(Words by Jim McIllvaine, Photos by Kaleb Kelly) By the time the world’s best street cars rolled into NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, five events were in the books for OPTIMA’s 2020 Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts. With just two qualifying events remaining, competitors were desperate for points and invitations to the 2020 OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI).
With the SEMA Show canceled, everyone knew the OUSCI would be different in 2020, with no one knowing when or where it would happen. What they did know is that the biggest street car showdown of the year wouldn’t disappoint. Competitors didn’t have to wait long to find out what they were fighting for, as an announcement was made at the Driver’s Meeting for the Lucas Oil Road Rally.
The 2020 OUSCI would be headed to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on November 1-3rd, as part of the larger Hi-Performance Expo event, which comes on the heels of the Moab 4×4 Expo. The qualifying series has run at this iconic track once before in 2016 and those who missed out on that sold-out event have been asking for a return trip ever since. They’ll get what they wanted, but first they have to get there and the road to COTA runs right through the Big Easy.
The forecast called for near-constant rain all weekend, but this series runs in the wet, as long as lightning isn’t present. The weather discouraged some, but those who showed up were definitely rewarded, as the smaller field yielded bigger point totals for everyone in attendance. With one qualifier remaining, the sold-out event at NCM Motorsports Park in early-October, we’ll take a look at some projections on who might earn a points invitation to the 2020 OUSCI. Keep in mind, these are only estimates, based on who is signed up to run at NCM and they don’t take into account who might win their way in at that event.
While Outlaw Class invitations are a straight seven spots for each qualifying event, every other class is awarded three entries to the top contenders in each class, who have not yet earned an invitation by season’s end. In the case of smaller classes, like GTE for electric vehicles, anyone who entered basically earns an invitation. However, things are far more competitive in the larger classes.
For instances, in the Classic Car Liquidators GTV Class, the class points invitations are likely to go to the Camaros campaigned by Chad Ryker (1,332 points), Nick Relampagos (1,309 points) and Jim Stehlin (1,270 points). Once three cars are invited from each class, ten additional entries are awarded to “at-large” entries, based on their point totals, regardless of class affiliation.
In past years, the cut-off has been around 1,000 points, which meant averaging around 333 points per event to earn an invitation. With some events seeing lower car counts in 2020, there were more points to be had by those in attendance. In New Orleans, nearly everyone who completed the weekend earned 400 points. However, those higher point totals mean the bar for getting into the OUSCI may end up being higher in 2020.
At this point, we project the final 10 points entries to go to the following competitors:
1. Paul Bulski, 1971 Buick GS 1,200 points
2. John McKissack, 1966 Ford Fairlane, 1,147 points
3. Allan Miller, 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle, 1140 points
4. Michael Rovere, 2008 Chevrolet Corvette, 1131 points
5. Scott Collins, 1968 Chevrolet Camaro, 1126 points
6. John Woods, 1970 Pontiac Firebird, 1122 points
7. Austin Keys, 2004 Pontiac GTO, 1104 points
8. Matt Ramirez, 2004 Ford Mustang, 1098 points
9. Brian Reilly, 2017 Chevrolet Camaro, 1067 points
- Nasario Birrueta, 2013 Ford Mustang, 1031 points
While this projected list shows five of the ten at-large entries coming from the Classic Car Liquidators GTV Class, in past years, other classes, like the Holley EFI GTL Class or GTS Class have dominated these at-large entries. The Pro-Touring movement obviously remains very strong in this series and the threshold does look like it will be higher than in past years.
With the final qualifier in Bowling Green already sold out, there’s not much competitors can do to improve their position, if they don’t have an entry into that event, but hope the numbers fall in their favor. With a free entry to Circuit of the Americas on the line and perhaps more surprises on the Texas horizon, several hopefuls have already been snapping up entries on the secondary market, but there aren’t many available at this point.
While many events have been canceled in 2020, Ultimate Street Car events are still taking place and spectators are welcome, although required to follow strict COVID-19 protocols. The 2020 TV series will premiere Friday, October 9th at 8PM ET/PT on MAVTV, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person. Admission is free for the final qualifier in Bowling Green, but there will be a spectator admission fee for the OUSCI. Learn more about the series and how you can enter your street car at www.DriveOPTIMA.com
GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc…)
1. Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Ford Mustang
2. Cliff Elliott, 2016 Ford Mustang
3. Kong Chang, 2017 Ford Mustang
Classic Car Liquidators GTV Class (pre-1990, 3200+ pounds)
1. CB Ramey, 1987 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Jason Bottenfield, 1969 Chevrolet Camaro
3. Jim Stehlin, 1973 Chevrolet Camaro
GTS Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Steve Kepler, 2013 Nissan GT-R
2. Thomas Marquez, 2015 Subaru Impreza
3. Gunnison Jones, 2006 Chevrolet Corvette
Holley EFI GTL Class (non-compacts under 3200 pounds)
1. Jake Rozelle, 2003 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Anthony Palladino, 1999 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Richard Forsythe, 2008 Chevrolet Corvette
GTC Class (two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Dayton de la Houssaye, 2016 Mazda MX-5
2. Tara Johns, 1995 Mazda Miata
3. James Garfield, 2019 Honda Civic Type R
Outlaw Class (relaxed aero rules, pro drivers allowed)
1. Feras Qartoumy, 2008 Chevrolet Corvette
Spirit of the Event Award:
Thomas Marquez, 2015 Subaru Impreza
2020 OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 14-15
Willow Springs International Raceway May 29-30
Pike’s Peak International Raceway July 11-12
Atlanta Motorsports Park July 25-26
Road America August 14-15
NOLA Motorsports Park September 19-20
NCM Motorsports Park October 10-11
OUSCI at Circuit of the Americas November 1-3