The Optima Challenge is equal parts car flog and test of driver skill between the road cou
The Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) has quickly become the preeminent Pro Touring street car competition with barely three years under its belt. As the name suggests, you can qualify to compete in the OUSCI, but ultimately you have to be invited. There are feeder events such as the Optima Ultimate Street Car Faceoff at the Road America road course in Wisconsin and other events throughout the year leading up to the event directly following the performance industry's SEMA show in Las Vegas in early November. For the past year, we've been beating, tuning, and racing our '65 small-block-powered Chevelle in hopes of earning our way to an invitation to compete at the OUSCI. Many acquaintances questioned the intelligence of that desire saying that they didn't think we had a chance. The plan was not to win, since we were up against some very heady competition such as Mark Stielow's Red Devil '69 Camaro powered by a Thomson Automotive-built 427ci LS engine complete with a heavy-breathing Eaton TVS 2300-style supercharger that made a conservative 750 hp. Add to this list competitors such as Kyle and Stacey Tucker's two Detroit Speed Camaros, Brian Finch's second-gen Camaro, and several other notable bad boys of the Pro Touring scene, and we figured if we could squeeze into the top 15 finalists based on just the actual driving events, that would be our version of a major achievement.
Most of the competitors survived Las Vegas' Friday afternoon traffic to make it to the gro
Once we made it out to Pahrump, Nevada, on Friday night, the entire event was staged in a single day at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch facility. We finished lower than our intended goal of the top 15, and while the Chevelle performed well, it's clear our author/driver could use a talent transfusion. The OUSCI is based around three competitive driving competitions: the 2.2-mile, 10-turn BFGoodrich Hot Lap Challenge road course; the RideTech Street Challenge autocross; and the Baer Brakes Speed Stop Challenge. Optima also includes a Design Challenge in which the cars are evaluated on style and image, and this year, a road rally from Las Vegas to Pahrump, sponsored by Detroit Speed, was added to emphasize the cars' street manners.
One friend remarked, "This wouldn't be an official event if Smith wasn't flogging on his car." Keeping with our tradition of breaking something at the most inopportune moment, a new alternator fragged just as we set out for Pahrump. But even driving at night with electric fuel pumps, an MSD unit, EFI injectors, and headlights putting the drain on our Optima RedTop battery, we were able to survive the 45-mile jaunt across the desert to make it to the hotel. Optima loaned us a second battery, and for the next day we honed our wrench-spinning skills by swapping batteries. As a footnote, the Chevelle is now undergoing a complete rewiring of the electrical system courtesy of a new Painless universal muscle car harness.
All OUSCI competitors were required to be at the SEMA show, and the event started on Frida
Last year's event was dominated by Bruce Camber's bad-boy Cobra. This year, Bruce brought a Ford GT that performed well, but it was Mark Stielow's Red Devil '69 Camaro that was the dominant car for 2010. Mark won the RideTech autocross, the Baer Speed Stop Challenge, and finished second only to the StopTech road race Corvette on the BFGoodrich road course, and at that the Vette beat him by barely more than 0.40 second. We thought we should have done better, but then even Mark Stielow thought he should have done better. There's always next year.
Our thanks to Optima and the sponsors that stage this event every year. And watch for a Speed Channel hour-long recap of the Challenge. Root for the Chevelles.
The Chevelle was miraculously still running as we hit Pahrump at around 7:30 p.m. with the
Since I'd never driven the road course before, at the driver's meeting I asked Mark Stielo
The OUSCI attracted a diverse crowd of cars, including more than a few Camaros, Paul Newma
The only event Mark Stielow's Red Devil Camaro didn't win was the road course. He dominate
We restored a little lost pride after a dismal showing on the road course with our best fi
Clearly the wildest car at OUSCI was Paul "Polly" Blytt's F-3 ProCharger-blown, 540ci, Rat
The Top Ten
One of the great things about the OUSCI is the tremendous variety of approaches to the shot at becoming the best overall Pro Touring car in the country. Even among the multiple Camaros, the strategies vary.
|1. Mark Stielow
|2. Kyle Tucker
|3. Bruce Cambern
||'05 Ford GT
|4. Paul "Poly" Blytt
|5. Jay Weir
|6. Brian Finch
|7. Steve Ruiz
|8. Brian Nutter
||'02 ZO6 Corvette
|9. Mark Turner
|9. Bret Voelkel
With a Little Help From My Friends
We really didn't expect to get invited to OUSCI, because our performance at the 341 Challenge and at the Pro Touring Run to the Coast events had been less than memorable. So when we got the nod, there was a thrash to get the Chevelle ready. Mainly it came down to painting the car, so with help from our buddy Mike Paradis and some Hot Rod Flatz satin paint, the Chevelle was ready in barely two weeks, and there's a blue paint patina covering everything in the shop to prove it. My pals Doug Norrdin, owner of Global West Suspension, Kevin Doyle, Kris Shields, and Bill Chin all donated time and effort toward finishing all those niggling details. We also got help from Original Parts Group with truck and door seals that replaced some very aging weatherstripping. When it was all done, the car didn't look half bad-as long as you didn't get too close! It appears we need an aluminum LS motor to take 100 pounds off the nose.
More than a few late nights contributed to getting the Chevelle sanded, primed, and painte
Resting in between swapping batteries is (seated left to right) Global West's Bill Chin an
The heartbreaker was our final and potentially best event-the Baer Speed Stop Challenge, a