(Words by Jim McIlvaine) It’s been a weird 18 months in a lot of different and unexpected ways and that’s certainly been the case in OPTIMA’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts. Some fields have been jam-packed, while others have had plenty of room, which can potentially offer a lot of points for those pursuing championships and coveted invitations to the SEMA Show and OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational in Las Vegas.
There are seven regular season events in this series, but a competitor’s points are based on their best three outings. That makes it a lot harder for some rich guy to run away with a checkbook championship. Running in more events increases someone’s chances of accumulating more points, but if the events they run in are sold-out, points may still be harder to come by. The same can even be true for events that aren’t sold-out, but have a lot of “heavy hitter” cars in the field, that suck up a lot of points.
While competitors can earn Vegas invitations by winning events during the regular season, they can also take home an invitation if the class winner has already punched their ticket. Case in point, Jonathan Blevins won the GT Class in Atlanta, but already earned an invitation at the season-opener in Vegas. Second-place finisher, Kong Chang took home the next GT class invitation at New Orleans. That meant even though James Thomas finished third in Atlanta, because he was behind Chang and Blevins, he earned the invitation to Vegas.
Competitors can also earn invitations based on their season-long point totals, as the series organizers recognize not everyone has the resources to travel to every event. One person may run at the three toughest fields, while someone else may have run in the three easiest fields. To remedy that scenario, the top-three non-qualifiers from each class earn points invitations to SEMA and the OUSCI at the end of the year.
That still doesn’t address another issue that some classes may be tougher than others. To address that reality, there are also ten at-large entries awarded, based on point totals, regardless of class affiliation. Some simple math says six classes times three entries, plus another ten at-large entries seems like a lot of opportunities to get in and that’s true. However, as the season rolls on and more cars start running events, the points can get pretty scarce.
In looking the first four events in the 2021 season, we’ve seen a mixed bag of results. The season-opener in Vegas was sold-out and had plenty of stout cars in the field. Points were hard to come by in a big field to begin with, but it was made even tougher when cars like Bob Sobey’s Nissan GT-R & Jake Rozelle’s Corvette were grabbing 484 and 495 (out of 500) respectively. Others, like Efrain Diaz, who took home the Classic Car Liquidators GTV Class win, breathed a sigh of relief as the pressure was now off and he didn’t have to beat on his car and log a bunch of miles to pursue points for a Vegas invite.
In fact, as the series has matured, a lot of competitors have embraced that strategy. Jacob Fisher won the Holley EFI GTL Class at Atlanta Motorsports Park and had planned on running two more events this season. However, even if he took home 500 points at both of those events (which no one has ever done even once), he’d still finish 21 points behind Rozelle for the GTL class championship. He wisely opted out of those final two events to get his car prepped for Las Vegas.
That’s good news for everyone else running in those events, because Fisher’s Porsche grabbed a solid 464 points in Atlanta and there are some folks in desperate need of every point they can find. That story has also repeated itself with other competitors, but there are also guys like Preston Folkestad, who won the No-Limit Engineering GTT class in Atlanta, but is planning on running in at least two more events, in pursuit of a points championship. We may even see competitors like Sobey and Robert DeuPree with his Lamborghini add events to their schedule, if it looks like they could be in contention for a points championship.
So Vegas was a tough event, but the second event in New Orleans turned into a points bonanza for those who came out. A history of rain and a forecast for more might have kept some folks at home, but those who weren’t afraid to get a little wet were rewarded handsomely for their efforts…at least in terms of points. Dung Nguyen took home the GTC class win in Vegas with 328 points, but that point total would’ve place him last in New Orleans, 30 points behind the next competitor.
Would the third event at Willow Springs be tough or easy for points? A total of 40 cars ran at both Las Vegas and Willow Springs, with 32 scoring more points at Willow Springs, than they did at Vegas (Jake Rozelle scored 495 points at both) and almost all of the seven cars that scored fewer points ended their weekends early with mechanical issues.
Rain was again forecast for the event in Atlanta, which kept a lot of competitors away. However, it also served as the season-opener for a lot of top competitors, including Chris Smith, whose ’70 Camaro took home the Classic Car Liquidators GTV class win, Fisher in the Holley EFI GTL class, Ryan Mathews, whose ’02 Corvette won the GTS class and Brian Johns, who won the GTC class. Sixteen cars ran at both New Orleans and Atlanta, with a dozen scoring lower in the relatively-small field in Atlanta, Richard Forsythe posting an identical 465 points at both stops and three doing better (although at least one of those who improved had mechanical issues in New Orleans).
