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2017 Optima Street Car Event From NOLA Motorsports Park

F-Body Battle on the Bayou

Jim McIlvaine Apr 26, 2017
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Seven events at racetracks around the country make up Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car and the second event of the 2017 season brought a sold-out field to NOLA Motorsports Park for a springtime street car showdown. All of the cars that compete in these events are legit street cars with license plates, insurance, and tires that have a treadwear rating of at least 200, but they’re capable of far more than just commuting.

Familiar names in the series squared off against each other, as well as a bevvy of new competitors, which always keeps things interesting. Camaros and their corporate cousins from Pontiac are eligible to compete in three of the five classes, and on this weekend they took home wins in all three of those classes, as well as the Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event invitation to the 2017 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI). That was given to John Woods, who pulled his primered Poncho out of paint jail to come run in the event.

In the Franklin Road Apparel GT class for late-model muscle cars, two-time regular season champion Bryan Johnson resumed his winning ways, capturing the class win in impressive fashion. In his final session of the weekend on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, Johnson laid down a 1:51.074, which was the second fastest overall lap of the entire weekend. The only driver to eclipse that mark was local hot shoe Al Copeland Jr., who laid down a 1:49.377 in a new Viper ACR.

The GTV class saw nearly every competitor in last year’s Top 10 either marooned on the West Coast or moved to a different class in 2017 for the New Orleans event. Larry Woo’s 1968 Camaro still wasn’t finished with its latest rebuild, which left Mills Robinson’s 1967 Camaro as the lone carryover at NOLA. He ended up doing battle with Ken Kelley, who now owns the former RideTech 1966 Chevelle and Dusty Nixon’s 1979 Camaro. Nixon ended up topping the GTV class in all the timed events and captured the class win and OUSCI invite.

The tightest battle of the weekend went down in the Holley EFI GTL class, which also illustrates how diverse the competitors are in this field. A 1967 Camaro is about as far removed as you can get from a four-door Mitsubishi, yet those two cars square off in the class for cars weighing less than 3,200 pounds. Both Mike DuSold’s Camaro and Camaro aficionado Ken Thwaits’ Evo are about the nicest examples of their respective cars, anywhere in the world. Both drivers also know how to turn the wheel, so the competition was extremely tight throughout the weekend.

DuSold and/or Thwaits finished either First or Second in every segment in the GTL class and wound up in a tie. The tiebreaker went to the vehicle that scored higher in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, which DuSold edged Thwaits out on by a single position, giving him the overall class win for the weekend.

In the Recaro GTS class, Jeremy Swenson’s 2011 Corvette ZR1 held off a tough challenge from Randy Johnson’s 2002 Vette and a stacked class with very fast Vipers, Vettes, Evos, and other all-wheel-drive terrors.

The series is just getting started, and the action will heat up even more when another sold-out field visits NCM Motorsports Park on June 2-4, 2017. If this series makes a stop near you, be sure to spend at least part of the day checking out some of the very best street cars to ever hit the road or track!

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Casey Woodside is one of the many series competitors who changed cars and classes for 2017. Woodside finished Ninth in the GT class last season in his 2010 Camaro but will be running this 2001 Vette in the Holley EFI GTL class this year. He finished Seventh at NOLA and has barely begun upgrading this car.

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It pays to be friends with the right people. When Toby Thompson couldn’t make the NOLA event, he gave his entry to his buddy Cody Puckett, who piloted his 1979 Camaro to Sixth in the GTV class in his rookie outing.

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Feras Qartoumy ran a lightweight 1972 Nova in the GTL class last season, but just couldn’t get comfortable in the car on the track. He switched things up this season with a 2008 Corvette Z06 and ended up on the podium in the ultra-competitive Holley EFI GTL Class, including a Top 10 overall in the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial.

New Orleans Results:
GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Dusty Nixon, 1979 Camaro
2. Mills Robinson, 1967 Camaro
3. Ken Kelley, 1966 Chevelle

Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters and AWD vehicles)
1. Jeremy Swenson, 2011 Corvette
2. Randy Johnson, 2002 Corvette
3. David Llerena, 2013 Mitsubishi Evo

Holley EFI GTL Class (any non-compa
cts under 3,200 pounds, including forced-induction vehicles) 1. Mike DuSold, 1967 Camaro
2. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
3. Feras Qartoumy, 2008 Corvette

GTC Class (naturally aspirated two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Scott Budisalich, 2006 Honda S2000
2. Andy Hollis, 2000 Mazda Miata
3. Anthony Cuthbert, 2015 Dodge Dart

GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, four-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Camaro
2. Cliff Elliott, 2016 Ford Mustang
3. Chad Langley, 2017 Camaro

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: John Woods, 1970 Pontiac Trans Am

2017 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule

National Corvette Museum: June 2-4
Pikes Peak International Raceway: July 7-9
New Jersey Motorsports Park: August 25-27
Auto Club Speedway: September 1-3
Road America: October 6-8
Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational: November 4-5

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Jeremy Swenson just had the engine installed in his 2011 Corvette ZR1 the week before coming down to NOLA and oil-related issues limited his time on the road course to just a single timed lap. Fortunately, that was worth enough points to give him the win in the Recaro GTS class and an invitation to Las Vegas at the end of the year.

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A familiar face is back in action. The 1966 Chevelle formerly owned and campaigned by folks from RideTech has found a new home and a new look with Ken Kelley. Kelley’s updates made a difference in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, where the Chevelle finished Fourth overall.

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You’ll never see another car, Camaro or otherwise, that even comes close to resembling Mike DuSold’s aviation-themed creation. Where most war bird-themed builds begin and end with a wrap or fancy paintjob, DuSold’s ride features an aviation-themed interior that includes functional aviation gauges and a real cockpit-like seating experience. There is a ridiculous amount of detail work in this car, and he drives it ridiculously fast. It’s no wonder he topped the Holley EFI GTL class.

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While it may be based more on attendance rather than performance at this point, Nick Kistler’s 1969 Chevelle is the current points leader in the GTV class. He is scheduled to run two more events this season, so we’ll see if he can hold onto his lead and capture a championship and invitation to Las Vegas.

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Mills Robinson’s 1967 Camaro was on the wrong side of the points bubble when the 2016 season ended, but he’s looking to change that in 2017. An all-new stereo system helped him net his highest point total ever in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, and his runner-up finish set him on his way to capturing an invitation to Las Vegas this season.

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PowerStop is one of the series sponsors offering a pretty substantial contingency prize: a trip to the Bondurant Racing School for the top finisher in the series who runs PowerStop brakes. Marty Clarke is hoping to capture that award this year, which also results in graduates receiving an SCCA competition license.

Photography by Jim McIlvaine

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