Jim McIlvaine
August 12, 2016

We've all been to car shows and we've all been to races, but rare is the instance where you can not only go to both as a spectator, but as a competitor. That's exactly what happens when OPTIMA's search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, rolls into a track near you. These aren't just show & shines with a few laps at a local bullring either.

Last weekend, OPTIMA's national series visited the same Charlotte Motor Speedway where NASCAR's best spend three weekends each year. More than 70 street cars, trucks and even a few SUVs, didn't just come to watch Dale Jr. and Brad Keselowski battle it out on the track, they came to be in the battle themselves. For that weekend, they are Earnhardt or Petty, although no one in this series wants to trade paint with each other, they are the ones on the track and in front of the cameras.

It's been more than 40 years since Torinos like Henry Crawn's '68 have done anything more than parade laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Outside of this series, who knows when that will happen again?
HP Tuners' Jay Payson brought his 2015 Mustang up to compete from Florida, after a successful rookie outing at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The second time was the charm for Payson, as his runner-up finish in GT netted him an invite to Vegas for the SEMA Show and OUSCI.

The format is the same at every venue, even if the tracks are completely different - five segments, each worth up to 100 points and the winner in each of four different classes gets an invitation to display their car at the 2016 SEMA Show, as well as an invite to the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational in Las Vegas.

The Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge rewards well-designed, well-built cars that really are street cars, as opposed to street-legal race cars with license plates. The Lucas Oil road rally proves they're all street-legal and can handle sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, potholes and whatever else gets thrown at them.

Acceleration and braking is measured in the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge, while handling is highlighted in the Detroit Speed Autocross. Sunday belongs to the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, which takes place on the 2.25-mile roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That includes most of the 1.5-mile oval racing surface, as well as a challenging infield road course, complete with elevation changes.

Saroja Raman has made it to the OUSCI before, but the competition gets tougher every year. If she makes it this year, she expects her invite will come from one of 15 invitations extended to competitors based on season-long points. Close to the bubble after the last event, Raman moved solidly into 6th place on the list for qualifying after Charlotte and fifth place in the GT class.
Todd Earsley campaigned his Mitsubishi Evo until his Focus RS arrived. Now that he has it, he hasn't wasted time, putting on 2,000 miles before he even drove through the tunnel at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Season-long points follow the driver and car, so Earsley is starting from scratch with the RS in the second half of the season.

The reactions of competitors when they roll out onto a race track they've only experienced through watching races on TV are priceless. The reactions of their friends and family when photos pop up on Facebook of their car going across the start/finish line at Charlotte Motor Speedway at speed are just stunned disbelief. The same car they see parked in the driveway across the street from their house has somehow ended up screaming down the front straight at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 125-plus mph.

As surreal as it may be, that's what happens every weekend this series runs; real street cars suddenly transform into something else, something more and so do the drivers. TV cameras capture all the action and as surprising as the photos and GoPro videos are on social media, when a cousin or co-worker spots Rick or Toby being interviewed while they're flipping channels, it takes things to a whole new level. Flip the channel again and suddenly their neighbor, co-worker or childhood friend appears on their TV, doing some incredibly cool stuff with cars at real race tracks they've actually heard of before.

There's no telling what kind of cars will show up from one event to the next either. While SUVs are welcome to compete in the series and a few have in the past, none have been on the entry list in 2016...until Charlotte. Not only did we get to see a 2015 Ford Edge getting thrashed, but someone else decided to bring out a 2017 Jaguar F PACE for the same event. Guess how that showdown turned out?

Turn away from the Edge running the Detroit Speed Autocross and you'll see Ed Hudson running his '64 Ford Falcon Spirit on the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge. That's a span of over 50 years in just two vehicles. One might expect to see some vintage Pro-Touring Mustangs running in these events and a handful do from time to time, but you're just as likely to see something even less predictable, like Henry Crawn's '68 Torino or Derek Brown's '67 F100.

