View Full Version : Optima's Search Continues at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park

06-21-2016, 08:41 PM
Optima Search – At National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park
Let’s just cut to the chase: If you don’t have this facility on your racing bucket list, go ahead and add it now. Also, the pictures contained herein are courtesy of my new friend Mike Cropley. Mike bought a 5th gen Camaro and was talked into joining the fun. As it turns out, Mike is also an amazing amateur photographer; this is lucky for me because my camera still hasn’t been fixed. Please show Mike some love and go follow him on Facebook at MSCropleyPhotography - if you were there with a car, he's got a picture of it. (I think he took over 2,000 shots.)
This particular fine Saturday morning started like most Optima events but with an added air of excitement around the mystique of NCM; the tales of the autocross pad paved with big track surface materials and the turn they call deception, on the minds of the first-timers to the facility (which was by-far the majority of the entrants). I’m sure even a few remember some of the damage that cars incurred last year as they mentally took note about their car’s readiness and even a personal sense of elation mixed with nervousness not knowing what to expect.
This year’s event was lucky enough to hit what is probably the best weather possible. For once, an Optima event was held East of the Rockies with moderate weather and no humidity. After the driver’s meeting where the sound rules were explained in great detail, I was personally reminded of the very first Optima Search event at Laguna Seca. Remembering James Shipka buying out the steel wool in every hardware store in three cities and fashioning it with chicken fencing and baling wire as a makeshift muffler. That particular Sunday was spent watching as cars blew scrubbing pads like tumbleweeds all over the track. There’s a Road Runner and Coyote cartoon in this somewhere.
While I didn’t notice tumble weeds of steel at NCM, I cannot help but notice the similarities to Laguna Seca in not just the noise restrictions but the track itself. NCM has intimidated some of the most experienced drivers with its blind turns, rapid elevation changes and corkscrew spirals. This event had drivers traversing the West Course. [Shown in red in the diagram] While the diagram doesn’t show nearly the level of turns and twists that one experiences from behind the wheel, trust me, it’s there.
Enough about the big track, drivers (as is customary) had to get through the trilogy of pre-track qualifiers: autocross, speed stop and the venerable Design and Engineering judgment. When drivers like Mark Stielow, Brian Finch and Danny Popp show up, you’d better have your A-Game in place. The judging was tough, no one was giving up on anything in the design challenge with most everyone I saw being on board with brake lights, radios and wipers. Several cars were understated in their customizations and others were making their memorable mark. In the end, James Otto’s truck called “For Pete’s Sake” as a tribute to his late Grandfather Pete, came out on top with a perfect 100 points score.
Over at the autocross, the drivers took a few runs to get used to racing on the big track pavement. While at first the pavement seems slick, drivers quickly make some adjustments and the runs get faster and faster. I mention this because so many of us are accustomed to autocross pads that are an after-thought. NCM built a dedicated autocross pad that is flat, without drainage ditches and paved as smooth and level as possible with the exact same paving materials as the big track. I give a big high-five to NCM for giving the autocross so much attention.

As seems to be the case, the autocross courses at these events are fast and very well-suited for the Porsches and Corvettes. Being what it is, the class distinctions make these differences moot and there were several surprises amongst the competitors. In the GTV class Larry Woo in his black first gen Camaro, edged ahead of Brian Finch by three tenths for the class win. In GTS Paul Curley in a Z06 took the win in a field that had barely one second of time between the top eight finishers. In the GTL class it was no surprise to see the screaming blue Corvette of Danny Popp take the top spot, it was encouraging to see Mike DuSold in the number two position – the only classic muscle car in the lineup keeping up with Danny. A really cool sight was Todd Rumpke returning to the field and coming in fourth place. Incidentally, Todd took the Spirit of the Event award from K&N with his enthusiastic return just days before resuming treatments for Cancer. In the GT Class Brain Johnson proved to be a formidable competitor and took the win.
“The Hot Laps challenge on the road course is nothing other than exciting. The NCM West course is well laid out, very technical and fast. Again, a place where car placement rewards you with fast lap times and little drama,” said Jason Luebcke, driver of 5th Gen Camaro ‘Bama’.
Day two greeted the drivers with a little more heat and humidity but overall, much better than the normal seasonal sauna. The track was ready and the racers were on point. There were very few off-track excursions and fewer mechanical setbacks. Except for Larry Woo who now breaks the record for amount of times you can light your car on fire unintentionally.
In the end, top spots were given to:
Brian Finch (71 Camaro) – GTV 1:34:275
Paul Curley (Z06 Corvette) – GTS 1:32:378
Danny Popp (Z06 Corvette) – GTL 1:28:001 (FTD)
Brian Johnson (2013 Camaro) – GT 1:31:894

The coveted Spirit of the Event award went to none other than Todd Rumpke who competed as though nothing could stop him, including Cancer.

In summary, this event was (as always) at a premiere facility that everyone should have the opportunity to run at some point. Bowling Green, Kentucky may not seem like a vacation hot-spot but there is a lot nearby (including Nashville in an hour) and for the Corvette-lover, it’s top notch. The competition in this series continues to increase, bringing out some amazing drivers (both new and seasoned) and showcasing the improvements in both drivers and cars.

I've got more pictures but I'm having issues getting them loaded so I will edit this later and add more.

06-22-2016, 06:42 AM
great write up! about a great event