View Full Version : A Year In Review- The 2015 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series

12-31-2015, 04:25 PM
A Year In Review- The Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series
Written By Brandy Phillips
Photos By Brandy & Rob Phillips and Optima Batteries

The year is 1967 and the first SEMA Show was underway in Los Angeles, California. There were a total of ninety-eight
manufactures present that year along with five cars on display. During the early 70’s SEMA moved its venue to Anaheim
Stadium in Anaheim, California in search of more space to accommodate the rapidly growing show. In 1977 the venue
moved once again to Las Vegas, Nevada where the show has stayed ever since.

The 2008 SEMA show marked a slight decline in exhibitors and attendees. Unfortunately the Great Recession had a big
impact on the automotive aftermarket industry. Though times were hard and numbers were down compared to the prior
year, this did not stop builders from showcasing their artwork as well as others displaying featured vehicles at the show.


There was one commonality between each SEMA show. This was seen in the cars featured at the event. When set-up
started the week before the doors opened, people could be found pushing their vehicles across the showroom floor,
staging them in booths and then pushing them back out and onto trailers once SEMA ended. By the time 2008 had come,
several companies had jumped onboard with the pro-touring movement introducing new products to make your old car
handle like new. SEMA cars were upgraded with the highest quality parts that made them handle even better than before,
yet they were still be trailered and pushed into SEMA.


This is where Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series began. Cam Douglas and Jimi Day watched each year as
these vehicles came in and out of SEMA. Show cars; the term was common on the SEMA showroom floor. These were cars
with high-end upgrades, never driven on the street and trailed from one event to the next. Yet if given the chance, many
of these vehicles were capable of being more than just a “show car.” Cam and Jimi set out to put these “show cars” to the
test inviting a handful of SEMA cars to take an opportunity and prove that not only could they look good on the showroom
floor at SEMA, but they could perform well on the street and track. 2008 marked the first Optima Ultimate Street Car
Invitational that would quickly grow into a series and spread across the country.


The Search for the Ultimate Street Car has created opportunities for drivers to race on tracks they’ve only played in video
games or dreamt about. Tracks like Laguna Seca and Daytona in 2014, NCM Motorsports Park this past year and COTA
coming in 2016 might be the only chance that a driver can experience these tracks in their own vehicle. Not only do
drivers have the ability to hit these once in a lifetime tracks, these races are more than just driving on a road course.
Segments like autocross, speed stop and a design challenge are also added to the race to not only make things a little
more interesting, but to test these cars to see if they are truly the ultimate street car.


Optima’s Ultimate Street Car Invitational brought out 24 cars to its first event in 2008. Jump forward to 2015 and there
were over 100 competitors on the list to compete for one spot; who would be deemed the ultimate streetcar. The first
group of 24 cars consisted primarily of pro-touring vehicles. Over the past couple years that has expanded to include
several import vehicles. This has also raised the competitive level. What was once a race where Camaros and Mustangs
battled it out, has now become a competition where Corvettes and Evos are the common vehicle and hard to beat.


So why do people compete in these events, especially if the competition has become so tough that it is hard for those who
once dominated the sport to win. Some participate because they enjoy racing on these tracks and this may be their only
opportunity. Others come out to earn points to compete at OUSCI or to test their vehicle to see where it stands against the
other competition. Then you have those who just want to come out and have a good time, see friends and enjoy the
experience. No matter the reason the series continues to grow and the tracks continue to expand to new places each year.

Let’s take a quick look at each track throughout the 2015 season and see what Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car
Series had to offer.


Thunderhill Raceway Park:
This was the first event of the year and a highly sought after track. Several of the locals came out including those like
Joe Escobar, Kyle Newman, Mike Maier, Jake Rozelle, and Brian Hobaugh. There were several other competitors that
traveled a long distance to participate in the first event as well. Drivers like Danny Popp, Chris Smith and James Shipka
made the journey to shake down their cars for the season.

Competition in the Optima Series has increased especially within the last year. Danny Popp has been unstoppable though
the RS Motors Team is right behind him. Drivers like these only push other drivers. This also means pushing vehicles
beyond their limits. There were a handful of people who broke at Thunderhill. Often times this tells a driver what needs
to be replaced or upgraded before the season gets in full swing. Though breaking a car may be devastating for some
people it is a blessing in disguise for others. Fixing problems at the beginning of the year can result in a stronger vehicle
throughout the season. It could also lead to further problems throughout the year.


