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Optima Ultimate Street Car Series Hits NCM Motorsports Park

Street cars take to the Grand Full Course at NCM Motorsports Park

Jim McIlvaine Jun 8, 2018
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Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car series has visited NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in each of the last four seasons, but this was the first time competitors in the series were turned loose on the 3.15-mile Grand Full Course. This longer configuration includes two-high speed sections, including the 2,300-foot front straight and challenging technical sections including Deceiption, Faux Rouge, and The Sinkhole. The NCM Motorsports Park event has also served as a preview of some of the top competitors expected to contend for the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) title, and this year’s event didn’t disappoint. Top drivers and incredible cars all converged on NCM Motorsports Park in early June for an incredible showdown.

Even though Ken Thwaits and his Evo managed to capture the OUSCI title last year from the four-time and defending champion Danny Popp and his C5 Corvette, when competitors take to the track, the biggest target still seems to be on Popp’s back. Danny showed why that was the case when he took advantage of the longer course format to absolutely dominate the Holley EFI GTL class, and everyone else in every other class, posting a time nearly four seconds faster than the next-closest competitor.

The Detroit Speed Autocross was a different story, and for as much as Popp ran away from everyone on the road course, the competition was as tight as we’ve ever seen on the autocross. This series is known for oversized autocross layouts that dwarf the typical parking lot fare most folks are accustomed to seeing. The layout here meant the fastest times were all in the 29-second range and 13 different cars in four different classes all posted sub–30-second passes.

Thwaits’ Evo edged out Popp’s Corvette by the slimmest of margins, just 0.001 seconds, with Mike Dusold’s first-gen Camaro finishing just 0.009 seconds behind Popp. In fact, the top five in the Holley EFI GTL class were all within 0.026 seconds of each other.

On the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge, Popp was again near the top, but this time he was edged out by Dusold’s Camaro for First Place overall. With points locked in from the LucasOilRacing.tv Road Rally, that left only the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge to determine the winner. Even though the older GTV class cars tend to do well in this segment (six of the Top 10 on this weekend), Popp has gone the extra mile in recent years to make sure his C5 Z06 is one of the very best all-around examples in the world, and his was one of the few late-model cars to finish in the Top 10 overall.

The point total for Popp’s weekend was 494 out of a possible 500, a score that in any other class and at nearly any other event would be enough for a victory. However, Mike Dusold’s Camaro managed to battle through some braking issues to post a total of 496, taking down Popp for the Holley EFI GTL class win and the invitation to the 2018 OUSCI. The excitement displayed by Mike Dusold in the victory showed how big a deal it was for him to get the best of Popp. Even Scot Spiewak, who was given the Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event invitation to the OUSCI was in stunned disbelief that he somehow managed to get invited to Vegas before the four-time champion.

Popp will have another shot at both the OUSCI and Mike Dusold when the series heads to Barber Motorsports Park on August 4-5, which could give Danny a chance to do the one thing he has yet to accomplish in Optima street car competition: a regular-season championship.

Chevys more than held their own in several of the other classes in the series, including the QA1 GTV class for vintage iron, where Bowties swept the podium and Dusty Nixon’s ’79 Camaro earned his second-straight invite to the OUSCI. In the Recaro GTS class, two C7s battled for the top spot, with Eric Fleming’s Lingenfelter-powered Corvette taking the win.

The series heads to Pikes Peak International Raceway next month before heading back east later in the summer for a stop to Barber Motorsports Park. Learn more about the series and see the regular season standings at driveoptima.com.

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Alex Peitz campaigned a Cadillac CTS-V last season, but moved to a new car and a new class for 2018. So far, the move is proving to be a good one, as his ’17 Corvette is the current points leader in the Recaro GTS class.

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There are several families that run in the series, but not all choose to compete in the same class. One father and son combo that opted to square off against each other are Barry and Garry Luterek, running in a pair of ’19 Corvettes. Both father and son are experienced club racers, and if their initial appearance in this series is any indication, the family rivalry should be very strong. Barry (pictured) managed to outpace Garry on the Falken Road Course by just 0.374 seconds.

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While the series has seen Vegas in competition before, it’s never had one of the 3,508 Cosworth Vegas produced in the mid-’70s until Byron Burnham showed up. His widebody ’76 Cossie features a built LS3 and other significant upgrades came from companies like Art Morrison and Wilwood. Burnham’s debut was impressive and included a Top 10 overall finish in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge.

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Because this is a street car series, there is a noise limit on all vehicles of 103 db and NCM is one of the tracks where it is rigorously enforced. As a result, some cars employ various means to quiet their exhaust, while others avoid the track entirely. Chris Neal chose the former with his ’14 Corvette, which ran quieter and without issue all weekend.

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Clay Shearer usually competes in a Porsche, but we have no complaints with the ’18 Camaro ZL1 he ran this weekend. Clay was clearly at home in the Camaro, posting Top 10 overall finishes in both the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial and the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge, on his way to an Eighth-Place finish in the Franklin Road Apparel GT class.

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Dan Ballard’s ’72 Nova has made it to the OUSCI before and he is a threat every time he comes out to an event. QA1 GTV class winner, Dusty Nixon had his hands full with Dan on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, edging him out for the class win by less than a second!

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With multiple OUSCI titles to his credit, multiple SCCA National Championships before that, and multiple Goodguys Autocross titles since then, Danny Popp is still very much the man to beat every time he unloads at a track. His ’03 Z06 is as dialed-in as a C5 street car can be and Mike Dusold had to really be at the top of his game to edge Danny out by the slimmest of margins in Bowling Green.

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Eric Fleming’s C7 Corvette has consistently been a top finisher in the timed segments and he is competitive enough to point his way into an invitation to the OUSCI, but Eric knows his C7 has the potential to win it all. He left no stone unturned in prepping his Vette for Bowling Green, and the results were a convincing win in the Recaro GTS class and the realization that the only thing standing between him and an OUSCI title now may be a weight-loss program.

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Dusty Nixon drove his ’79 Camaro to the podium at the previous event in New Orleans, but fell just short of an OUSCI invite to CB Ramey’s ’84 Corvette. Nixon returned to NCM Motorsports Park, where he had to make up a 12-point deficit on Joe Gregory’s ’64 Corvette from the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge and the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge, to take home the QA1 GTV class win and punch his ticket to Vegas.

Bowling Green Results

QA1 GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Dusty Nixon, 1979 Camaro
2. Joe Gregory, 1964 Corvette
3. Jim Stehlin, 1973 Camaro

Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & AWD vehicles)
1. Eric Fleming, 2016 Corvette
2. Chris Neal, 2014 Corvette
3. Mike Gallagher, 2016 Ford Focus RS

Holley EFI GTL Class (non-compacts under 3,200 pounds)
1. Mike Dusold, 1967 Camaro
2. Danny Popp, 2003 Corvette
3. Ryan Mathews, 2002 Corvette

GTE Class (BEV electric vehicles)
1. Karen Thomas, 2018 Tesla X P100D

GTC Class (two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Brian Johns, 1993 Mazda RX-7
2. Douglas Wind, 2004 Dodge SRT-4

Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Ford Mustang
2. Jason Chinn, 2015 Camaro
3. John Laughlin, 2016 Ford Mustang

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Scot Spiewak, 2003 Corvette

Remaining 2018 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule

Pikes Peak International Raceway: July 7-8
Barber Motorsports Park: August 4-5
Auto Club Speedway: September 15-16
Road America: October 6-7
Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational: November 3-4

Photography by Jim McIlvaine

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