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Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car from NCM

Battle In Bowling Green

Jim McIlvaine Jun 16, 2017
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The third round of Optima’s year-long search for the Ultimate Street Car led a full field of competitors to NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on June 2-4. As has been the case for the past several years, Chevys dominated the entry list and the final results. Three-time Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) champion Danny Popp and his 2003 Corvette won the Holley EFI GTL class, but an even more impressive performance was turned in by Bryan Johnson in his 2013 Camaro.

GM designed the Corvette to be superior to the Camaro, even when there is a 10-year difference between examples, and Johnson’s Camaro is significantly heavier than Popp’s C5. However, what Johnson is doing in the Franklin Road Apparel GT class is nothing short of remarkable. Johnson beat Popp for the class championship in 2015 when Popp campaigned the Lingenfelter L/28 Camaro and repeated that dominant performance again in 2016. By the last event in 2016, Ken Thwaits’ 2014 Camaro was the only GT car out of 111 that competed that season that had a mathematical chance to catch Johnson.

Over the past two and a half seasons, Johnson has competed in nine OUSCI qualifying events and won his class an astonishing eight times. Johnson currently sits Third in Franklin Road Apparel GT points, but only because he has run in only two events (your best three scores count toward your total for the season). He is on pace once again to eclipse 1,400 points on the season and run away with a third consecutive championship, although the Mustangs of Mike Maier and Cliff Elliott will likely keep him honest to the finish.

Johnson’s performances are perplexing even for competitors who run in different classes. He is soft-spoken, his Camaro is murdered-out with an off-center accent stripe but doesn’t particularly stand out in a field of standout vehicles. However, the modifications he has made to his Camaro seem to follow suit with his personality. They don’t scream, “Look at me!” and the only way to really get a feel for how much he has done to improve his car is to listen to his presentation in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge or look at the results. Subtle custom aero work throughout, adjustability on every possible suspension component, and a 563-horsepower Mast Motorsports Black Label 416 LS3 are just the tip of the iceberg. It may not be the most powerful Camaro on the grid, but it has enough power and may be a rare instance where the driver’s ability is every bit the equal of the car’s potential.

A perfect score in all five segments in this series is 500 points (100 per segment). The competition is stiff enough that someone is doing pretty well if they can break 400 points on a weekend. It was no surprise that Johnson won the Franklin Road Apparel GT class, but he did so in dominating fashion. The next closest competitor to Johnson’s 470-point total was Jason Chinn’s mark of 414 points in his 2015 Camaro. In fact, only four other competitors in all the classes combined eclipsed Johnson’s total for the weekend.

One of those who did best Johnson’s total was Paul Curley, whose 2003 Corvette Z06 won the Recaro GTS class with 476 points. Popp was another (483 points) in the Holley EFI GTL class, as well as Ken Thwaits’ Evo (482 points) and Mike DuSold’s 1967 Camaro (471 points). Chris Smith’s 1972 Corvette took home top honors in the GTV class, where Bowties swept the top eight positions, and Mills Robinson received the coveted Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event invitation to SEMA and the OUSCI.

The series will be back in action on July 7-9 at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colorado. Bryan Johnson won’t be at that event, so someone else will win the GT class, but he’ll be back in action at New Jersey Motorsports Park in late August, looking to put an early lock on his third consecutive regular season points championship.

You can catch more action from Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car every weekend on MAVTV, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern. You can learn more about the series and how you can take a shot at knocking off Bryan Johnson or Danny Popp at www.driveoptima.com.

GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Chris Smith, 1972 Corvette
2. Larry Woo, 1968 Camaro
3. Joe Gregory, 1964 Corvette

Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters and AWD vehicles)
1. Paul Curley, 2003 Corvette
2. Jordan Priestley, 2017 Corvette
3. Jeremy Swenson, 2011 Corvette

Holley EFI GTL Class (any non-compacts under 3,200 pounds, including forced-induction vehicles)
1. Danny Popp, 2003 Corvette
2. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
3. Mike DuSold, 1967 Camaro

GTC Class (naturally aspirated two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Scott Budisalich, 2006 Honda S2000
2. Erik Vandermey, 2007 Mazda MX-5
3. Cody Mason, 2013 Scion FR-S

Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, four-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Camaro
2. Jason Chinn, 2015 Camaro
3. Jonathan Blevins, 2015 Mustang

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Mills Robinson, 1967 Camaro

2017 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
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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Nick Kistler had his Chevelle in pieces when he received the call that he had moved off the wait list for NCM. He managed to get it put back together but struggled all weekend. He did finish the event and scored enough points in GTV to maintain his class lead over Mills Robinson.

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At some point, Danny Popp’s driving skills are going to start to diminish. When they do, his son Nathan will probably be hitting his stride and making sure a Popp in a Corvette continues to dominate for the next several decades. The rookie is off to a good start, finishing Sixth in the Holley EFI GTL class in his first event in the series.

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Not only is Danny Popp dominating in the Holley EFI GTL class every time he shows up, but his RAFT Racing teammate Paul Curley is doing the same in the Recaro GTS class.

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Robert Weathers took his brand-new Camaro SS 1LE from the showroom to the track and has run in the first three events of the season. That landed him in Second place in the Franklin Road Apparel GT class, but a stacked field is headed to the next event at Pikes Peak International Raceway, ready to challenge him for that position.

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It’s not always easy to stand out in a first-gen F-body, but Scott Collins’ Camaro seems to do it every time he shows up at an event. Collins captured the top overall position in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, which helped elevate him to a Seventh place finish in the 22-car GTV class.

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Mills Robinson knows his ’67 Camaro won’t win any beauty contests (or Design & Engineering at these events), but he is one of the better drivers in the series, and the car is built to run on the track. He’s headed to Vegas after overcoming significant adversity and winning the Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event invitation to SEMA and the OUSCI.

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Mike DuSold’s Camaro continues to impress, competing in the Holley EFI GTL class against mostly newer, far more technologically advanced platforms. Still, DuSold is a regular on the podium and always a threat to win not only his class, but the OUSCI.

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Jason Chinn couldn’t catch Bryan Johnson in the Franklin Road Apparel GT class, but since Johnson already qualified for Vegas, Chinn’s runner-up finish netted him the class invite.

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Rain showed up on Sunday, but since this is a competition for street cars with at least 200 treadwear tires, action on the track wasn’t halted until lightning in the area created a safety concern.

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Chris Smith has competed in the OUSCI several times, and he qualified again in 2017, by winning the GTV class.

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Danny Popp was the first invitee to the 2017 OUSCI by virtue of winning the 2016 event. As such, he didn’t even need to run during the regular season, but he likes to come out a few times to measure up the competition. The results from Bowling Green suggest he’ll definitely have his work cut out for him in November.

Photography by Jim McIlvaine, Optima Batteries


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