Jim McIlvaine
September 7, 2017

OPTIMA’s 2017 Search for the Ultimate Street Car made its Easternmost stop of the season in late-August, as the series visited New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey. That marked the fifth of seven qualifying events before the SEMA Show and OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) and it was an important juncture for many competitors in the series.

The next events are at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California and Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, so if someone on the East Coast was looking to pick up points or perhaps punch their ticket to the big show, this was the place to do it. Mike Gallagher’s 2016 Focus RS was one such competitor, looking to make some serious moves in Jersey and the event worked in his favor.

A competitor’s best three finishes count toward their season-long point totals, regardless of how many events they run. Gallagher’s RS had 1,181 points coming into New Jersey and he knew last year’s cut-off for Las Vegas was 1,200 points. He also knew Jeremy Swenson’s Corvette had already qualified in the RECARO GTS Class, so even if he won again, if Mike finished second, the Vegas invite would fall to him.

Danny King’s Porsche Turbo S spoiled those plans with a runner-up finish, but Gallagher still finished on the podium and his 464-point performance (his best of the season) propelled him well north of 1,200 points. Gallagher now sits in fourth place in GTS points, but is second among non-qualifiers behind Brandon Williams’ Nissan GT-R. The top three non-qualifiers from each class receive invitations at the end of the season, so Gallagher is in good shape on that front and even if he gets bumped back further, his 1,277 point total so far puts him in good standing to earn one of ten invites based on point totals regardless of class.

GTS Point-leader Swenson may be out of reach for Gallagher’s RS this season, but second through fourth place are separated by just 22 points and all three competitors will square off one last time at Road America, so there is still a lot to be decided during the regular season.

A little further back in the GTS Standings, we find Todd Earsley’s 2016 RS in fifth place. That finish was Todd’s best of the season and moved him into 15th place in RECARO GTS points ahead of Todd Earsley in his 2003 Mitsubishi Evo. When Earsley’s RS was sidelined earlier in the season with head gasket issues, he moved back into his Mitsubishi Evo for two events and as we saw last season, the RS was a definite step-up. In two events with each car this season, Earsley’s RS accumulated 757 poiints, while his Evo only managed 666 points. The question is whether Earsley will be able to pull in enough points at the final event at Road America, to qualify for another trip to Vegas?

In the Franklin Road Apparel GT Class, Cliff Elliott had hoped to reel in point leader Bryan Johnson and add some space between his 2016 Mustang GT and third-place Jonathan Blevins’ 2008 Mustang, but it wasn’t meant to be. Elliott was barely outside Port Aransas, Texas, when his tow vehicle (not a Ford) had engine issues. Elliott wasn’t able to make the trek to New Jersey and to make matters even worse, Hurricane Harvey rolled in, preventing him from even returning home.

The good news is Elliott’s car was unscathed and even his boat seems to have weathered the storm, so we expect to see him at the regular season finale at Road America. The next stop at Auto Club Speedway is sold out, with 26 cars currently registered in the Franklin Road Apparel GT Class. Fourteen of them are Mustangs and no one entered in that class has qualified for the OUSCI. That really sets the stage for an ultra competitive event. If you can’t see the action unfold in California, you can watch the series every weekend on MAVTV, starting Friday nights at 8PM Eastern on MAVTV. The 2017 season will premiere on September 29th.

This event was a family affair for the Tuccis. Dave brought down this 2006 Mustang, while his son, Dom, drove a Fiesta that appeared at the SEMA Show last year.
Dom Tucci's 2016 Fiesta could've run in the new GTC Class for compact cars. However, the addition of a turbo moved Tucci into the ultra competitive Holley EFI GTL Class. Tucci still placed fourth overall in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, which helped him place sixth in his class.
Since the top cars in this series go on display all week at the SEMA Show, it's not all about how fast they go on the track. The Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge also evaluates the quality of the builds and their level of modifications. Charlie Rogers was understandably reluctant to modify his 2017 Shelby GT350, so he needed to do his scoring on the track, where he place in the top-five in the GT Class.

GTV Class (Pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Larry Woo, 1968 Chevrolet Camaro
2. James Shipka, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro
3. Nicholas Weber, 1967 Chevrolet Corvette

RECARO GTS Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Jeremy Swenson, 2011 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Danny King, 2011 Porsche Turbo S
3. Mike Gallagher, 2016 Focus RS

Holley EFI GTL Class (Any non-compacts under 3,200 pounds, including forced induction vehicles)
1. Feras Qartoumy, 2008 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Chris Faircloth, 2007 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Jim Stehlin, 2001 Chevrolet Corvette

GTC Class (Naturally-aspirated two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Jeff Hahn, 1999 Honda Civic
2. Erik Vandermey, 2007 Mazda MX-5
3. Rick Hoback, 1993 Mazda RX-7

Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Chevrolet Camaro
2. Chad Langley, 2017 Chevrolet Camaro
3. Brian Preston, 2014 Chevrolet Camaro

*SPECTRE Performance Spirit of the Event Award
Ken Edwards, 1966 Mustang

2017 OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule

Las Vegas Motor Speedway: March 18-19
New Orleans Motorsports Park: April 22-23
National Corvette Museum: June 3-4
Pike's Peak International Raceway: July 8-9
New Jersey Motorsports Park: August 26-27
Auto Club Speedway: September 2-3
Road America: October 7-8
OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational: November 4-5

You've heard of cars going from the showroom to the race track, but Henry Crawn's 1968 Torino is headed in the other direction. Henry applied three years ago to have his fastback put on display at the Summit Superstore in Georgia. They recently contacted him, asking if his was the same Torino featured in our coverage of these events. When he said it was, they made a date for his car to head down to their McDonough location.
Focus RS participation in this series continues to grow and four of the all-wheel drive terrors competed this weekend in the GTS Class, including John Pettit's 2016 RS, which finished 10th in the RECARO GTS Class.
Edwards was running his Mustang at another event the weekend prior, when his engine let go. Rather than pack it in and call it a season, he rushed back to New York, pulled the engine and began a weeklong thrash to rebuild it in time to make New Jersey. His hard work and perseverance was rewarded with the SPECTRE Performance Spirit of the Event invitation to the 2017 SEMA Show and OUSCI.
Mike Gallagher's 2016 Focus RS posted it's best performance of the season at NJMP. Gallagher is now the top Ford driver in the RECARO GTS Class and poised to capture an invitation to SEMA and the OUSCI on points, if he doesn't win his way in at Road America.
Ryan King's Fox body Mustang is obviously a work-in-progress, but progress he is making! Since his car weighs in under 3,200 pounds, he runs in the ultra-competitive GTL class, but his 2017 score was better by more than 100 points over his 2016 score. Addressing some objective street car elements in D&E (lack of carpeting and exposed metal inside his car) will likely boost his scores even higher, whether he opts to paint the outside or not.
Steve Gillman's 2017 Focus RS was the fourth RS in competition at NJMP. A rookie to the series, Gillman had plenty of track time available, as some folks made up to 11 runs on the autocross course and 22 runs on the speed stop, in addition to five sessions on the big track.
Todd Earsley's 2016 Focus RS is as true a street car as there is in this series. He drives to each event from Texas, often hauling a small utility trailer behind him. His road trips also double as sales calls, so it's never a straight shot to and from the track. Even with some downtime earlier this year due to a blown head gasket, Earsley has still eclipsed 32,000 miles in about the first year of ownership.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery