For the third year in a row the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational was held at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada. This event was launched in 2009 to show that SEMA-quality show cars could throw down hard in various driving exercises. After all, what better way to show that all these aftermarket suspension and driveline widgets can convert ill-handling classic iron into supercars than to flog them on the track? At the inaugural event a Camaro snagged the top spot, but last year a wicked-fast, full-tilt AC Cobra took the crown. The fact that Camaros occupied Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Place didn’t make us feel better at all. A Camaro needed to be on top again, and we didn’t really care which one.

The Rules

As this event has grown, the rules have had to adapt in order to keep everything fair. This year the old method of accumulating the times was thankfully ditched. Under the previous scoring system, around 70 percent of the score was determined on the road course, and no matter how someone did in any other aspect of the event it had little effect on the overall score. So basically, if you won the road course you most likely won the whole deal. This year all three driving competitions (road course, autocross, and speed stop challenge) were moved to a points system where the top 20 finishers were awarded from 25 (First Place) to 1 point (20th place). This meant the cars had to excel in all three areas to win the big prize.

The build quality and style portion was changed as well. It was still an important part of the overall contest, but it was now weighted less than the driving events. On the big course there was a warm up lap, followed by three timed laps and then one cool down lap. The cars were sent out individually and spaced far enough apart to avoid passing.

Drivers were also given three chances to nail down a fast time on the autocross. Hitting a cone resulted in a 1.5-second penalty, and getting lost in the cones earned the driver a big fat DNF. The competitor’s best time in each event would be used to determine their point accumulation, so you really only needed one killer lap or run.

Wheelmen

In an effort to keep ringers from being stuffed behind the wheel, the owner/builder rule was tightened up a bit with a builder defined as someone who has worked on at least 70 percent of the

Check out camaroperformers.com for some in-car video action!

The Rules

As this event has grown, the rules have had to adapt in order to keep everything fair. This year the old method of accumulating the times was thankfully ditched. Under the previous scoring system, around 70 percent of the score was determined on the road course, and no matter how someone did in any other aspect of the event it had little effect on the overall score. So basically, if you won the road course you most likely won the whole deal. This year all three driving competitions (road course, autocross, and speed stop challenge) were moved to a points system where the top 20 finishers were awarded from 25 (First Place) to 1 point (20th place). This meant the cars had to excel in all three areas to win the big prize.

The build quality and style portion was changed as well. It was still an important part of the overall contest, but it was now weighted less than the driving events. On the big course there was a warm up lap, followed by three timed laps and then one cool down lap. The cars were sent out individually and spaced far enough apart to avoid passing.

Drivers were also given three chances to nail down a fast time on the autocross. Hitting a cone resulted in a 1.5-second penalty, and getting lost in the cones earned the driver a big fat DNF. The competitor’s best time in each event would be used to determine their point accumulation, so you really only needed one killer lap or run.

Wheelmen

In an effort to keep ringers from being stuffed behind the wheel, the owner/builder rule was tightened up a bit with a builder defined as someone who has worked on at least 70 percent of the car. David Pozzi has done a ton of chassis work on our ’68 Prowler Orange project car but not enough to qualify, so that left me behind the wheel. I’m not nearly good enough to take full advantage of my car’s ability on a road course, but I’m decent, and besides, this would be more fun. The rule change made even more people anticipate the return of Mark Stielow. Mark piloted the yellow ’69 Camaro named Jackass to a Third-Place finish last year, and anyone that knows Mark knows that he’s not happy just getting on the podium. As a GM engineer and former performance vehicle development driver for GM he has the skills, behind both a wrench and a wheel, to kick some serious ass in his Red Devil ’69 Camaro. While Mark was certainly the odds-on favorite there were also other skilled drivers attending like Kyle Tucker, Paul Arvid Blytt, and Brian Finch just to name a few.

