There are seven stops around the country in Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car presented by Advance Auto Parts, but for West Coast competitors, only three don’t involve crossing the Continental Divide. The series visited Auto Club Speedway on September 15th and 16th, and while there is one more event at Road America in early October, this event essentially served as the last-chance qualifier for many of these competitors to earn an invitation to the 2018 SEMA Show and the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI).
Tight points battles throughout the series also added new chapters as competitors squared off on a very warm, but dry weekend in Fontana. Dusty Nixon’s 1979 Camaro looked to be in the catbird seat in the QA1 GTV class as the series left Barber Motorsports Park, but Larry Woo wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, even if it meant hauling his 1968 Camaro all the way to the coast from his home in Ohio. Woo’s Camaro won the vintage class and now needs 464 points at Road America to pass Nixon. Nixon knows Woo is capable of posting that number and although the Texan hadn’t planned on making the trip up to Wisconsin in October, he is now trying to find a spot in that sold-out event to try and secure his championship.
The Recaro GTS class had far more contenders vying for the top spot coming into Fontana, but Austin Barnes’ Viper made the math impossible for anyone to catch him after his third-straight class win of the season. Jordan Priestley’s C7 Corvette finished fourth on the weekend, and while he currently sits in Third place in the class with enough points to earn an invitation to Las Vegas, Priestley will travel from Utah to Wisconsin, hoping to earn an invitation at the event. It won’t be easy, as he’ll be joined at Road America by at least 13 other GTS competitors, who will be looking for a Vegas invite, at least eight of whom won’t have enough points to get there any other way.
The Holley EFI GTL class is where the tightest point battle in the series is being waged between Mike Dusold’s 1967 Camaro and Ken Thwaits’ Mitsubishi Evo. Dusold has held an edge all season long in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge and Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, while Thwaits has been dominant in the PowerStop Brakes Speed Stop Challenge and Detroit Speed Autocross. The challenge has been to see who could gap the other by the largest margin and capture the most points.
The duo has battled at every stop so far, except NOLA Motorsports Park, where Dusold did not make the trip from neighboring Texas. That event proved to be Thwaits’ best performance of the season, but he still came into Fontana trailing the Camaro by seven points. Dusold conceded the weekend victory early on Sunday, choosing to focus his energy on trying to best Thwaits’ time on the big track. While Mike fell short in that effort, two others topped Thwaits, preventing him from sweeping the timed segments on the weekend. However, Dusold’s four-point advantage in Design & Engineering helped him hold onto his season points lead by the slimmest of margins: 1,481-1,480.
Prior to the weekend, Dusold indicated he wouldn’t try to run at Road America and Thwaits indicated he wanted to try to run a Corvette that he thought might give him a better chance to defend his OUSCI title in Vegas. With the point differential now being so close, we’ll see how important the regular season championship title is to both of these fierce competitors.
The second closest point battle in the series is in the Franklin Road Apparel GT class for late-model muscle cars. Jonathan Blevins’ Mustang has held the top spot for much of the season, but a late-season charge by Eric Sheely’s 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE has narrowed the gap to just eight points heading into Road America. Sheely took the top spot in the class at Fontana with a 449-point performance and now only needs a 445-point performance at Road America to pass Blevins ... if Blevins doesn’t score more than 437 points himself.
There will definitely be plenty on the line as the series makes one final visit to Road America before heading to Vegas. If you haven’t made it out to one of these events, you can watch the series unfold on MAVTV every Friday night at 8 p.m. Eastern. The new season begins September 28th, with new episodes running each weekend through the SEMA show in early November.
Auto Club Speedway Results
QA1 GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Larry Woo, 1968 Camaro
2. John Lazorack III, 1988 Chrysler Conquest
3. Nick Relampagos, 1970 Camaro
Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & AWD vehicles)
1. Austin Barnes, 2010 Dodge Viper
2. Jake Rozelle, 2003 Corvette
3. Lynn Proctor, 2005 Dodge Viper
Holley EFI GTL Class (non-compacts under 3,200 pounds)
1. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
2. Scot Spiewak, 2003 Corvette
3. Mike Dusold, 1967 Camaro
GTE Class (BEV electric vehicles)
1. Matthew Scott, 2017 Hyundai Ioniq
GTC Class (two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Josh Vedder, 2018 Hyundai Veloster
2. David Carroll, 1973 Vega
3. Thomas Litton, 1997 Mazda Miata
Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Eric Sheely, 2018 Camaro
2. Paul Molina, 2017 Ford Mustang
3. Kurt Robinson, 2015 Camaro
Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Nasario Birrueta, 2001 Ford Mustang
Remaining 2018 OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
Road America October 6-7
Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational November 4-5
Photos by Jim McIlvaine