So two events have been noticeably easier to accumulate points at than the others. How will the remaining three events shake out? If entry lists are any indication, points won’t be easy to come by at any of those events. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably interested enough to find out how the points could project out for the remainder of the season, so we’ll share some projections with you here, but remind you that they are only projections and could change wildly in the final three events.
We’ll start with the GTS Class, where it looks like Sobey, DeuPree and Mathews will be in an epic battle for a points championship all the way to the end.
1,458 points Bob Sobey, 2013 GT-R
1,455 points Ryan Mathews, 2002 Corvette
1,440 points Robert DeuPree, 2013 Gallardo
1,407 points Gunnison Jones, 2006 Corvette
1,395 points Richard Forsythe, 2008 Corvette
1,320 points Tim Grant, 2008 Corvette
1,281 points Thomas Marquez, 2015 Impreza
1,278 points Robert Ellsworth, 1997 Viper
1,266 points Andy Voelkel, 2020 Corvette
1,254 points Ray Ellsworth, 2008 Viper
1,205 points Austin Keys, 2002 WRX
1,178 points Bret Voelkel, 2020 Corvette
1,155 points Vernon Jolley, 2019 Corvette
1,100 points Jim Boller, 2010 Corvette
1,095 points Al Radonski, 2008 Corvette
1,089 points Christine Crutcher, 2019 Corvette
We project the top four cars in that class will earn their invitations at events during the season, which means the three class invitations on points could go to Forsythe, Marquez and Robert Ellsworth. However, there are plenty of wildcards at play here. Jordan Priestley is set to run a Tesla in Utah. That has to be considered Priestley’s home track and if it runs like John Laughlin’s Tesla did, it could snap up an invitation in his only outing of the season. If it doesn’t, the class win could easily go to Kevin Schultz’s Porsche 996 Turbo, which has probably logged more miles on that track than just about everyone else in the entire field combined. Glen Barnhouse also has to be considered a contender.
So the Utah invitation could push someone down the points list, if it is a one-off competitor. Clay Shearer has done that in past years and his Porsche 911 Turbo S could do it again at Road America or NCM Motorsports Park. We listed out 16 competitors, because historically, if someone grabbed 1,000 points during the regular season, they’d probably get an invitation to Las Vegas. However, that may not be the case in 2021.
If the class invitations play out as predicted and Grant grabs the NCM invite, that still leaves eight cars on that list, looking for one of ten points invitations and there are cars in five other classes doing the same. So let’s take a look at how the other classes could shake out.
The Holley EFI GTL Class isn’t nearly as large as the GTS class, but they still have plenty of big guns. Here’s how they could finish up:
1,485 points, Jake Rozelle, 2003 Corvette
1,377 points, Michael Rovere, 2008 Corvette
1,359 points, Scot Spiewak, 2007 Corvette
1,348 points, CB Ramey, 1984 Corvette
1,304 points, Chad Sage, 2016 GT3RS
1,155 points, Greg Matthews, 2008 Corvette
1,055 points, Colt Nixon, 2000 Corvette
1,007 points, Troy de la Houssaye, 2021 TT-RS
We project the top-five in this list will grab invitations in the regular season, although Carrie Willhoff could knock everyone back one spot if she wins there. We also think Paul Curley could grab the invitation at NCM Motorsports Park, which would send the class invitations to Greg Matthews, Colt Nixon and Troy de la Houssaye. It is worth noting that de la Houssaye’s point total could trend much higher, given that his Audi had mechanical issues in New Orleans and ran far better in Atlanta.
The GT Class is where things may get really challenging for folks trying to earn points, because it has traditionally been one of the largest and most-competitive classes in the series.
1,440 points, Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Mustang
1,349 points, Matt Ramirez, 2004 Mustang
1,310 points, Kong Chang, 2017 Mustang
1,296 points, James Thomas, 2016 Mustang
1,288 points, Clayton Yates, 2016 Camaro
1,284 points, Robert Weathers, 2018 Camaro
1,273 points, Matt Ales, 2011 M3
1,255 points, Luke Vigneault, 2011 Challenger
1,236 points, Michael Ellison, 2017 Mustang
1,233 points, Jesse Shaffer, 2015 SS
1,222 points, Dennis Healy, 2015 Mustang
1,219 points, August Falkner, 2021 Camaro
1,189 points, Danny Weller, 2017 Camaro
1,185 points, Bill Haynie, 2013 Mustang
1,159 points, Koda Atwood, 2018 Camaro
1,070 points, Ashton Robinson, 2018 Camaro
1,064 points, Lori Collett, 2018 Camaro
1,059 points, Alex Kim, 2020 Camaro
1,040 points, Bob Folkestad, 2020 Mustang
1,038 points, Jonathon Bradford, 2005 Mustang
1,020 points, Dave Dash, 2018 Camaro
If event invitations are predicted to go to Ramirez in Utah, Elliott at Road America and Weathers at NCM, that would send class invitations to Yates, Ales and Vigneault. That could potentially leave four more competitors over 1,200 points and another nine over 1,000 points. There’s also a good chance these predictions could be overstated, because some are estimated on performances at events where higher point totals were common.
