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A TRUE Zroner passes.

Hib Halverson

Technical Writer for Internet & Print Media
Jan 10, 2001
CenCoast CA
71 04 12 19
I am sad to report that my friend, Jim Van Dorn, has died.

My God, what a shock and a loss.

Jim was known to many in the Corvette hobby as a friend, one of the earliest members of the original ZR-1 Registry, organizer of a number of ZR-1 events in the early years of that part of the hobby, founder of the Grand Sport Registry, a Corvette service shop owner with a big heart and a willing hand to help any Corvetter in need, the original “Pirate” of “Pirate Racing, outspoken commentator of all things Vette both on the Internet and in print, the guy who put on those great BBQ’s during NCM event weekends, an absolute authority on the C4 ZR-1, Father of three wonderful kids and generally, a damn fine individual.

I was honored to have been his friend for more than 20 years.

In one of life’s cruel ironies, at 59 years of age, Jim died in his sleep, during night of 13-14 May, on the eve of the National Corvette Museum's "C4 Gathering" weekend. Twenty years ago, he organized the “Legend Lives” event at the NCM which began the tradition of a weekend event for C4 ZR-1 owners. Over two decades, what Jim started grew into a three-day event for all C4 enthusiasts, jointly sponsored by the ZR-1 Net and Grand Sport Registries.

My friend, Jim Van Dorn, will be greatly missed by his children, Jim Jr., Erin and Kristen and by all of us in the Corvette hobby who greatly valued his friendship.

Let’s all take a moment...

….then raise our glasses–raise ‘em real high, people–to “The old Pirate”, Jim Van Dorn.:beer

Indeed, the Legend lives”, Van Dorn, and you had a part in keeping it alive!
Wow....the Corvette community has lost a true enthusiast.

Rest in Peace Jim. I'm honored to have gotten to know you and served with you on the NCM enthusiast panel all those years ago.
Here's to Jim, rest in peace.:beer
59 is way, way too young to be gone. RIP, Jim. My condolences to his family during this difficult time.

Too young....RIP Jim.
RIP Jim, WAY too young to go... I have fond memories of the welcome parties at his shop in BG before the Bash. He will be missed! :beer
Last Saturday, I attended Jim's memorial in Indio CA. Jim's kids asked me to be the first speaker and tell some JVD stories. I got to be the first up because they hoped I'd "break the ice" and that others would also come up to speak. It worked. A while bunch of Jim's relatives and friends told stories.

In attendance were Tom Peters and Tom "Turbo" Sullivan, both former ZR-1 owners and former Van Dorn customers. Also there was Tim Riley, Jim's best friend from B.G. and Bill "ZFDoc" Boudreau.

I thought a few here would appreciate reading my little speech about Jim.

Tuesday, May 12. A typical morning before a road trip which means I start work at 6:00AM rather than 7:30 so I can get my laptop ready for travel and clear up stuff which must be done before being out of the office for several days. About 6:30, the business line rings. Only one person calls my work at that hour. Jim Van Dorn. No "Hello". No "Good morning". Just "When are you coming down here?"

The coming weekend was the 25th Anniversary of the introduction of the 1990 ZR-1 and 20th Anniversary of the production of the last ZR-1, both big deals in the C4 Corvette community. "I fly out of Burbank on Wednesday. Be there late Wednesday night," I told him.

"Come by the shop early on Thursday. I'll take you to breakfast. Shop’s busy today. Gotta go. C-ya. Bye."

Van Dorn? Wants to buy me breakfast? Likely at Doug's Motor City, a Bowling Green cafe which was one of Jim's favorites. I was thinking: I'm gonna be all over a free meal on JVD.

Well, the guy upstairs who picks who goes to the otherside and when, had other plans.

Right now, Jim is up there with his pal Doug Johnson. They’re sitting in lawn chairs. Van Dorn has his styrofoam cup filled with a cocktail. He’s wearing his usual shorts and flip-flops. Johnson is smoking his big cigar and sipping a cold beer. They're probably trying to figure out how to get Zora Duntov to party with them.

