If there is any bucket list of racetracks that does not include Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama, it cannot be considered a valid list. Although originally designed with motorcycles in mind, Barber Motorsports Park can also easily accept cars, and the rolling terrain outside of Birmingham, Alabama, makes for a very exciting and technically challenging track with lots of elevation changes. Optima’s 2018 Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, made its way to this incredible facility in early August, and while forecasts called for rain, competitors were met by sweltering heat all weekend. Competitors and cooling systems were put to the test all weekend long.
Fortunately, the track facilities included an air-conditioned observation deck that offered great views of the Falken Tire Road Course time trial and a place to cool off. The incredibly manicured grounds and accommodating staff has already made Barber an instant favorite in a series that has visited some of the country’s most iconic racing facilities. Cars competed in six different classes, all vying for invitations to the 2018 SEMA Show and the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and as is typically the case, the margins of victory were often measured in decimal places.
West Coast competitor Jake Rozelle hitched a ride eastward on the Falken Tires big rig, allowing his 2003 Z06 to capture the win in the Recaro GTS class and an invitation to Vegas. Rozelle’s win also moved him into the class lead in points for the season. However, Second-place competitor Eric Fleming’s C7 is only 13 points back and with Vipers and GT-Rs lurking in the standings, this points battle looks like it won’t be settled until the final event of the year.
Efrain Diaz’s 1969 Camaro also made it onto the same truck as Rozelle’s Z06, which worked out well for him when Dusty Nixon’s 1979 Camaro grabbed the win in the QA1 GTV class. Nixon, who holds the class lead in the season-long points championship, already earned an invitation to Las Vegas, which meant Diaz’s runner-up finish netted him the invite. Larry Woo’s 1968 Camaro finished Third, giving Camaros a clean sweep of the QA1 GTV podium.
As is often the case in this series, the heavy hitters were found in the Holley EFI GTL class, which on this weekend included two former OUSCI champions. However, it was Mike Dusold’s 1967 Camaro that topped the lightweights. Since Dusold had already punched his ticket, as had runner-up and defending OUSCI champion Ken Thwaits, that meant four-time OUSCI champion Danny Popp would earn a return trip to Vegas. While Popp’s Z06 battled issues on Sunday, he did manage to lay down the fastest lap of the weekend (1:36.388) on the road course, earning an $800 gift certificate from Whiteline Performance.
Dusold’s class win also moved him past Thwaits in the season-long points chase, and with Thwaits eyeing a move to a Corvette for the final two events of the regular season, there may be no catching Dusold’s Camaro. With just two OUSCI qualifying events remaining, many competitors are now eyeing up their point totals and trying to determine if they’ll have enough accumulated to earn an OUSCI invitation at the end of the season.
The top three, non-qualified vehicles in each class at the end of the regular season will each receive an invitation to the Vegas finale, as well as the next 10 competitors with the highest point totals, regardless of class affiliation. While that is a bit of a moving target and won’t be finalized until the regular season ends, the bubble at this point seems to be somewhere around 1,100 points for those 10 at-large invitations.
The next stop for the series will be at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, on September 15th and 16th. While these events are all sold out with waiting lists for competitors, spectator admission is free and Fontana offers one of the best venues for checking out the Detroit Speed Autocross and PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge. Whether you want to spectate or compete, you can get more information on the series at DriveOptima.com.
Barber Motorsports Park Results
QA1 GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Dusty Nixon, 1979 Camaro
2. Efrain Diaz, 1969 Camaro
3. Larry Woo, 1968 Camaro
Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters and AWD vehicles)
1. Jake Rozelle, 2003 Corvette
2. Steve Kepler, 2013 Nissan GT-R
3. Eric Fleming, 2016 Corvette
Holley EFI GTL Class (non-compacts under 3,200 pounds)
1. Mike Dusold, 1967 Camaro
2. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
3. Danny Popp, 2003 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
3. Jordan Pierce, 2013 Dodge Dart
Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, four-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Ford Mustang
2. John Laughlin, 2016 Ford Mustang
3. Cliff Elliott, 2016 Ford Mustang
Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: David Griffin, 2006 Ford Mustang
Remaining 2018 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
Auto Club Speedway: September 15-16
Road America: October 6-7
Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational: November 3-4
Photography by Jim McIlvaine