Texas Motor Speedway:
This was the track of controversy and contesting. Danny Popp and Kyle Tucker both came to race with the new
BFGoodrich Rival S tire. Though Popp and Tucker were already amazing driver, the tires made quite a statement. It made
so much of a statement that someone contested both Danny Popp and Kyle Tucker were in violation of the Optima rules.
This was confirmed when Optima announced the tires were not available to the general public, therefore any competitor
using them would immediately be placed in the exhibition class. This did not matter to either driver because Popp and
Tucker had a mission. Their job was to prove that the BFGoodrich Rival S tires would officially become the tire to beat,
which became very obvious at the Texas event.


Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
Home to the recently relocated Optima’s Ultimate Street Car Invitational, this was the only chance drivers could practice
before competing at OUSCI in November. Surprisingly the majority of competitors were from the West Coast though
drivers like Danny Popp, Ken Thwaits, Brandon Ranvek, and Larry Woo also came out to participate in the Vegas event.

Driving the Las Vegas Motor Speedway road course gave drivers a huge advantage, especially those moving on to compete
at OUSCI. Though a handful of drivers had already raced on this track, this meant extra seat time for those competitors.
For drivers who had never attended OUSCI this was a time to become familiar with the track. As driver grew comfortable
with their surroundings there was a bigger concern spreading. Who would move on to compete at the Optima Ultimate
Street Car Invitational? With six events left the competitors were already fighting for the few spots available. Though the
majority of drivers would not claim an invite at the April Vegas event, there was still hope in earning enough points to
move on to OUSCI through the second phase of invites at the end of the year.


National Corvette Museum Raceway
Only six months after the track opened Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car invaded NCM Motorsports Park. Like
Thunderhill, entries quickly filled up as people learned about this track. By now competition was getting serious. Points
were starting to accumulate for those drivers who had participated at Thunderhill, Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas
Motor Speedway. The RS Motors Team along with drivers like Larry Woo, Brian Finch and Tony Grzelakowski's were
present at NCM Motorsports Park. This was just the beginning of the point accumulation. The end of the year would be
the determining factor on who would have enough points to move on to compete at OUSCI.


Michigan International Raceway:
Michigan marked the midway point to the Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series. Invites into OUSCI were quickly filling
with each race. RideTech was a dominant force during this event. Not only was Bret Voelkel present with the RideTech 48
Hour Camaro, Chris Smith brought out the 48 Hour Corvette that had been recently built at the RideTech Facility.

Danny Popp was also present in the 2012 Lingenfelter Camaro. Though he was not in his usual ride, Popp dominated the
field once again taking the overall lead and first place in the GT Class. For some drivers the Michigan event was now seat
time leading up to the big race while others were still fighting for a spot to compete at the Optima Ultimate Street Car
Invitation in November.


Charlotte Motor Speedway:
The Carolinas are home to several automotive companies including Detroit Speed and Engineering and Legend Gear and
Transmission. When you are in the backyard of Detroit Speed and Engineering you are guaranteed a great time. DSE
opened their doors for the Holley Welcome Party with BBQ and homemade ice cream for all their guests. The Road Rally
ended at the Detroit Speed facility where competitors had the opportunity to tour the facility, see some amazing builds
and check out the latest new products that DSE had to offer.

Legend Gear and Transmission also arranged a private dinner and tour at Ray Evernham’s Shop Friday evening.
Competitors were invited to tour the facility, which included vehicles like Jeff Gordan’s DuPont Lumina along with several
other hidden treasures.


Pikes Peak International Raceway:
Pikes Peak separated the armatures from the pros. Drivers came from all over the country to run on this track. For some
it was a bucket list track while others it was their last chance to get a spot at OUSCI. There were a handful of drivers that
came out of nowhere and quickly claimed the top spots at Pikes Peak. Drivers like Mike Dusold, Alexandra Zust, Jake
Rozelle, Tom Farrington, and Jordan Priestly came to win a spot at OUSCI. This showed as they quickly filled the top
positions in each of their classes.

This track was also unique in that the owner, Bob Boileau, joined the Optima Series competitor list in his 1966 Datsun
Truck. He went on to race at the Fontana event and then compete at OUSCI in November. It would not be wise to
underestimate the ’66 Datsun out on track. Bob Boileau has quite a bit of knowledge on how to get around a track
quickly; then again he does own Pikes Peak.


Road America:
Road America is home of consistency and history. In 2009 the first Optima Series Event called the Optima Faceoff was
held at Road America. Between the beautiful scenery, the wide-open track and the fact that it is home to Optima Batteries,
this event should be a bucket list item for all competitors racing in the Optima Series. Besides the normal Optima set-up,
participants get a chance to compete in an all-out go kart battle. This has been a long tradition since the first Road America
Event. Some of the best memories have been made on this go kart track before the event even starts.