Treadwear and Road Trips

At the inaugural event, the treadwear limit was set at 100. The organizers thought this was a good balance between street and track. Last year the rules were amended to allow for any DOT-legal tires. This meant that sticky race tires like the Hoosier A6 and BFG R1s could be run. For many participants this proved to be a huge pain and expensive as well since, contrary to what you may read in some magazines, driving around town on these track tires is less than a good idea. This year Optima and FM3 Marketing decided to put the street back into the event by amending the rules in two ways. First, the treadwear was moved up to 200 or harder. Secondly, a cruise was developed in conjunction with pro-touring.com to force these rides to rack up some street miles the night before the event. To get points, all the participants had to take photos of their cars in front of at least two Las Vegas landmarks and, as a bonus, any car that scored a picture of their car next to a living, breathing Elvis impersonator (or the real one for that matter) scored a chance to win a complete system from Vintage Air. After snapping the shots, all the cars then had to drive the 60 miles to Pahrump. As our friend Bill Howell would say, Trailers are for boats.

The Big Day

Once again we were treated to glorious weather for the event at Spring Mountain. The 52 drivers pried themselves out of bed at the crack of dawn to start readying their rides for the hard day ahead. Tires were checked, tanks topped off, oil added, and game plans rehashed. It was serious business, but as is typical with this crowd, the seriousness was kept on the track and everyone was mindful that this was more about having fun with badass cars among friends. Tools were loaned and the experienced drivers were more than willing to give advice to the amateurs.

This year’s event saw far less carnage than the previous years. Sure, there were a couple off-track excursions, but nothing terribly serious. Once again, our project ’68 picked this event to have its annual parts failure, but everything else went off without a hitch. The organizers also worked hard and overall, the event ran smoother than ever and ended up finishing early good news for those who had a long drive home ahead of them.

The Outcome

In the end, our predictions of a Mark Stielow sweep were found to be accurate. It was his day and he earned every bit of it. In the weeks prior to the event all Mark did was practice driving his 427 LS9-powered Camaro and fine-tune its systems. We heard that he stopped occasionally to eat, but that’s just a rumor. The combination of skill and a wicked-fast car couldn’t be overcome, and he won two of the three driving competitions. He only came in Second Place on the road course because the race-prepped and supercharged ’04 Z06, being driven by Steve Ruiz, was given a makeup lap and managed to squeak in a faster time. As for the other racers, even those who didn’t place still had a great time. And at the end of the day, there were smiles everywhere, tired ones, but you could tell that everyone wanted nothing more than to do it all again the next day. Unfortunately, we’ll just have to wait til next year when the baddest rides on the planet will once again battle to find out who is the best of best.

Results
Top 10 Road Course Times
Name Vehicle Best Time
Steve Ruiz ’04 Z06 Vette 1:48.071
Mark Stielow ’69 Camaro 1:48.825
Kyle Tucker ’70 Camaro 1:52.386
Brian Finch ’71 Camaro 1:54.899
Paul Arvid Blytt ’86 Trans Am 1:55.462
Bruce Cambern ’05 Ford GT 1:56.628
Kevin Kraack ’08 AMG C63 1:56.666
Jay Weir ’70 Nova 1:57.180
Carl Casanova ’68 Camaro 1:58.097
Billy Utley ’72 Nova 1:58.335
Top 10 Autocross Times:
Name Vehicle Best Time
Mark Stielow ’69 Camaro 39.359
Brian Nutter ’02 Z06 Vette 40.502
Bruce Cambern ’05 Ford GT 40.788
Kyle Tucker ’70 Camaro 41.126
Brad Coomer ’68 Mustang 41.200
Brian Finch ’71 Camaro 41.605
Kyle Newman ’57 Chevy 41.780
Paul Arvid Blytt ’86 Trans Am 41.836
Carl Casanova ’68 Camaro 41.838
Jay Weir ’70 Nova 41.872
Top 10 Speed-Stop Times:
Name Vehicle Best Time
Mark Stielow ’69 Camaro 6.401
Paul Arvid Blytt ’86 Trans Am 6.421
Kyle Tucker ’70 Camaro 6.430
Bruce Cambern ’05 Ford GT 6.492
Robert Strohmeyer ’67 GT500 6.596
Bret Voekel ’66 Chevelle 6.608
Mark Turner ’69 Camaro 6.634
Jason Plotke ’10 Cadillac 6.687
Josh Hart ’70 Mustang 6.702
Steven Rupp ’68 Camaro 6.750
Top 5 Finishers Style Category:
Name Vehicle Place
Jim & Mike Ring ’67 Mustang 1st
Brent Jarvis 65 Corvette 2nd
Josh Russell ’32 Ford 3rd
Chris Keinitz ’61 Mercedes 4th
Bob Bertelson ’72 Firebird 5th
Overall Winners:
Name Vehicle Place
Mark Stielow ’69 Camaro 1st
Kyle Tucker ’70 Camaro 2nd
Bruce Cambern ’05 Ford GT 3rd
Paul Arvid Blytt ’86 Trans Am 4th
Jay Weir ’70 Nova 5th

