Jim Mcllvaine
November 11, 2015
Contributers: Jim McIlvaine, Jim Mcllvaine Photos By: Jim McIlvaine

OPTIMA's Ultimate Street Car Invitational, presented by K&N Filters, was conceived at the SEMA Show and the concept was fairly straightforward- could the cars at this industry showcase actually be driven hard on a track or were they just show queens? Fewer than 30 cars accepted the first challenge back in 2008 and nearly half the field was unable to finish the weekend. The event has expanded considerably since then, moving to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the process and now includes a year-long qualifying series that visits tracks all around the country and boasts national TV coverage.

In the second year of the OUSCI, Bruce Cambern's Shelby Cobra won in such convincing fashion, that rule changes were brought about regarding driver eligibility and tire tread wear requirements (at least 200). Ford hasn't been back to the top of the podium since, but not for a lack of effort. The 2015 OUSCI saw more than a dozen Fords and one Mercury in a field that had more than 90 contenders and 81 vehicles completing the five-event format. Danny Popp's Corvette once again took the top spot, holding off an all-out assault from a variety of all-wheel drive contenders.

The competition is absolutely ferocious and there is only one winner at the end of the weekend. While the Las Vegas Motor Speedway venue remained the same, the Detroit Speed Autocross and Wilwood Speed Stop Challenge were re-located on the property. The Falken Road Course Time Trial used the same course as 2014, so there is some basis for comparison. The fastest lap time last year was a 1:43.593. This year, four competitors eclipsed that time. The difference was even more pronounced throughout the field, as a 1:50.199 lap time that would've been good enough for a top-20 finish last year, wouldn't even place in the top-30 this year.

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This all came the year after new aero rules eliminated massive aftermarket wings and spoilers that many thought would significantly slow down the field. Help is on the way for the Ford camp, as several competitors have their eyes on the new Shelby GT350R and the Focus RS has the potential to compete with many of the Evos that have been making a name for themselves in these events. There is also hope a new GT owner will have the gumption and chops behind the wheel to make a solid showing somewhere down the road as Bruce Cambern did with his GT back in 2010.

Dates and locations for the 2016 qualifying series have already been announced and the opportunity is there for anyone who wants to bring out their version of the ultimate street car and see how it stacks up against the competition. Visit www.driveoptima.com for more information.

Thunderhill (CA), February 27-28
Palm Beach International Raceway, April 9-10
Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 23-24
New Jersey Motorsports Park, May 21-22
Charlotte Motor Speedway, July 30-31
Circuit of the Americas, August 6-7
Road America, August 27-28
New Orleans Motorsports Park, September 17-18
Auto Club Speedway, October 8-9
2016 OUSCI (Invitation-only) Las Vegas Motor Speedway, November 5-6

Brett Behrens' 1978 Ford Mustang II was one of a handful of vehicles selected off the SEMA Show floor to compete in the event. It was a tall task for the Triton V10-powered pony car and it performed far better than most. The Mustang captured second place in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge and finished 46th overall.
Cliff Elliott was one of several competitors, who made a return appearance to the OUSCI. With a wider stance and more seat time, Elliott shaved more than 3.5 seconds off his time in the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, improving eight positions over his 2014 finish.
Did we mention there were umbrella girls?
A trip to SEMA costs thousands of dollars and with a winner-take-all format that only awards a trophy, there isn't a big financial incentive to compete in this event...or is there? All qualifiers are guaranteed a spot at the SEMA show, an opportunity by itself that can result in thousands of dollars of sponsor support. Add in print, digital and TV media coverage and the OUSCI turns into a huge opportunity for any gearhead looking to build a serious street machine.
Legend Gear & Transmission is one of many great sponsors of the series and the OUSCI. Jack Simms' company has sponsored several vehicles in competition with their LGT-700, five-speed transmission.
Martin Pond has a thing for four-eyed Fox body-era Fords. He competed in the 2014 OUSCI with a 1980 Ford Fairmont, but returned in 2015 with a bigger, browner stick. His '80 Mercury Zephyr features a 427 Cobra Jet crate engine, mated to an LGT-700 transmission and weighs in at less than 3,200 pounds. That helped him shave more than three seconds off his best lap time from 2014.
Matt Alcala literally had less than two miles on his '65 Fastback when he received his golden ticket invitation at the SEMA Show. Alcala is an OUSCI veteran, so he built the car to run, even though he didn't even have time to bed the brakes before the show.
Mike Maier's '66 Mustang was the top Ford in the field, finishing 12th overall. His performance underscores how tough this field is, as he bettered his time on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial by more than 1.5 seconds over 2014, but finished four positions lower than the previous year.
All the cars competing in the OUSCI must prove they are street-legal and roadworthy, including a drive through traffic on the Vegas strip. The final destination of the road rally is Shelby American headquarters, which includes dinner and a guided tour of the museum by none other than Gary Patterson himself!
The Wilwood Speed Stop Challenge takes a different format at nearly every venue, but the main elements remain the same- accelerate as fast as you can and stop in a 40-foot box as quickly as possible without blowing through it. How you get there varies at every venue and in Las Vegas the course was set up on the asphalt bull ring with a chicane tucked in near the end.

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