Competition was heating up at the Road America event. Not only were there several incidents throughout the weekend,
Kyle Tucker and Ken Thwaits went head-to-head resulting in a minor collision. This did not stop either driver from
continuing on and finishing the event. Ken Thwaits and Mike Maier also had some problems with their vehicles throughout
the weekend. While Ken managed to replace the turbo that went bad in his Evo, Mike Maier was fixing a broken torque
arm. Though there were several problems throughout the race, everyone went home safe, drivers endured the weekend
and there were plenty of stories to share after everything was done.


Auto Club Speedway:
Auto Club Speedway marked the final event. Many drove across the country to accumulate enough points to move on to
OUSCI. This event was the last of three double point events throughout the year. For some drivers points from this event
would help them earn a spot in the top point standings for an invite to OUSCI. Other competitors came to win. Fontana
was the last event before the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational. There was a lot of pressure riding on many drivers
at this event. If these competitors did not pull off a win or enough points their chance of going to Vegas was slim.

Several of the competitors were familiar faces from all over the country while there were a few unfamiliar ones that caught
our attention. Cody Mason was one entry that caught many off guard. Cody dominated the GT class in the Showtime
Camaro taking home first and winning an invite to OUSCI. Not only did Cody’s driving earn him a lot of attention over the
weekend, his age was also noticed. Cody was one of the youngest drivers to compete in the Optima Series and go to

Tears of happiness and looks of disappointment filled the crowd during the Fontana award ceremony. It was time for those
who did not earn an invite to accept that they would probably not race in the 2015 Optima’s Ultimate Street Car
Invitational. Those who were fighting for points spent the award ceremony adding up their score and comparing it to the
top twenty point standings. Fontana had some rough moments, but it was a much needed event for many. Now it was
time for people to return home with their vehicles and spend the next couple weeks prepping for the big event.


Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car- The Grand Finale:
Throughout the year vehicles register for the Optima Series with hopes that they will place first in their class. Several
winners are announced throughout the year in each of the four classes along with the K&N Spirit of the Event recipients.
These standings mean a lot and those who earned them should be proud, but when it comes to OUSCI all those awards
mean nothing. This is the true test on who has the ultimate street car.

It is all or nothing at OUSCI. Vehicles are not divided into classes nor are they categorized into ability (with the exception
of the road course for safety- does not affect their standings). There is only one winner. One hundred vehicles are chosen
to compete in the finals: those who won a spot at one of the qualifiers throughout the year, those who earned enough
points to place in the top twenty and move on, those who represent event sponsors, a few handpicked vehicles, and the
final Golden Ticket recipients. Factors like weight and year are not taken into consideration at OUSCI. This is the final
battle and everyone is up against each other.


All competitors are required to display their vehicles at the SEMA Show. Some vehicles may have designated spots as
booth cars while others reside in Optima Alley for the week. Once SEMA is over competitors are required to participate in
the SEMA Cruise Friday evening then be at the track early Saturday morning. Though the SEMA Cruise did not work out
as expected this year, many participants still endured the long hours that it took to get through the parade only to get a
couple hours sleep before race day.


Saturday morning came quickly. Several competitors arrived before the sun was up to prep their cars and become
familiar with the tracks. Saturday consisted of Autocross and Speed Stop. Drivers had not seen either course before
Saturday morning. The autocross was a mirrored set-up. Two drivers would pull up at the starting line and race to the
finish. The catch- these two drivers were not racing against each other, but against the clock. It was hard to ignore that
another car was on track the same time as you. As you came around the big sweeper and saw the other car out of the
corner of your eye your immediate reaction was to beat that car. This mentality did not always result in the fastest lap
time. The morning sessions were terrible. Track conditions were dusty and temps were cold. Almost every driver got lost
on the course at least once with many getting disqualified run after run. By noon competitors were ready for a much
needed switch between the two groups as the Autocross competitors ventured to the Speed Stop and Speed Stop
competitors hit the Autocross course.


The Speed Stop was nothing like we had seen before. Rather than a straight line turn-around set-up, the track took place
on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring. There was a variation of hurdles to get around including a banked course that
you had to maneuver gracefully while staying on the designated line, the paint strip towards the finish and the limited
runoff space after the stopbox. These obstacles only made the Speed Stop that more difficult for competitors to master
though it also made it more entertaining for spectators.