Bad Penny Track Report

By Steven Rupp

This year we were once again running our Bad Penny ’68 Camaro at the Optima event. In the first year we took the win, but last year a dead power steering pump left us languishing in Fourth Place. This time we had a better car with a fresh 461-ci RHS LS engine. The car handled great in testing and I had been practicing my driving skills. Still, I knew the car was better than I was. In the end, I decided it was more important to just go out, have fun, and let the chips fall as they may.

First lap out on the 2.1-mile course, I was a bit nervous, but the car felt great on the warm up lap, so I started to get a bit more aggressive. My plan was to push harder on each of the three timed laps. This way I would learn the car, and if luck were on my side, my last lap would be pretty decent. Unfortunately, Penny decided once again to break at the biggest event of the year. Coming off turn 10, onto the short straight, I felt a lurch and the backend tried to come around. I kept in it and after gyrating around a bit continued down track. My thought was that I had taken the turn too fast and lost it, but later I found out that my front sway bar had snapped. Body roll is a funny thing. It’s painfully obvious from outside the car, but not so much from the inside. I felt the increased roll, but since it was only my second track lap in the newly worked over car, it didn’t click that I was now running without any sway bar.

Afterwards, looking at my Racepak data, I coud see where I was slow. I hit the brakes way earlier than I should have, and on several turns I didn’t push nearly as hard as I could have. For example, on turn three my lateral-g was 1.01 while last year David Pozzi’s was 1.24, and my speed was 41.48 while Dave was doing 44.99 mph. David entered the long straight (turn 7) at around 54.59 mph while my entry speed was 47.89, yet I still had a faster top speed even though I let off the gas earlier than he did. Chalk that up to the increased power from the RHS LS engine. Over the whole course these deficiencies really effect the lap times. Looks like I need more schoolin.’ And looking at the data, I’m proud that the car still managed over 1.2g even without the bar. As Mary Pozzi would say, the bitch sticks.

After coming into the pits and finding the broken bar, we started to remove it to prepare for the autocross and braking events. Then we noticed that a Trans Am, which had suffered a catastrophic suspension failure, was running the same length splined bar. The owner, Telly Violetto, was nice enough to let us borrow the bar. With the help of Global West Suspension owner Doug Norrdin, Car Craft magazine senior editor Jeff Smith, and our pit crew of David Pozzi and Tom Holt, the car was back together. The bad thing was that the new part was quite a bit stiffer than the previous one, and we had to hit the autocross with zero time to adjust the Penske shocks. Turned out that increased stiffness of the new bar killed the car’s turn in, and on the really tight stuff it was push city. So in an event where we typically do great, we came in 22nd. To put things in perspective, the difference between 1st and 22nd was a whopping three seconds.

In the braking challenge the acceleration was great, but learning where to hit the brakes was the tough part. I hit them too early the first time and way late on the second. On the last run I hit them a bit early again and came in 10th. Not bad but way off of our Second Place finish last year. Even with the awful autocross finish, we came in 13th overall. But the event was a blast and even with the drama, it was worth all of the hard work.

Overall the car never really let me down. Even when the bar broke it remained controllable and kept me out of the wall. What I learned is that all the high-end parts are great, but what’s really needed to nail down a good finish in such a competitive field is skill behind the wheel. With that in mind, I plan on putting as many track miles as possible on our ’68 this next season.

Racepak Road Course Data

Sustained cornering of 1.18g’s with balanced left and right turns

Max Braking g’s on the road course .86

Max acceleration g’s on the road course .96

Top speed, 119.48 mph

Low speed, 32 mph

Red Devil Track Report

By Mark Stielow

I arrived at the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational with a bull’s-eye on my back as there were a lot of people gunning for me. I had a great week at SEMA, but this is the event I came for. I was not happy how we did with Charley Lillard’s ’69 Camaro (Jackass) last year, so I set my plan in motion to do better in 2010.

After driving from Las Vegas to Pahrump for the road rally portion of the OUSCI, it was time to head to Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch. At this event it all comes down to one day at the track after a year of preparation and practice. Three laps on the road course, three laps of Auto-X, three passes of Speed Stop, and a car show. No redo’s. One shot, or wait until 2011.

I got through tech and parked my car over by my buddies, Kyle and Stacy Tucker’s rig at DSE. I double checked a few things and set my tire pressures. I lined up and ran my five practice laps nose to tail with 52 of my competitors. I got a few refresher laps at 60 mph and a chance to see the line.

After patiently waiting in line, it was my turn to get a real crack at the track. I was visualizing the run in my head trying to sort out my gear changes and breaking points. As I was doing this, the TV crew wanted to interview me. That always kind of freaks me out. When I got done with my Q and A I was ready to go. My way of attacking the track at shootouts is to set the out lap on kill. This is really important since the Goodyear Gen II tires need heat to stick. As I went into turn 8 the ABS was working well. I banged through turn 10 onto the front straight ripping up to 3rd down the straight and deep into turn one. I hit the brakes and trail-braked into turn 1 and locked up the right hand front tire. Crap, the ABS faulted out. No panic, I eased off the brakes a bit and unwound the wheel to open up the turn. I knew then my ABS brake system had faulted out so I needed to back off the brake points a bit. Not an issue. In testing, I set the car up to work with no ABS, I have 762 hp on tap, so back to throttle!

I ran three far-from-perfect laps but was happy with the number I was putting down. The car hitting about 140 mph down the last straight I was moving. When the checkered flag came out I was a bit bummed because I knew with a few more laps I could do better.

Due to the tight schedule of the event I didn’t have a chance to walk the Autocross course. But I did have time to power cycle my ABS to reset my system. Luckily, Kyle Tucker gave me the highlights of the track and some speed secrets. His time was a 41.126 and I knew he was a car to beat. My first run of 42.206 was good but not great. My buddy Dave Mikels said I need to hold the throttle longer at the end. My second run was better a 40.804 but I blew the stop box even with ABS. Ok, I had the line and was ready to hit it with one run left. It all clicked, the car was hooked up and I hit my points. Coming across the line, I knew I had a good time, but the timer system didn’t work so I had one more run. Well, this was good and bad. Now the pressure was really on. I thought my last run was about as good as I could do. But I lined up and hit it again. The car felt great and I cleaned up a couple areas before nailing the stop box. When I heard the crowd cheering I knew the time was good. It was the fastest of the day at 39.359.

It was all down to four chances at the Speed Stop Challenge. I drove around the pits to make sure the ABS was still hanging in there. My first pass got me into the Top 8 at 6.686 seconds. My next pass was a bit better at 6.601, but I knew I could do better. To heat up the tires, I was doing burn outs on the return road. It all came down to the last pass and I laid down a good run that gave me the best time at 6.401, only edging out Swedish native Paul Blytt in the Firebird by 0.02 seconds for First Place. Laura, my girlfriend, came over and gave me the thumbs up.

I still did not know how the Style portion of the event turned out. The Paul and Joe VanNus paintjob looked killer and the car turned out just like I wanted. When the final tally came out, we ended up 10th overall in style. I was happy.

With the Style point, I knew we had wrapped it up. But it’s not over until Jimi Day and Cam Douglass announce it at the award ceremony.

I worked for a year to come back and do better than we did with Jackass in 2009. It was a wild SEMA week. Having my car picked for Play Station 3 Grand Turismo and winning Optima made a great week and year.

I felt we got lucky that the car didn’t break and I didn’t choke. But my dad always said, Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I could have never of done it without a well-sorted car, good parts, testing, and practice.

Well, back to the garage, I need to get ready for 2011.

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