AutoMatters: OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational
By Jan Wagner
The annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas overflows its exhibit halls with amazing, extremely customized cars and trucks. They serve as rolling showcases for many of the products and services that are featured on the show floors. It truly is a car show like no other. However, cars are meant to be driven – not just looked at and admired, to explore their full capabilities. That’s where the OPTIMA® Ultimate Street Car Invitational comes in.
What now seems like an obvious thing to do only began about six years ago when Cam Douglass, OPTIMA Batteries’ Director of product development and marketing, came up with the idea. He kicked it around with some of his associates in the industry and the competition was born.
The OPTIMA® Ultimate Street Car Invitational is held the Saturday after the SEMA Show. Let me set something straight for you right now. The drivers are most definitely not poseurs, trying to look cool while cruising around a racetrack on parade laps. These cars are pushed to their limits, and sometimes beyond, in five different motorsports competitions.
The 2013 OPTIMA® Ultimate Street Car Invitational was held on Saturday, Nov. 9 at the beautiful Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club – home of the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School, in Pahrump, Nevada. Hundreds of spectators were on hand to watch and cheer on the competitors.
In the BFGoodrich Hot Lap Challenge, competitors each set their fastest timed lap on the high-speed racetrack.
The Ridetech Street Autocross Challenge was a tight parking lot autocross. It was technical and very entertaining. Unlike at the racetrack, the fans here could get close enough to see all of the action.
My favorite challenge, for its excitement from a spectator’s point of view, was the Wilwood Disc Brakes Speed Stop Challenge. In this timed event, after completing a short autocross drivers had to come to a complete halt in a stop box. Obviously the later one hit the brakes, the quicker their lap time would be, but some drivers waited just a bit too long, crossed the exit line from the box and were shown a red flag for their transgression.
Bill Goldberg – actor, former football player, retired wrestler and big-time car guy, is the host of OPTIMA’s Search for America’s Ultimate Street Car. He kept the adrenaline level high as he encouraged the drivers between runs.
A really scary moment came after I noticed a car that seemed to be approaching the stop box too quickly. I started shooting in my camera’s high speed burst mode as the car, skidding in the box with its brakes locked up, inexplicably turned 90 degrees to the left towards the track worker who was holding the red flag at the ready. As if in slow motion, and as my camera clicked off frame after frame, I watched the action unfold as the car rotated and then, ever so gently, hit the worker in the lower legs – lifting them off of, and parallel to, the ground. Even though he was understandably somewhat shaken up, thankfully the worker – Martin van Weerlee, a volunteer from the Netherlands, was okay. Amazingly he bravely continued to serve as flagger for the rest of the cars! I’m sure that he had quite a story to tell when he got home, and after I send him the pictures he will have proof!
The other challenges were the Detroit Speed and Engineering Road Rally – held on Friday after the SEMA Show ended, and the Lingenfelter Performance Engineering Performance Design Challenge.
The overall winner of the title, beating 53 other competitors with his red, 1965 Corvette, was Brian Hobaugh. For more information about the OPTIMA® Ultimate Street Car Invitational, go to www.optimainvitational.com.
This is way too much fun for just one event per year, so the Ultimate Street Car Association (USCA) sanctions an entire, year-long series of competitions which also serve as regional qualifiers for the OPTIMA® Ultimate Street Car Invitational. The USCA is “a sanctioning body formed to create safe, fun and high profile national automotive events for street legal performance vehicles.”
The first event of 2014 is scheduled for March 7 – 9 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The series will return to California from June 13 – 15 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. To learn more about the USCA and see their full schedule of events for 2014 (televised on MAV TV), visit http://ultimatestreetcarassociation.com.
As always, please write to AutoMatters@gmail.com with your comments and suggestions.
Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #312r1 AutoMatters
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