Jim...if you are watching...in your honor, I’m wearing shorts, a classic Automasters T-shirt and flip-flops. Dude, you are not getting out of buying breakfast that easily. When I get up there, you're taking me out. Scrambled eggs with biscuits and gravy, every morning for a month.

Oh and the shirt...In his day, Jim was quite the graphic designer. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, he did a whole series of Automasters T-Shirts like mine.

Ok. Set the Wayback Machine for 1994. Jim and I met, virtually, on an Internet mail list towards the end of of that year. As we both had an interest in Corvettes, computers and photography, we hit it off. We met in person about six months later at an event he conceived, convinced Chevrolet's PR and marketing entities to support and then organized to commemorate the production of the last C4 ZR-1. It was called the "Legend Lives" and it took place on 28 May 1995. I was there covering the event for a Corvette magazine. I was astonished that one guy could do so much for the Corvette community yet ask for so little in return. From then on, Jim was at the top of my list of the good guys in the Corvette hobby. The friendship between Jim and I lasted 21 years. It's still hard to believe he’s gone over to the other side. I'm not sure I'll ever get over the loss.

Ok. I have four Van Dorn stories I'd like to share. Each is characteristic of Jim Van Dorn. Whenever I think of these events I always laugh.

In the Spring of 1997. Jim and I had made a deal with Vette Magazine to do a series of articles about the Auto Masters Street Skinner performance package which took a ZR-1's LT5 engine from its stock 375 or 405-hp to 500-hp. Serial magazine articles about what people do to cars to improve their performance are known as "Magazine Projects". Those types of series were, and still are, my technical writing specialty.

The first step in a magazine project is to test the car to be modified on a chassis dynamometer. We tech writers do before and after test sessions to quantify the changes we make to the car. In the late-90s, the chassis dyno facility Jim and I used was at K&N Engineering in Riverside. Jim and I met there for our chassis dyno session to do the before or "baseline" test. The project car was the dark purple metallic, '95 ZR-1, nicknamed “Barney” which I had purchased 18 months before.

I put the car on the dyno. K&N's test technician strapped the car down and turned on the cooling fans. To basline a car, you usually make three "runs" or "passes" on the dyno and average the results. The car is run in fourth gear from about 2000 rpm to just before the engine's rev limit, which, in the LT5’s case, was 7000 rpm. The first dyno run was uneventful. K&N's tech started a little over 2000 rpm and ran it to about 6500 and lifted. While he was letting the engine cool before the second run, I walked over to the driver's window and told him, "Go to 6800 this time." The second run was more of the same except K&N's tech ran it to 6800. Even a stock LT5 with stock exhaust made a great sound once it got beyond 6000 rpm.

Most of this time, I'm taking pictures of the car on the dyno for the first part of the magazine series and Jim is standing with Jimbo off to the side,z taking it all in. The third run begins. I'm standing on the right side of the car shooting pictures as the engine pulls towards 6000 rpm.

All of a sudden there's a subdued "pop" then a big "Bang!" Oil smoke pours from under the hood and there is the deafening silence which comes after you blow up an engine.

A second or so passes. Behind me, Van Dorn says, "Ooops." He paused for a moment then laughed and said,"Sounds like a warranty claim to me." Everyone couldn't help but to laugh. He wasn't kidding, either. Jim arranged with the Chevy dealer in Palm Springs to warranty my blown up motor. Jim always had good friends in the right places.

The next story is about Jim's own ZR-1, a White 1991 model which he named "The Weekendr" because it was "only driven on weekends". At the time, in 1998, the Weekendr, which had a 385-cubic inch stroker motor generating a reported 610-hp, and could pass the California smog check was one of the most powerful, street legal Corvettes. I decided, I wanted to challenge Jim with a magazine story on the Weekendr, but not just any article. It was summer time and California's Inland Empire is a desert. I told jim I wanted to road test the Weekendr in a real world environment in the middle of the summer heat. It was a dare, but he stepped right up.