Most of the OUSCI vehicles were judged for the Design and Engineering segment of the event during SEMA. There were
still a handful of drivers that did not complete this portion of the race. These drivers had to carve out some time in between
the autocross and speed stop so they could earn their points towards the Design and Engineering segment. Several
competitors headed to the judging booth during lunch so little time was wasted during the other segments of the race.
During the Design Challenge judges verified if certain items such as windshield wipers, brake lights and radio were all
working. If vehicles met all the items on the judges’ checklist that defined a street car, driver automatically got 15 points
towards the Design Challenge. The remaining ten points were decided per the judges’ own opinion of each vehicle. This
segment of the race could easily make or break the decision on who would win the overall event.

As Saturday came to an end the required Road Rally portion of the race was underway. Drivers hurried into their cars to
follow the map that was distributed once racing stopped. If drivers deviated from the map, points would be deducted
from their Road Rally Score. The final destination was the Shelby Museum. There two food trucks sat waiting for drivers
to arrive and take a much needed break while enjoying the company of the other racers and touring the Shelby facility.


As Sunday came racers headed back to the track before sunrise to get ready for the final part of the Optima Ultimate
Street Car invitational. After looking at the results from Day 1, competition between RS Motors and Danny Popp was
extremely close. Though the Evos dominated on the Autocross and Speed Stop, Danny Popp would dominate on the Road
Course. A driver’s meeting was followed by a quick lead-follow lap for each group. There were four groups total:
Intermediate A & B and Expert A & B. There was some tough competition in the Intermediate groups, but nothing
compared to what the expert groups brought. In some aspects all rules were thrown out. Drivers set out to prove a
point; they were the ultimate street car.

Several cars had broken the day before leaving only two thirds of the competition left by Sunday evening. Though
some fast laps were made mid day, some of the fastest times were ran during the last couple laps of the day. These laps determined the final ranking of the overall event.


The sun was starting to set and one last task was at hand during the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, the group
photo. While everyone waited eagerly to see who would be placed in front center, pit crews start to pack their trailers and
drivers were able to relax. Though the award ceremony would confirm the final standings, everyone knew that the car
parked front and center would ultimately be the winner. If you had asked anyone at the event, the battle between first
was that between Danny Popp and Andy Smedegard. The Evo versus the Corvette was a long awaited battle. Once the
award ceremony got started it was evident that Andy Smedegard would come out victorious. Yet as I had said in the
beginning of the OUSCI recap, the Design Challenge can make or break a win. Furthermore the last couple laps of the
road course helped determine the overall champion. It was not Danny Popp or Andy Smedegard’s road course results
that determined the fate of the overall winner. It was that of another competitor who ran his fastest lap at the end of
Sunday and bumped Andy Smedegard down a position.


The anticipation was over and the winner of the 2015 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational was announced. As Danny
Popp took to the stage the crowd cheered with surprise and overall joy. The race was close, too close for anyone to
determine the on their own. Andy Smedegard took second while Brandon Ranvek placed third overall. This year the
Corvette dominated once again, but the Evos stayed close, maybe a little too close for comfort come the 2016 season.

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Coverage from the 2015 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational

In 2008 there were twenty-four competitors. In 2015 there were 100 competitors. The sport has quadrupled in the
last eight years not only in number, but also in the variety of vehicles that now participate in the event. The 2016
registration is now open on the DRIVEUSCA website. For some it may be the experience of a track while for others
it may be the gathering of friends that draws them to these Optima Events. Competitive nature is in all of us so
proving that your vehicle is the ultimate street car entices many. Then there’s the need to belong. Why do people join
SCCA and NASA and stay with that series? Why do people come out to Goodguys events even though they may only
get a couple runs throughout the entire weekend? The idea of having fun is the primary reason, but it goes beyond that.
Everyone wants to belong to something. If you can build a car around the rules of the Optima Series, come out and
make friends, be completive and have fun, then that sense of belonging is filled. That need to belong is in all of us,
including everyone reading this. If you weren’t interested in the Optima Series in some way or another you would
probably skip right over this article and move on to something else. The need to belong isn’t a bad thing. That is why
we are part of this pro-touring forum. This is why pro-touring exists. In the end we are all one giant family. Regardless
the car, the modifications or the people, Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series continues to help our giant
family grow each year and for that we thank them. Here’s to a new year, new tracks and making more friends!

To view the complete 2016 Optima Series Schedule Visit:

We also wanted to share Optima's Recap video of the 2015 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational