2018 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational – Part 3: OUSCI

The actual event! After 21 days of prep, three days of driving, four days of the car in the SEMA show, where I also walked nearly forty miles, it was finally time for the actual event.

The invitational follows the same multi-segment format as the regular season events, but runs are somewhat limited, and the schedule is altered to wrap it around the SEMA show.

For instance, we did D&E in Optima Alley.  I lucked into an early Thursday time slot. Going early in D&E can be an advantage, because it allows you to (in theory) score higher before they’ve seen other, possibly better cars. Of course, that doesn’t logically follow, because the judges will simply score the better cars above you anyway. Sure, the margins get squeezed, but I don’t think the finishing order changes much.

The big advantage is getting it out of the way. During the regular events, lines at D&E can leave racers making choices between staying in line for D&E, or missing autocross runs. That wasn’t a problem in Vegas.

Picture doesn’t show it, but I was way out of shape here. Credit: Kaleb Kelley

Friday night, we moved into the paddock area like any normal Friday. By the time I’d gotten there, my Dad was already helping a fellow racer replace a smashed transmission pan. We got him running that night and he ran the weekend without further problems.

Saturday we got up bright and early and headed to the track. Today we had but one thing to do: Autocross.

The autocross course was actually two courses. Side by side starts on sort-of-mirrored courses, and only six runs to get the job done.  It was like an SCCA Pro Solo but without the tree. Fastest time from each side was added together for the final time. The courses as laid out by Brian Mason were short, and not very Buick friendly. Each side featured a switchback, greater than 90 degree turn that proved challenging for me and the car. My new EBC Bluestuff pads also turned out to need some break-in after all. During my first run, I mashed the brakes for a 180 midway through the right hand course, and the car just didn’t slow down. I sailed off course, finally able to make the turn after scoring a blatant DNF. The pads improved dramatically over the next two runs. By the time the afternoon run group came around, they were superb.

At the end of Saturday, I was sitting pretty in 17th in GTV in the autocross segment. My worse finish of the year, but this was the invitational. I was running against all the people that had actually won at events. The goal of not-last was intact.

Saturday evening was the road rally, and the cooling fans came back to bite us again. We couldn’t get both of them to run. Pull the relay for the fan that was running, and the other fan would come on. Plug the relay back in, fan wouldn’t come on. Pull the other relay, the fan that wasn’t running would come on. Back and forth.

We eventually tracked it down to the power source for the relays. I was getting 12v from an unused brake warning light feed that’s powered off the dash. The feed couldn’t supply enough amperage to run both relays at the same time. Oops.

Locking up the rears during Speed Stop. Credit: Kaleb Kelley

We spliced 12v from the A/C compressor clutch, which had enough juice, and the problem was solved (temporarily).

Sunday morning was Hot Laps and speed stop. After Orientation Laps, I made my first speed stop runs. The car worked. The Traction Control worked. The Speed Stop courses featured the same switch-back turn from the autocross course the day before, and I think I managed that feature much better on Sunday.

My first hot-lap session was uneventful until the last lap. As I was approaching the front straight, the car died. I coasted into pit road and restarted the vehicle. It ran normally. We were puzzled. I emailed a log file off to Eric Marshall at Turbotweak.

Instead of running my second track session, we decided to get all of my morning Speed Stop runs in. It was less risky since we didn’t know why the engine had stalled.

But Eric got back with us quickly, right before lunch. We’d lost sync from the camshaft sensor. The TR6 ignition was set to kill the engine if the cam sensor signal was lost, and that’s exactly what it did. This was a huge relief. This was not an engine damaging event. It was a loose connector. It also didn’t happen again.

So we sent it back out. My afternoon hot lap session went perfectly. I was still learning the track, so my laps were far from competitive, but I was still good for 17th in GTV. My Speed Stop landed me in 18th. A better than expected D&E performance landed me at 17th overall in GTV and 67th overall out of 100 for the event.

Hot Laps! Credit: Kaleb Kelley

Very much not-last.

We opted to skip the final road course session. I didn’t expect to go any faster due to being dead tired. So we packed all our stuff, then drove the car over to the road course paddock for the big OUSCI group picture shoot. After that was the awards ceremony.

Brian Johns cheesing for the camera after winning GTC

Then we loaded up on the trailer and headed back to the AirBnB.

The next morning, we left for home. With my Dad and I swapping seats every fuel stop or so, and napping along the way, we managed to drive straight through. 33 hours in the car and we were home. Tired, dirty, but with a running car and huge sense of accomplishment.

To-do list for the off-season is surprisingly small, and I’ll detail these further in another post:

  • Still having water cooling issues, need to address that
  • The car needs a vented hood to reduce front-end lift and improve cooling. A front splitter is probably a good idea, too
  • Weight reduction. New front bumper is already here. Vented hood will likely be fiberglass. A glass trunk lid with a spoiler might not hurt
  • It needs stiffer springs. Going to have to fiddle with that.

Compared to what I’ve had to test and fix since last August, this list is nothing. It’s a weekend’s worth of work once the parts arrive.

Now the thanks. I could not have done this alone. Big, huge thanks to:

My Dad. Road trip partner, sounding board, rock of support.
My girlfriend, Darcy. Patient, supportive, I’m amazed you’re still with me.
My Daughter, who is my biggest fan
EBC Brakes: Thanks for sponsoring me and supplying me with some excellent friction materials
Boost Crew Motorsports: Without their technical assistance and valuable 20+ years of experience drag racing these cars, the vehicle would not have survived the season.
TurboTweak, who supplied my ECM, the new MS3Pro based ECUGN. It worked flawlessly since the first turn of the key after installing it.
AutocrossMagnets.com, for all your vinyl needs
Fay’s Suspension, this Watts Link works.
SpeedTech Performance, supplier of quality suspension components
AFCO Racing, for my custom-valved shock absorbers
The Kentucky Region of the Sports Car Club of America, for providing the playground I needed to be the kind of driver I need to be to compete at this level
The Ultimate Street Car Association for putting these events on!
Optima Batteries for being the title sponsor for the series!

And a host of others I’ve missed. Thank you all. I couldn’t have done this with you. The plan for the winter is to relax, address the things above, and maybe go after it again.

Driver and crew chief!

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