We met at K&N Engineering one morning. We rolled the Weekendr onto K&N's Dynojet. It was already 80° in the dyno room. In the three dyno runs I made with the Weekendr, the average was 499.3-hp, SAE-corrected at the rear wheels. I still have the dyno sheets on my computer. With the standard C4 six-speed correction factor of .82, that worked out to about 609-hp...right on Jim's claimed 610-horses. By the time we rolled out of K&Ns dyno it was about noon and 105° out. Jim threw me the keys and said. "Drive me into Riverside for lunch but make sure you get stuck in traffic for at least ten minutes with the A/C on."

So, we took the long way to Denny's in Riverside. As a road test writer, I was astonished. The Weekendr was, and still is, the most powerful street car I've ever tested personally. Not only did it make 499 at the wheels but we drove all over downtown Riverside with reasonably smooth idle, coolant temperature never over 220, the A/C keeping us cool and the FM stereo blasting rock-and-roll. At that point in time, there were few cars which could do that.

When Jim dropped me back at K&N, the last thing he asked me was, "Ok. What's your next dare?" I wrote a note to myself: Don't doubt Jim Van Dorn when he says he can do something.

Jim never liked the color of my ZR-1 and he hated the stuffed Barney I kept in the back of the car even more. That stuffed Barney went everywhere my purple Corvette went and that included my many visits to Automasters in Palm Desert. One afternoon in 2000, or maybe it was 2001, I made a trip to Palm Desert to visit my Dad, who owned a vacation home there. I also stopped in at Automasters to have them check out a small problem I was having with the Street Skinner engine Jim had built for me after we blew up the stock engine on K&N's dyno. When I got home to West Covina that night, Barney was missing from the back of the car.

I kinda figured Van Dorn was the culprit, but I couldn't prove it right then. But it wasn't long before I had evidence. I began to get digital images of Barney taken at different places in the World no doubt by Jim’s many friends. Many of these images had the poor little stuffed dinosaur in various X-rated positions and backgrounds. This went on for several months.

Finally, I decided to put a stop to the nonsense. Back then, Jim owned a racing team called "Pirate Racing" and, on the counter in the Automasters waiting room, was a big, stuffed parrot which, of course, was the Pirate Racing mascot. About four months later, on another of my visits to Automasters, I arrived right at the end of the day on a Friday. Half an hour later it's cocktail time. Jim tells me, "Go on out the front door. I'll lock up the rest of the shop then meet you at my house." As I walked out though the waiting room, I snatched the big stuffed parrot and hid it in the under a car cover in the back of my car.

When I got home two days later, I set up my studio lights, put the parrot in the dining room table, made a sign with a Sharpie which said "Help me!" and taped it to the parrot. I set up my Nikon D1on a tripod, Then, I got my Glock, 40-cal pistol and pointed it at the bird's head and set the self timer.

I sent the resulting image of the parrot with a gun to its head to Van Dorn using one of the three anonymous AOL accounts I have. All Jim got was a blank email with a picture of his beloved bird with a Glock 22 stuck in its ear.

A couple weeks later we had a "prisoner transfer". He got his bird back. I got my Barney back and we all had a great laugh over a whole bunch of beers. One of the great things about Jim’s and my friendship was we always had time for fun.

My final story is about the last article I wrote about Jim and the Weekendr for "Corvette Enthusiast" magazine. This story was done in Bowling Green, on one of the many trips to the Museum my Wife, Sandy, and I made during the late-'00s. We shot the article in 2009 and it was published in an early 2010 issue of the magazine.

As I'd already done a couple of articles about the ole Weekendr, I wanted something different for this one. Jim emailed me and said he knew the perfect place for a photo shoot. We flew down to BG on a Wednesday, then I met Jim at Automasters of Bowling Green on Saturday. We hopped into the Weekendr, but only drove a short distance down Interstate Drive then turned right into the Corvette Plant's grounds.

