2018 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational – Part 1: The Run Up

First, a brief history on my involvement in the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car series:

Back in 2015, my friend Brian Mason sent out a feeler to our local SCCA region about the Optima USCA event that was coming to NCM that year. At the time, my car was not in the kind of shape to undertake track work, so I didn’t sign up. But I researched the series, and decided it was worth trying. I spent the winter prepping the car, mainly by replacing the radiator and fans, since I anticipated heat being a problem (oh my, how right I was). A year later, I took it to the 2016 NCM event.

It didn’t finish day one. An electrical problem with the new fans left me with no fans. I had respectable D&E scores and mid-pack autocross times, but the car didn’t even start the road rally and I ran none of the Sunday segments. I vowed to be back.

In 2017, I ran the Midwest Muscle Car Challenge, then the Optima event at NCM. I did really well, all things considered. 10th in class overall at NCM. The car finished the event, I was happy.

Then came New Jersey. I drove the car to NJMP.  Thirteen hour hour drive with my tires in the back seat. The autocross on Saturday was a brutally competitive and close fought battle. Less than half a second separated positions 2-11 in GTV. I landed at ninth on the autocross portion. I also got one Speed Stop run in on Sunday. But during my second track session, I spun a rod bearing. I lucked into a spot on a friend’s trailer and got the car home.

After that event, I looked back at my previous events and decided, “I can do this.”

I was about to turn 40, and the engine had to come out of the car anyway. Instead of doing the typical mid-life crisis thing (buy a Corvette and some gold chains) I set a goal for myself to get the car into the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational in 2018. I had a plan:

  • Upgrade the car to survive the events
  • Run at least three events

I couldn’t afford the kind of build that would garner an invite by winning a single event, but I could afford the kind of build that would finish well enough consistently enough to get in to the invitational on points.

Over the winter of 2017-2018, I rebuilt the engine. I won’t completely recap that build here, since you can learn all about it in my earlier blog posts. But, unlike my previous rebuild in 2014 after a simple head gasket failure, I went pretty much all-out. Starting with a quality forged crank and moving outward, I built an engine following a recipe that goes in 10 second drag cars, but instead of running it at 25-30 psi, the plan was to run it at 15-17. Instead of a razor’s edge 900hp, I settled for a dead-nuts reliable 450.

Additional preparation included an auxiliary transmission and power steering cooler, seats and four point harness, and additional sensors.

For 2018, I signed up for three Optima events: NOLA Motorsports Park, NCM Motorsports Park, and Barber Motorsports Park. These were the three events closest to me. I also entered the Midwest Muscle Car Challenge, and I won a two-day track event from the Kentucky Porsche Club. The SCCA Time Trials Nationals at NCM would close out my year. All of this was to compete and develop the car. As it turns out, I would need all of the events to get across the finish successfully. Here’s a (very) brief synopsis of the track events of 2018:

NOLA, April 14: First event of the year for me, period. No testing on the car. Parts delays during the engine build had me cutting it close, but I made it. Scored 343 points despite issues with hose couplers blowing off on the road course and Speed Stop.

Midwest Muscle Car Challenge, May 14: Putnam Park, wastegate bolts failed, blowing wastegate gaskets; nylon push lock vacuum lines melted.

NCM, June 2: Transmission overheated, still had problems with popping on Speed Stop because of leaking exhaust gaskets; A hose touching cam sensor was pushing it around, causing the engine to lose cam sync and stall. Still scored 321 points.

PCA Track Weekend, June 8: Two days at Putnam Park, No major problems

Barber Motorsports Park, August 4: First event with new ECUGN computer. Extra power exposed dramatic issues with body movement, new shocks and springs would be required; transmission overheated; melted MAP lines caused popping and stalling. Still scored 307 points. New AFCO shocks ordered and installed the following week.

Peru CAM Challenge, August 18: Transmission overheat and ensuing fire required a transmission rebuild and a much larger cooler.

SCCA TT Nationals, September 28: Turbocharger gasket failure ended weekend early, required replacing turbo mount hardware with Inconel studs and a better gasket

At this point, I had run a very intense season, scored a total of 975 points, and had been mentioned in three OUSCI prediction articles:




But it wasn’t a done deal. I was very much on the bubble. I didn’t register for the Road America event, which means my fate was in the hands of the GTV competitors that showed. If a dark horse or two made the event and laid down some serious points, I was going to get bumped out of contention.

And when the results from Road America were published Sunday night after the event, some back of the envelope calculations revealed I had, in fact, missed the cut:

Final Results after Road America
Final Results after Road America

But! All is not final. People sometimes can’t make it and that bumps others up. The next morning I got this communication:

Facebook Message from Optima Jim
Facebook Message from Optima Jim

I told Jim that if invited, I would accept. I’d just done the math and didn’t think I’d made it. I was wrong.

Later that day, the actual invitation arrived. I’d done it. Despite all the issues, I’d done well enough to be invited to the premier invitational automotive competition for street legal cars in the nation. My car was going to be on display at SEMA, and I’d get a chance to compete against the best of the best at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Goal achieved. Now it was time to prep the car and actually get there.

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