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.
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