2018 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational – Part 2: SEMA

After getting the invite to the Optima Ultimate Street Car invitational, I faced a daunting task. I got the invite on October 8, 2018. Load-in for SEMA was 8pm on October 29. I had 21 days to secure lodging, make sure the car was set, clean the car, make sure the tow vehicle and trailer would make it, and pack.

The first thing I did was put the car on jack stands and go through it. What did I find? The front brakes were cooked. The rear bearing assemblies had excessive play. The exhaust was leaking at a slip joint under the torque converter. All of this had to be fixed. On top of that, I needed to get the car to a professional detailer to polish the pain out properly and detail the engine bay.

Of course, my typical luck reared its head. The parts to rebuild the rear bearing assemblies got lost by UPS and were delayed a week. I had order a second set and have them next day’d to get the rear end back together in time. I returned the first order once they finally showed up.

New EBC Bluestuff pads

The brakes were another conundrum. I wasn’t happy with my Hawks. They stopped the car great, but I was less than ½ the way through a set of pads, but the rotors were toast. With pads being $150 an axle, but the rotors being nearly $500, this equation was balancing backwards. I turned to EBC. I ordered a set of Yellowstuff pads on the recommendation of many good friends, some of whom had won SCCA National Championships with them. But when the pads arrived, the bed-in procedure wasn’t going to work. EBC recommended 1000 miles of street driving to properly bed them. I had a week.

So I contacted EBC’s tech support for advice on an accelerated bedding procedure. That conversation ended with me in EBC’s sponsor program and a set of pre-bedded EBC Bluestuffs being sent to me. Awesome. Thank you EBC!

New engine oil cooler

I also added an oil cooler, hoping it would remove that source of heat from the radiator and get me the kind of endurance I’d need to finish a track session.

The car hit the detailer, and once I’d fished the stupid air freshener pads out from under the seats, it was ready to go.

The Period Correct Tow Pig got an oil change and an inspection at Grossman Tuning, and I was declared ready to tow my car across the country.

So, the night before departure, we loaded the car on the trailer, threw all the gear in the bed of the truck and got a good night’s sleep. We even plastic wrapped the car, since we were anticipating driving through a lot of rain.

Seent! The PoorVette!

The trip to Las Vegas we uneventful. We stopped for gas about every 300 miles, and stopped for the night in Amarillo and Flagstaff. We passed a car hauler with a couple of fellow competitors on it between Amarillo and Flagstaff, and we got passed by from friends on 93 between Kingman and Vegas, which was funny.

The famous Cadillac Ranch

Load-in Monday night was a thing. We had to be in the Platinum lot at 8pm, with a drivers’ meeting at 9 and load-in to start at about 12. As my luck would have it, the car’s cooling fans didn’t work on the drive to the platinum lot. We spend a good bit of the time trying to figure out what the hell was going on. We managed to hot wire it so one fan worked, which got me to Optima Alley, where it would sit in the SEMA show for the remainder of the week.

All loaded in to the show

The SEMA Show. Wow. Enormous. My Dad and I walked almost forty miles that week, and I don’t think we saw half of it. Every new car gadget and gizmo was on display. The booth cars were breathtaking. We even busted some Chinese firm that was selling counterfeit knock-off wheels.

Just ONE of the halls.

The car got a LOT of attention. People walking down the line almost always stopped. If we were near the car, they asked questions. Lots of questions. It was fun.

Friday was SEMA Ignited! They guided us out of Optima Alley and into a gauntlet lined with bleachers. There was an MC announcing all the cars. Jay Leno crossed the road right in front of me, gave me a thumbs up, came around to the drive side window and told me the car “looks good.” Jay Leno liked my car. It’s officially cool.

Once we escaped the madness of the Ignited show, we were on our own getting to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to set up paddock. Once I got the car there, my Dad met me, and we stopped to help Nick Kistler replace his crushed transmission pan.

Once that was done, we retired to the AirBnB apartment we’d rented for the week, and crashed. In the morning, the actual Optima Invitational would start. Stay tuned for the recap of the final weekend!


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