4th Annual Optima Invitational - The Dogs Of War

The Top Cars in the Country Square Off at the Fourth Annual Optima Invitational

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The hardest part of an event like this is handling the drivers. After all, the point is to find the “Ultimate Street Car” and skill behind the wheel can make all the difference, especially on the road course and autocross. This year the rules were further tightened up so that only car owners and builders who’ve done at least 80 percent of the work can pilot the cars. Of course that doesn’t keep the “pro” drivers out, but it does stop it from getting out of control. Last year’s winner, Mark Stielow, was back to defend his title in his blown ’69 Camaro. He has hundreds, if not thousands, of laps at Spring Mountain, so he certainly had an advantage. There were also some familiar faces like the Tuckers from Detroit Speed, national autocross champion Mary Pozzi, and Brian Finch. All of them ended up being 2-5 seconds faster than they were last year. So yes, practice does pay off. There were also new hot shoes piloting cars, including Mike Maier, Brian Hobaugh, Danny Popp, Pete Callaway, and Vinny Allegretta. Such a deep talent pool, combined with cars that blurred the lines between street car and race car, guaranteed an all-out war on the track, and we weren’t disappointed.

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Race Day

The weather on Friday was less than stellar; however, on Saturday morning we were greeted with blue skies. Even though the morning temps hovered in the mid 30s, it was better than the alternative. Around sunrise the drivers started trickling in and getting their cars ready for their tech inspection. The mood was friendly, but by the time the morning drivers’ meeting got going you could tell that everything was getting a bit more serious. Let’s admit it, a friendly competition is still a competition.

The desire to win never muddied the fact that everyone racing were friends with a common love of all things automotive. Last year’s winner, Stielow, gave the other hot shoes tips on how best to navigate Spring Mountain’s 2.1-mile road course and when there were mechanical issues, other drivers and support crew stepped up to lend a hand or needed tools. Near the end of the event, Popp cracked his brake master cylinder on the road course. Normally this would have ended his day, and his chances of winning, but Callaway, who was done with all of his events, gave him the master off of his ’08 Corvette. It was a classy act indicative of the event; gearheads coming together to share their passion while trying to best each other out on the track. It’s what makes this better, and to us far more enjoyable, than the “dog-eat-dog” mentality found in professional racing.

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By the end of the event all of the expected names were on the leaderboard with 7 out of the top 10 being Chevrolets. Most importantly, for the third year out of four, a Chevy stood on the top rung of the ladder. Who knows what next year will bring, but we’re sure of one thing; when November rolls around, we’ll be there to watch the best of the best battle it out.




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