The trip to Millville, New Jersey, was a long haul for some who compete in Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car series, but it was well worth the effort for those who made it to the fifth event of the season. A sold-out field spent two days attacking the tarmac in and around New Jersey Motorsports Park, jostling for position in the series points chases, as well as pursuing coveted invitations to the 2017 SEMA Show and Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational in Las Vegas.
Larry Woo’s 1968 Camaro has been a solid performer all season long, but his third event proved to be his breakout performance. Woo posted the highest GTV points total of the season (481 points), which not only secured his invitation to Las Vegas but propelled him to the top of the points standings. John Lazorack III, whose LS-powered 1988 Chrysler Conquest TSi won the season opener, has the car to challenge Woo for the regular season championship. However, Lazorack is based on the West Coast and is only signed up for one of the remaining events, and with the other one sold out he’s only got that one last shot.
Chad Ryker’s 1968 Camaro is signed up for the final two events but he needs to come up with 511 points to pass Woo, who is also signed up for the regular season finale at Road America. The points totals are based on a competitor’s three best finishes of the year, so if Ryker averages 463 points in his final two events and Woo doesn’t pick up any additional points at Road America, he’ll get the job done. However, Ryker’s best performance so far is 418 points at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
That leaves Brian Hobaugh’s 1973 Camaro as the only competitor with a realistic shot of catching Woo. When the two faced off earlier in the year at Pikes Peak, Hobaugh came out on top 444 to 433. Even though Hobaugh is based in California, he is planning on running the final two events, which includes a trip all the way to Wisconsin in early October. If Hobaugh averages 450 points in his final two events he’ll catch Woo’s current total. However, Woo can add to his current total with a performance at Road America that eclipses 429 points, his lowest total of the season.
The points chase in the Recaro GTS class is similarly tight. Jeremy Swenson’s 2011 ZR1 has opened up a sizable lead over the car currently in second, Brandon Williams’ 2009 Nissan GT-R. However, it’s a competitor further down in the points that has a shot at catching and passing Swenson.
Paul Curley’s Corvette and Austin Barnes’ Viper could both challenge Swenson for the championship, but neither registered for any additional events after they punched their respective tickets to Vegas. Glen Barnhouse’s Corvette, Danny King’s Porsche, or Lynn Proctor’s Viper could’ve also challenged Swenson but they’d all need two more events to do it and they are all currently only registered for one of the remaining two. That leaves Jake Rozelle’s 2003 Corvette, which is registered to run the final two events and currently sits 481 points behind Swenson.
However, Rozelle doesn’t need to reach that total in either of those events to catch Swenson. If Rozelle averages 471 points in his final two events he’ll pass Swenson’s current point total. However, Swenson is signed up for Road America, so he can add to his total at that event with a performance of 459 points or better.
Last year, Rich Willhoff’s 2006 Corvette won the Holley EFI GTL class with 1,462 points. Ken Thwaits’ 2006 Mitsubishi Evo has already passed that total this year but it still might not be enough to win in 2017. Mike DuSold’s 1967 Camaro currently sits 16 points back in second place and he is signed up to run at the season finale at Road America. If DuSold can post 488 points, he’ll pass Thwaits’ current total. DuSold posted a 492 points haul earlier this season at NOLA Motorsports Park so that’s a real possibility.
However, Thwaits might not even be in the lead by that point. Willhoff is scheduled to run again at Auto Club Speedway and he only needs 478 points to pass Thwaits. Willhoff hasn’t scored less than 493 points at any event yet this season so that could put the target on his back going into the final event.
In the Franklin Road Apparel GT class, Bryan Johnson’s 2013 Camaro didn’t quite wrap up it’s third consecutive class championship with his third straight win this season at New Jersey Motorsports Park, but he’s about as close as you can get. Cliff Elliott’s 2016 Mustang, the second-place holder in the overall standings after the New Jersey event, could score a perfect 500 points at the final event and he’d still finish almost 30 points behind Johnson.
The only competitor with a mathematical shot at this point is Jordan Priestley’s 2016 Camaro SS, which posted a 439-point finish in the season opener. Priestley is signed up to run the Camaro in the final two events. However, he’d need to average 484 points in those events, which would also require him to beat Johnson, which has only happened once since Johnson began running in the series. While Danny Popp’s Corvette may get a lot of well-deserved credit for his string of wins at the OUSCI, when it comes to late-model muscle cars, Bryan Johnson’s Camaro has encountered no equal in all-around performance.
It’s a quick turnaround for the series, as the action resumes the weekend following the New Jersey Motorsports Park event and it’s happening on the opposite coast! Only a handful of competitors will make the cross-country trek, so we’re anxious to see what will nearly be a completely different field of competitors at Auto Club Speedway. If you’d like to learn more about the series and how you can participate with your street car, check out the series website at DriveOPTIMA.com.
New Jersey Motorsports Park Results:
GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Larry Woo, 1968 Camaro
2. James Shipka, 1967 Camaro
3. Nicholas Weber, 1967 Corvette
Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & AWD vehicles)
1. Jeremy Swenson, 2011 Corvette
2. Danny King, 2011 Porsche Turbo S
3. Mike Gallagher, 2016 Ford Focus RS
Holley EFI GTL Class (any non-compacts under 3,200 pounds, including forced-induction vehicles)
1. Feras Qartoumy, 2008 Corvette
2. Chris Faircloth, 2007 Corvette
3. Jim Stehlin, 2001 Corvette
GTC Class (naturally aspirated two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Jeff Hahn, 1999 Honda Civic
2. Erik Vandermey, 2007 Mazda MX-5
3. Rick Hoback, 1993 Mazda RX-7
Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Camaro
2. Chad Langley, 2017 Camaro
3. Brian Preston, 2014 Camaro
Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Ken Edwards, 1966 Ford Mustang
Remaining 2017 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
Auto Club Speedway September 1-3
Road America October 6-8
Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational November 4-5
Photos: Jim McIlvaine