgrades, like bigger brakes, headers, exhaust and even the removal of accessories like the stereo. It was all in the name of just going fast. Unfortunately, he smashed his prized Viper into a wall at the Topeka racetrack. This led him to send the car off to Archer racing who would turn it into a full-blown race car. After that? He was awarded the Brian Angen Award for being most promising driver.
Knowing his future would be in the automotive field, Katz sold his Food Service management business and started up BJ Motors.
The “B” stands for Bernie and the “J” stands for Jon, his partner in the business.
In the Winter of 2002, they rented a Chevrolet dealership that had shut down and renovated it for their business. They went through many years until 2008 when the “J” in the business bought himself out. This left Katz and his wife worried about the future of the business. That is until a man called in with a Texas slang looking to buy a GT2 for his collection. The man explained he had caught the “race bug,” a bug that Katz was familiar with. The man was Ben Keating.
After selling him a GT2 and continuing conversation, they talked about starting a Viper business through Keating’s dealership, Tomball Dodge. This led to the creation of ViperExchange. During the partnership between Keating and Katz, they began getting into racing together. Unfortunately, Katz was suffering from back problems and had to live vicariously through his partner.
Around 2010, it was rumored that the Viper was going to be discontinued yet again. This led Katz and Keating to order 149 cars from the factory. In 2011, they only had a handful of Vipers left when Chrysler called asking them to provide a few ACR’s for one purpose: to run Nurburgring for a new production car lap record.
The team headed off to Nurburgring to try and break the record, but the weather held them back from accomplishing their goal. Ten days after they had arrived at the famous track, they were looking to head with no record. That is, until someone thought of asking Ron Howard, who was using the track at the time for shooting a film, if they could use the track during his time on the track. Howard said if they finished in time, they could have at it.
Monday was the day when they were given 30 minutes of track time, thanks to Ron Howards’ graciousness. After having just 30 minutes to get everything together, including cars and drivers, they were off. Tom Cornell and Dominique Farnbacher were both in the Vipers that were brought over, looking to break the record time of 7:14. Cornell clocked in at 7:12.99 and Farnbacher at 7:12.13.
Against all odds, they accomplished their goal. You can view Farnnbacher’s lap right below.
Since that fateful day, both ViperExchange and BJ motors have merged into one massive dealership. What started off as a little shop in Virginia has grown into the #1 largest new and pre-owned Viper dealer in the world, and a dealer of the world’s most exotic cars. They have also continued growing their racing venture. If you’re looking to buy a Viper or talk to someone about racing, look no further.