5th Annual Optima Invitational - The Big Show

The Top Cars in the Country Square off at the Fifth Annual Optima Invitational

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We're not sure when exactly it happened, but at some magical point in time car guys decided that they wanted more than fast looking cars, they wanted ones that were fast. Sure, they still like hanging out at the local car show, but the real turn-on was wheeling their Chevys through a few twists and turns. Before long, driving events started springing up around the country. In 2008 the guys at Optima Batteries decided they wanted to host an event, sort of like a Super Bowl of automotive driving arts. The first event was low key, nearly 30 of the fastest muscle, modern, and import cars in the country fought it out in the desert. A Chevy won that year, so we were off to a good start. Since then this event, known as the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), has returned to the Nevada desert to see which car and driver can grab the title of "best of the best".

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Rulebook

Every year the rules change a bit, but, in general, the rules for 2012 were much like they were in 2011. The three driving events, and the Lingenfelter-sponsored design competition, 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 four challenges to win the big prize.

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The other way to gain, or lose, points was in the Detroit Speed and JRi Shocks-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 lovely town of Pahrump. They took the long route around the back side of the mountain; a couple of cars had issues along the way, but most just enjoyed the drive. Competitors who made the trek within the given time picked up 10 points.

The BFGoodrich Hot Lap Challenge consisted of a warm-up lap, followed by three timed laps and one cool-down lap. The RideTech-sponsored autocross consisted of three timed laps with no practice runs. A hit 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 handling and braking prowess to traverse the given distance, negotiate a slalom, and stop in a coned off box. 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 how many points they accumulated. The other big rule was that the tires had to be 200, or greater, treadwear. Lastly, the cars had to pass a technical inspection that included street car items like blinkers and brake lights.

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Drivers

The subject of drivers is fraught with controversy. After all, if they really wanted to find the fastest car they would need to have each car driven by a single hot shoe, but with over 50 cars in the field that would be one tired person by the end of the day. The way this works is that people show up with cars and run them hard. In theory the cars are all piloted by their owners or by the guy who built at least 80 percent of it. But, that's more of a guideline than a rule. Mark Stielow, 2010's winner, arguably one of the best drivers at the event, was back to battle it out in his freshly built '67 Camaro. Last year's winner, Danny Popp, was back, but in a new car, the Lingenfelter L28 '10 Camaro. The field was full of talent and the paddock was overflowing with badass cars.

Race day

Great weather greeted the drivers and spectators on race day. After grabbing some grub, getting the cars tech inspected, and hearing the race day rundown from FM3's Jimi Day at the drivers' meeting, things started to get interesting. And, although this is a competition, it's a friendly one. Drivers gave each other tips, loaned tools, and it was nice to see such civility, given how badly each driver wanted to kick the other's ass out on the track.

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There were no crashes, but several cars suffered mechanical mayhem. The leader board reflected the names we expected to see, with a few big names missing, and a few unknowns sitting high in the rankings. The drivers learned how important it was to score good in every event; being a one-trick pony wasn't going to cut it here. The wild card that kept people from figuring out the winner was the design competition. But, we won't spoil the surprise just yet, so read along and find out who took home this year's big prize!

Results

Top Road Course Times:

Name Vehicle Best Time
Brian Hobaugh '73 Camaro 1:46.155
Mark Stielow '67 Camaro 1:46.183
Travis Hill '13 GTR 1:48.366
Todd Earsley '03 Evo GSR 1:49.334
Danny Popp '10 Camaro 1:49.518
Jim Holloway '13 Mustang RTR 1:50.155
Kyle Tucker '70 Camaro 1:50.604
Karl Dunn '07 LS Mustang 1:50.697
Phil Gerber '70 C10 1:51.610
Ryan Mathews '66 Mustang 1:51.895

Top Autocross Times:

Name Vehicle Best Time
Mark Stielow '67 Camaro 40.532
Brian Hobaugh '73 Camaro 40.762
Danny Popp '10 Camaro 40.902
Todd Earsley '03 Evo GSR 41.345
Bret Voelkel '33 coupe 41.619
Ryan Mathews '66 Mustang 41.816
Karl Dunn '07 LS Mustang 41.832
Joey Seely '86 Carrera 41.911
Kyle Tucker '70 Camaro 41.920
Brad Coomer '70 C10 42.190
Steven Rupp '68 Camaro 42.334
Travis Hill '13 GT-R 42.351

Top Speed-Stop Times:

Name Vehicle Best Time
Bret Voelkel '33 coupe 18.352
Todd Earsley '03 Evo GSR 18.365
Travis Hill '13 GT-R 18.656
Joey Seely '86 Carrera 18.953
Brian Finch '72 Camaro 19.024
Karl Dunn '07 LS Mustang 19.028
Phil Gerber '70 C10 19.066
Brian Hobaugh '73 Camaro 19.124
Steven Rupp '68 Camaro 19.152
Rob McGregor '70 C10 19.363

Top Finishers in Style Category:

Name Vehicle Place
David Brandt '69 Camaro First
Chris Smith '67 C10 Second
Bob Bertelsen '71 Camaro Third
Todd Foust '65 Mustang Fourth
Mark Stielow '67 Camaro Fifth
Curt Hill '72 Blazer Sixth
Steven Rupp '68 Camaro Seventh
Jeff Cleary '67 Corvette Eighth
Brian Hobaugh '73 Camaro Ninth
Jim Holloway '13 Mustang RTR Tenth

Overall Winners:

Name Vehicle
Mark Stielow '67 Camaro First
Brian Hobaugh '73 Camaro Second
Todd Earsley '03 Evo GSR Third
Bret Voelkel '33 coupe Fourth
Travis Hill '13 GTR Fifth
Steven Rupp '68 Camaro Sixth
Kyle Tucker '70 Camaro Seventh
Karl Dunn '07 LS Mustang Seventh
Brian Finch '72 Camaro Seventh
Jim Holloway '13 Mustang RTR Tenth

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"Bad Penny", Steven Rupp's '68 Camaro, came back for its fourth appearance at the OUSCI. The car won the inaugural event, placed Fourth the following year, and suffered a mechanical issue in 2010. This year Rupp drove the 700hp RHS LS engine-equipped Camaro from California to the event, raced, then loaded up his gear, and cruised it home. Consistency paid off with a 1:54.872 (14th) on the road course, 42.334 (11th) on the autocross, and a 19.152 (Ninth) in the Speed-Stop. Combined with the design points this landed him in Sixth Place overall.

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