What started as a fun way to show SEMA cars in real-world use on a race track has turned into a seriously big deal.
Optima Batteries’ head honcho Cam Douglass and FM3 Marketing’s Jimi Day created the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) back in 2008. The goal was to invite the more serious hot rods on the SEMA Show floor to drive the hour northwest of Las Vegas to Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, to compete against a small group of selected Pro Touring cars. The one-day event went off great and in the succeeding years has turned into a full-blown series of 10 events across the country, at such topnotch road courses as Laguna Seca, Daytona, and Road America. At these races, competitors attempt to qualify for the year-end invitational—call it the Pro Touring Super Bowl if you will—the weekend following the SEMA Show, where they are be joined by eight Golden Ticket winners chosen from display cars on the show floor.
Have you seen a 2015 Mustang lift a wheel before? Us neither, but Filip Trojanek of CorteX Precision Technology did it in his new test car. About the event, Trojanek told us, “We had the only 2015 Mustang at the event and drove it mostly for fun and for exception. With that said we had plenty of hurdles but not any we were not expecting. The main issue with the car was that it isn’t possible to tune the motor yet so the Vortech supercharger did not have an impeller, which means no boost. The engine was breathing through the supercharger housing and the intercooler causing a restriction that ended up only allowing the engine to rev to about 4,500-5,000 rpm going flat. Even so, the handling and braking of the car were phenomenal.”
Prior to the 2014 event, the OUSCI was a one-day race that included an autocross course, a speed-stop challenge, and a full road course session, where the cars could get out of Second gear and really be let loose of their reins. The event has become so popular that it has moved to the 2.4-mile road course at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and has turned into a two-day affair with 103 vehicles entered.
Saturday’s action saw the Wilwood Speed Stop Challenge and the autocross course, after which the cars hit the public streets on the Detroit Speed Road Rally Challenge, which ended with the Showtime Motorsports participant reception at the new Shelby American headquarters on the south end of the famous Las Vegas Strip. Sunday was dedicated to the BFGoodrich Hot Lap Challenge.
As expected, there were quite a few Mustangs competing at the OUSCI, both early and late models, including one spankin’ new 2015 GT from suspension manufacturer CorteX. What began as an event primarily for early muscle cars has morphed into a field that also includes Billy Bad Ass late-models like Corvettes, Lamborghinis, and an all-wheel-drive, 1,000hp Nissan GTR. Predictably, the exotics were the fastest in the autocross and speed-stop challenge. The fastest road course laps (and the overall event winner) was Danny Popp’s 2003 Corvette, but the Mustangs held their own and had a great showing.
Matt Acala leads Cliff Elliott’s 2011 GT/CS and Wilwood Engineering’s 1965 coupe on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s road course in his 2012 GT500 painted in the historic Gulf Oil colors. Acala finished 65th in the autocross, 54th on the road course, and 53rd in the speed-stop challenge. Hey, at least he was consistent!
Each car is also judged for build quality, fit and finish, and the use of innovative and cutting-edge ideas and parts prior to the event. This year’s judges were Troy Ladd of Hollywood Hot Rods (shown here going over Martin Pond’s 1980 Fairmont), former Car Craft and Hot Rod editor Jeff Smith, GM Design Manager and Busta Design principal Dave Ross, and Steve Strope of Pure Vision. It took these four guys two days to judge all 103 cars.
Ryan Volk’s 2014 GT500 got some lovin’ in the pits and had its best performance on the road course, where it finished in 45th place.
Terry Fair had the fastest late-model Mustang on the property in his winged, splitter-equipped red monster. His best event was the autocross, where he finished a highly respectable 12th, only 2.5 seconds (combined best on both left- and right-hand courses) behind the winning Evo. He was quicker than cars like a GTR, a Mercedes CLA45 AMG, several Porsche 911s, and other such exotic Euro trash. You can see what he was up against in this shot: Brian Hobaugh’s full-race 1965 Corvette, Steve Loudin’s Viper, and Stephen Kepler’s Nissan GTR.
What would a race be without umbrella girls? Optima graciously provided the babes to keep drivers as cool as possible and class up the joint. Here’s Cliff Elliott trying not to stare before making a hit on the autocross.
The Wilwood Speed-Stop Challenge took place on the front straight of the road course on Saturday. It ran backwards on the track, with racers accelerating as hard as they could through Turn 1 then coming to a stop on the front straight. The object is to be the quickest from point A to B without running through the cones that marked the stop box. This is Andrew Nier’s 2012 GT finishing in 46th place with a time of 15.885 seconds. For reference, the winner was a 2006 Mitsubishi Evo that did it in 13.773 seconds.
We loved the Fairmont! Martin Pond brought his 1980 Fox-Mont to the OUSCI knowing he wasn’t going to win but would have a good time anyway. He finished in the bottom-half of the field in all events but looked sweet doing it. Along with Matt Alcala and Andrew Nier, Pond earned the Spirit of the Event award at a race during the 2014 series.
As much as we loved Pond’s Fairmont, the little 1974 Pinto of Joe Escobar was the Little Engine That Could the whole year during the Optima Ultimate Street Car Series. He won the GT2K class for the year strictly by sticking to it and running every race he could, and that earned him an invitation to the finale in Vegas. He finished nearly dead last in every event, but that’s not what matters when you have a multipurpose Pinto.
Troy Martin’s 1953 Ford Ranch Wagon was one of the cars chosen to compete from the SEMA Show floor. There’s a ton of work in this car that you won’t notice until you park it next to a stock version. To see Martin tearing it up on the track was a delight.