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Optima Ultimate Street Car Series: Street Car Showdown in SoCal

Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series visits Auto Club Speedway

Jim McIlvaine Sep 25, 2018
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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).

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Eric Sheely is making a late-season push to capture the Franklin Road Apparel GT class in his 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE, pulling out all the stops and coming straight to the track from paint. He’s making great progress with a win at Auto Club Speedway, but he’ll need a strong finish at Road America to win the championship.

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.

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Larry Woo’s 1968 Camaro is another stellar contender in this series. Larry’s F-body is routinely in the running in the QA1 GTV class points chase, but he got a late start this season. A win in Fontana has set the table for him to make a championship charge at Road America, but points leader Dusty Nixon will be there waiting for him in his potent 1979 Camaro.

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.

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Jake Rozelle’s C5 couldn’t get the Recaro GTS class win at Fontana, but he did post the fastest overall time on the Falken Road Course Time Trial and the second-fastest pass on the Detroit Speed Autocross.

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.

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Mike Dusold saw his points lead in the Holley EFI GTL class shrink from seven points to just one point at Fontana, but he still has the lead with one event to go. While he hadn’t planned on running at Road America, the long straightaways might give the edge his 900+ horsepower Camaro needs to hang on for the championship.

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.

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Jane Thurmond’s 1964 Corvette won the Anderson Composites Participant’s Choice Award for having the most-coveted car in the field. Her husband, Greg, won the Mac’s Tie Downs That Never Let You Down Award and a new set of tie-downs, for having the least-coveted set of tie-downs in the pits.

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.

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Matthew Briggs lost control coming into Turn One on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, with four other cars on his tail. Somehow, he managed to pull it all back together and everyone emerged unscathed. For that effort, he won the Centerforce Clutch Performance of the weekend.

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.

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It took Dave Dash 30 hours just to tow his Camaro down to Auto Club Speedway from his home in Saskatchewan, Canada. While he didn’t win in his rookie outing, it was well worth the drive and we expect to see him again.

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.

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Robert DeuPree captured the invitation to SEMA and the OUSCI in his 2009 Corvette. He’s not done yet, though. DeuPree and teammate Austin Barnes both plan to compete at Road America, potentially in an attempt to qualify different vehicles for the OUSCI.

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

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David Carroll’s LTG-swapped 1973 Vega has been over a year in the making. While he’s finally getting it dialed in, this was the first event he was able to run in the 2018 season. He was hoping to have a strong enough showing to punch his ticket to Las Vegas, but he suddenly found himself in the midst of the largest GTC field the series has ever seen. Carroll bested all but one of them, but not for a lack of trying.

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

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Toby Thompson did the math and decided the more rubber he left on the track in California, the lighter his rig would be for the tow back to Tennessee, hence saving fuel ... or something like that.

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


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