While Chevys have largely dominated the win column in the GT class this season, Mustangs have shown their resolve in the points chase. Randy Ivy's cone-chomping 2012 GT is one of four Mustangs in the top-ten in GT points and he currently sits 12th on the 15-car invite list for SEMA/OUSCI invitations based on season-long points.
The Lucas Oil Road Rally proves all these cars can be driven legally on public roads, including Ed Hudson's '64 Falcon. Ed's car proved popular with the judges in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, capturing second place in GTV and third place overall.

On the more contemporary end of the spectrum, the GT class hosts the bulk of the Blue Oval contingency, with late model Mustangs finding a home there. In fact, Jay Payson of HP Tuners picked up an invitation to SEMA and the OUSCI at the Charlotte event in his 2015 Mustang. Occasionally, a lightweight Fox Body will show up and run in the GTL class for anything under 3,200 pounds, but most of those cars typically make their way into the Vintage (GTV) or modern GT classes, depending on their year of production (1989 is the cut-off for GTV)

That may be changing in the near future, as Focus RS owners start to take delivery of their import killers. Anything all-wheel drive that weighs more than 3,200 pounds runs in the GTS class, along with late-model Vettes and Vipers. The RS is somewhere around 3,400 pounds and series regular, Todd Earsley hasn't wasted any time getting his new RS out to the track. Vorshlag Motorsports is working on suspension upgrades as you read this and Todd is gathering up track data and breaking it down for analysis that will guide his next series of modifications. If he can finish eighth out of 14 GTS competitors in a bone-stock RS with 300TW tires, imagine what will happen to those Corvettes and Vipers as Earsley begins to realize the true potential of that platform?

The next event in this series is being held at as exclusive a track as there is in this country- Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, the first track in the US to be purpose-built for Formula One racing. Normally, fields in this series are capped at 75 entries, but because of the overwhelming demand for entry into COTA and the venue's ability to accommodate a larger field, this event will host up to 100 vehicles.

Almost all of the spots at COTA are filled as of this writing, but a few remain and a few more may open up at the last minute, even if the event completely sells out. Whether you get your street car out on the track with them at COTA, watch them run at Road America or catch their show on TV, once you get into this series, you won't want to leave it. Learn more about how you can be a participant or spectator in this series at www.DriveOPTIMA.com

It's one thing to see a Ford Edge on the entry list, it's another to actually see it on the track. Matt Bacon's edge more than held it's own and while he didn't win the GTS class, he did beat the only other SUV that came out- a brand-new Jaguar F-PACE.
How close is the competition in these events? Shane Irving's 2014 Mustang edged JG Pasterjak's 2012 Mustang by five points in Design & Engineering. That meant Pasterjak had to make up six points somewhere in the three timed events to beat him. Pasterjak gapped Irving by 10 spots on the Speed Stop. However, he gave five back on the autocross. That meant the two were tied going into Sunday's road course segment. Irving ended up edging out Pasterjak on the big track by just .063 thousandths of a second, giving him the one-point advantage on the weekend.
It's not uncommon to see families competing in this series, although typically we see husbands and wives on the track. Tim Schoch and his brother, Ron, both competed in the OUSCI last year and are back again this year. Tim favors the newer Mustangs, running this 2011 GT, while Ron favors the vintage iron and fields a '65 Fastback.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Results

GTV Class (Pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Kyle Tucker, 1970 Chevrolet Camaro
2. Tony Grzelakowski, 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle
3. Dan Howe, 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

GTS Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Rick Hoback, 1999 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Toby Thompson, 2010 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Joe Gregory, 2007 Chevrolet Corvette

GT Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Chevrolet Camaro
2. Jay Payson, 2015 Mustang
3. Jason Chinn, 2015 Chevrolet Camaro

GTL Class (Anything under 3,200 pounds)
1. Ken Thwaits, 2007 Mitsubishi Evo
2. Scott Budisalich, 2004 Subaru STi
3. Douglas Wind, 2004 Dodge SRT4

*Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award - Jimmy Matthews, 1972 Chevrolet Nova

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