Jim McIlvaine
March 6, 2018

The Winter Olympics may be capturing the attention of the world right now, but competitors in OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car series are already focusing on the pentathlon of activities that make up those events. These street car competitors are trying to build the very best all-around street-legal cars & trucks on the planet, with TV coverage, valuable sponsorships and invitations to the SEMA Show and the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational at stake.

The seven-event series is now entering it's fifth full season and even a month out from the first event there are already nearly 250 cars registered to run and five events have already reached capacity for entries (spectators are always encouraged & welcomed). Knowing the bulk of who is scheduled to run, we thought we'd take a look at a few of the 50+ Fords that are signed up for the series and what they may have planned to topple the opposition.

One of the unique things about this series is that competitors at all levels seem to have something they're chasing. Those at the top are pursuing event wins and championships, some in the middle are trying to capture enough points to get to Las Vegas, while others are just looking to have some fun or get a bunch of track time in their car. The quest for a championship or at least a trip to Vegas for SEMA and the OUSCI requires competing in three events, in order to accumulate enough championship points and several competitors have set that as a goal.

In the GTV Class for vintage iron, John McKissack's 1966 Fairlane competed in three events last season, but struggles at Pike's Peak International Raceway left him on the outside of the points bubble in 15th place at the end of the season. Fortunately, a sponsor entry sent him to Vegas, but he can't count on that good fortune to repeat itself. While his performances have improved significantly since he finished 56th in his rookie season, the competition in the GTV class continues to escalate each season.

Some of that competition in the GTV Class will come from Matt Alcala's 1965 Mustang. Alcala is only signed up for Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway, but that may be all he needs to punch his ticket to Las Vegas. Alcala has competed in a variety of vintage and late-model rides over the years, including a 2010 Porsche, a 1969 Camaro and two late-model Mustangs, but it is this 1965 Mustang that he will be campaigning in 2018. Alcala's Mustang struggled with fuel pump issues in its only appearance last season at Fontana, but still managed a top-10 finish. With a new fuel pump and some revalved JRi shocks and other suspension tweaks, Alcala could contend for a win and OUSCI invite at either event he runs.

The biggest Mustang mover and shaker in the GTV Class could be rookie Scott McMurry, who plans to campaign a freshly-built 1969 Mustang. He hoped to have his pony car on track for the April event at NOLA Motorsports Park, but as of mid-February, the shell was still on a rotisserie. However, former OUSCI competitor, Telly Violetto is in charge of the build and has personal experience on turning a car around on relatively-short notice for the 2011 finale. Scott comes from an SCCA Solo background and was originally going to install a Ford Performance 392 Sportsman he found locally. He quickly realized it would be tricky to make such an engine street-friendly, while finding himself drawn in by the thought of a 1,100-horsepower supercharged Coyote.

Since Scott is planning to drive his Mustang hard, he's opting for Ford's Avalanche Gray paint to make paint-matching easy, in case touch-ups are needed. Mike Maier's iconic 1966 Mustang may not make an appearance this season, but his influence on early Mustangs will be evident in McMurry's 1969 Mustang, which will sport Maier's fender flares. A Detroit Speed Aluma-Frame front suspension and tubs in the rear will allow McMurry to run 335s on all four corners with a cambered, full-floating nine-inch rearend and torque arm setup. The best part of this build might be that Scott helped fund it by selling a 700-horsepower Nissan GT-R he won in a Speed Society contest.

In the RECARO GTS Class, Mike Gallagher finds his 2016 Focus RS squaring off against GT-Rs, Porsches & Vipers, but he's more than holding his own among the supercars. In his first season with his new ride, he saw a higher point total than he had the year before in his Cadillac CTS-V and finished eighth in his class, qualifying for the OUSCI. Gallagher has four events on his schedule for 2018, so he'll have plenty of opportunities to take out more supercars in his pursuit of a Vegas invite.

The Franklin Road Apparel GT Class is where the bulk of the Ford entries sign up and pony car battles rage on between the Big 3, as well as the occasional M3. It is one of the largest classes in the series and while Mustangs captured three of the top four spots in the points race, Bryan Johnson's Camaro claimed it's third-straight championship.

Cliff Elliott's 2016 Mustang came closest to catching Johnson's Camaro, but mother nature dominated his off-season. Elliott lives on the Texas gulf coast and the expense involved in the recovery from Hurricane Harvey has significantly curtailed his plans for his Mustang, but it hasn't gone untouched. Cliff Elliott dropped 12 pounds of rotating weight by installing a new McLeod RST Street twin-disc clutch. He also added a Nappa leather interior with blue stitching and is talking with Forgeline about a new set of wheels, but hasn't pulled the trigger yet.

Jonathan Blevins was also in that elite group at the top of the Franklin Road Apparel GT Class, finishing fourth last season. Blevins is making a major push for the top in 2018 and stripped his 2008 Mustang GT down to bare tube and started from square one, improving, changing or modifying nearly everything. The suspension was powder coated and a Cortex cambered rear axle was added. The original 5.4L engine that had logged nearly 15,000 track miles was replaced with a 5.0L Aluminator from Ford Performance, which cut 150 pounds off the front end. A new supercharger and exhaust system were also installed, as well as an Exedy clutch, full fuel system and a rebuilt transmission.

The weight loss didn't end with the engine, as dry carbon doors and a trunk lid from Anderson Composites were also added, as well as a carbon hood and lightweight composite seats from Sparco. Adding in Optic Armor rear and side windows, a custom set of wheels and the removal of everything that wasn't needed resulted in a total weight reduction of a whopping 450 pounds! Blevins is running the full schedule in 2018, minus Auto Club Speedway, so he'll have plenty of shots at taking the crown.

Vernon Jolley is going a step further in his 2013 Mustang, running the full schedule in 2018. Only the top-three finishes count toward a competitor's season-long points total, but Jolley has plans to improve on his top ten finish from 2017 and at-large invitation to the OUSCI. The next time we see Jolley's Mustang, the fenders will have been flared and wider wheels and tires will be tucked under all four corners. Vernon tell us he also added a brand-new GT500 interior to make the inside of the car more streetable and the entire package will be finished off in a custom black paint job featuring red pearl accents and flames.

Kurt Burris competed in his first event last season, finishing fifth at Auto Club Speedway. That experience has compelled him to sign up for the three Western events on the 2018 schedule, but Burris is no novice to racing. His family business, Burris Racing, has been producing parts for karting since the 1970s. Burris' initial foray into the Ultimate Street Car series made it clear that more power would help him climb to the top of the standings. Kurt changed his rear gears and added a ProCharger, but he's struggling with the new power. He has a few more weeks to sort things out, as the season begins on March 17th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That event is sold-out for competitors, but you can see the entire 2018 season later this year on MAVTV. If you can't wait that long, head over to see the full schedule at www.DriveOPTIMA.com