There was a time when Pro Street cars ruled the show circuit and even the pages of magazines. They looked fast, but they seemed relegated to idling through fairgrounds or maybe the occasional clandestine blast down a deserted street. The look was race car, but they soon gained an almost poseur status. Why? Because there was something wrong with a car all gussied up to dance just sitting it out.
The same phenomenon started happening in the Pro Touring segment. These cars looked ready for the Nürburgring, but never got put to the test. Then someone came up with a novel idea: How about sticking these worked-over classics on a track and seeing what they can do? The result was a hit and soon guys were building cars that not only looked good, but could throw down in the twisties as well.
Three years ago the folks at Optima Batteries decided to kick this trend up a few notches by organizing a shootout where the best handling cars in the country would vie for top honors. Since that inaugural race the rules for the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) have morphed and the competition level has racked up, but the goal is the same: cool custom and Pro Touring cars fighting it out with imports and exotics to see who is the fastest of the fast.
There are three ways to get a golden ticket to run at this gig: win one of the regional qualifying events, catch the eyes of the event organizers, or snag one of the 10 invites handed out at the SEMA show in Vegas. But, we’ll tell you one thing—getting in is a lot easier than winning.
Similar to last year, the three driving events were scored using a points system, where the top 20 finishers were awarded from 25 points (First Place) to 1 point (20th Place). This meant the cars had to consistently perform in all three driving challenges to win the big prize.
The biggest change was to the Raybestos Performance Design Challenge, which used to be judged on a 1-10. This year it was modified so that it factored in just like the driving events (1-25 point scale for the top 20 cars). Last year it was more of a tiebreaker, but now it was 25 percent of the final tally. Cars not finishing all of the events would be DQ’d out of the competition.
The other way to gain, or lose, points was in the Detroit Speed–sponsored road rally. This segment took place the night before the event and required all cars to make the 60-plus miles from the SEMA show in Vegas to the town of Pahrump. Rain, snow, and ice along the way just made it more challenging, especially for a car lacking things like wipers, heaters, and side glass. Competitors who made the trek within the given time picked up 10 points.
The Hot Lap Challenge, sponsored by BFGoodrich, consisted of a warm-up lap, followed by three timed laps and one cooldown lap. The RideTech-sponsored autocross consisted of three timed laps with no practice runs. Hitting a cone added a second to the final time and missing a turn resulted in a big fat DNF. In the Wilwood Brakes–sponsored Speed/Stop Challenge, drivers combined launch speed with braking prowess to traverse the given distance, stopping in the coned-off box, in the least amount of time. Even touching a cone in the stop box earned a DNF; it’s a tricky event that can flat spot tires in a heartbeat. The competitor’s best time in each event was used to determine the number of points they would accumulate. The other big rule was that the tires had to be 200 or greater treadwear.