At this point, I'm a getting stressed. This was the end of the 2000s. Since 9/11, nine years before all major companies like GM became super security conscious. I knew that no one does photography on the grounds of a GM Facility without having to obtain permission from several people in the GM Communications department along with the Security Department of the facility in question. I remember asking Jim," Dude, are you sure we're not going to get into trouble?" Jim told me not to worry. No one was going to "catch us." was the phrase I remember him using. Jim and I began shooting with some stills in the area of the plant were the public walks through when they enter the plant for a Public Tour. This location has some amazing murals on the building walls which made a great background for the car.

Next, we needed a good shot of the Weekendr with its back tires at the end of two long black patches extending back from the rear tires and Jim standing next to the car looking at the camera. So, we drive back towards the plant entrance. I'm figuring Jim will drive off GM's property to some back road where we can do this. But, no. Jim stops about 100 yards beyond the Plant's front door. He rev'ed the engine to about 5000-rpm then sidestepped the clutch, the car spun the tires. They screeched for good 100 feet.

Now I'm really stressed. Ready for GM Security to come take my Nikon and kick us off the property or even have us arrested by the Bowling Green P.D. "Stop worrying, dude." Jim says. We put the Weekendr's rear tires right at the end of the two, big, black marks on the gray asphalt. Jim stood next to the car while I walked about 200 feet away and shot a pic with my 300-mm telephoto. At the left edge of the image is the big "GM Bowling Green Assembly" sign. I thought, once that image is published, GM will never answer my phone calls again.

My pulse is racing by this time. I say to Jim, "Ok. The Editor wants a burnout shot. We need to go somewhere where we can do that without getting in trouble. "I know, just the place." Jim says. He drove out to the Plant's front gate, but rather than going out the gate, he continued east on the Plant's perimeter road.

At this point, I'm fit to be tied and in need of medication for stress. I know GM Facilities have cameras and microphones everywhere. There has to have been some guy in Plant Security who saw us take stills next to the Plant Tour Entrance. The same guy had to have seen and heard Jim lay down two 100-ft black patches on the Plant's main entrance road. Now Jim wants to go to another place on the Bowling Green Plant grounds to do smoky burnouts? Yikes!

Finally, we arrived a the long stretch of the Plant's perimeter road which runs along the fence on northwest edge of GM's property. "This is the place?" I asked haltingly. "Yep." Jim says. I pick a spot near the car from where I can do the photography and Jim does two, horrendous, smoky burnouts which would have done a nitro funny car justice. For a short time I watched this huge cloud of rubber smoke waft towards the Plant's buildings. I couldn't imagine how anyone watching the security cameras could miss that. I remember thinking, we'll probably meet the Bowling Green Fire and Police Departments on the way out. Amazingly, five minutes later, I'm loading my camera gear in to our rental car and heading to my hotel for a cool shower.

That evening, Jim, my Wife and I met at the Montana Grille in Bowling Green. The "Montana" was Jim's favorite dinner spot because of its great food, cute waitresses and full bar. I start telling my Wife about the stressful day Jim and I had trying to do this photo shoot on the Plant's property and how I was scared out of my wits that GM Security or local law enforcement was going to catch us. My Wife is, like freaking out because she thinks she just missed having to bail me out of jail.

Suddenly, Jim bursts out laughing. I'm, like...not enjoying that they are laughing at me because I'm not sure why.

Finally Jim says, "The Plant's Head of Security is a buddy of mine," Jim said, "and I told him what we were going to do." I just wanted to make you sweat. I made Jim buy the rest of the drinks.

That demonstrated a couple of Jim's great qualities. Wherever Jim went, he made friends with the right folks. He could make his good friends sweat with great practical jokes.

Thank you all for letting me share these stories.

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