What isn’t overstated is the fact that there are a lot of vehicles running in this series, that are very closely-matched with each other. Wherever the points end up after the next three events, we expect it to be very tight, but before we get to the at-large invitations, let’s look at the other three classes, starting with the GTC Class
1,377 points, John Laughlin, 2007 S2000
1,344 points, Doug Wind, 2004 SRT-4
1,288 points, James Garfield, 2019 Civic Type R
1,224 points, Dayton de la Houssaye, 2009 MX-5
1,141 points, Matt Davis, 2004 Vibe
1,014 points, Steve Wong, 1992 Civic
GTC is an interesting class, because there are some competitors not on this list, who could easily grab an invitation at an event, including Sammy Valafar at Utah, Jeff Schwartz at Road America and Thomas Litton, who could win at either of those events and/or score significantly more points than he did at the season-opener. If Litton is unable to grab a points invitation at an event or move up significantly in points, the class invitations would likely be extended to de la Houssaye, Davis and Wong, but these standings are still very fluid.
The No-Limit Engineering GTT class is the smallest and newest class in the series. As such, it provides the best odds for earning an invitation to Vegas (outside of the Outlaw class, which is not eligible for the OUSCI title). As of this writing, there are 19 trucks that have run or are signed up to do so and with each class guaranteed 10 entries, that’s slightly better than a 50/50 chance of making it. There is also some uncertainty as to whether Matthew Mielczarke, whose C10 had mechanical issues earlier this season, will run again. If it does, the totals could look like this:
1,266 points, Nick Angell, 1971 C10
1,099 points, Preston Folkestad, 1984 C10
876 points, George Dias, 2002 Lightning
713 points, Sean Kelly, 1967 C10
684 points, Matthew Mielczarek, 1970 C10
656 points, David Hollis, 1979 C10
654 points, Wesley McFarland, 1970 C10
604 points, Hondo Miller, 1970 Blazer
576 points, Dustin Reed, 1972 C10
What’s worth noting here is that only Angell, Folkestad & Dias are signed up to run three events at this point. If anyone else on that list (or not on the list) opted to run three events, they would likely be a lock for earning an invitation to Las Vegas. Four names not on that list include Tyler Gibson, Jesse Vaughn, Rob MacGregor and Matt Bacon. All four are series veterans and all four are signed up to run two events before the end of the year. If they do, all four could easily move into that list ahead of everyone but the three at the top, who are scheduled to run three events. So at least for 2021, the GTT Class is the (relatively) easy path to Vegas- just run three events.
If the GTT Class is the “easy” button, the Classic Car Liquidators Class might be the “hard” button. The combination of it being the largest class and the vehicles all being built before 1990 and potentially less reliable than late-model cars makes it very hard to punch a ticket. While the Camaros of Nick Relampagos and Jason Bottenfield jumped to the top of the pack after the first two events, some of the top contenders hadn’t even begun to compete. Two events later and the Camaros of Wayne Atkins and Charles Davis are knocking on the door and Chris Smith’s Camaro posted the highest point total of the season, with three more events on his schedule.
Brian Hobaugh will once again make a run at an invite in Utah and if his Camaro lives up to it’s potential, he’ll grab that invitation. We could also see Jim Stehlin’s Camaro grabbing an invitation at Road America and Jason Bottenfield’s Camaro doing the same at NCM. With the top four points spots carrying invitations from events, that could send class invitations to Wayne Atkins, Charles Davis and Paul Bulski. That could still potentially leave seven GTV cars at over 1,000 points and looking for an at-large invitation:
1,428 points, Chris Smith, 1970 Camaro
1,388 points, Jason Bottenfield, 1969 Camaro
1,362 points, Jim Stehlin, 1973 Camaro
1,351 points, Nick Relampagos, 1970 Camaro
1,335 points, Wayne Atkins, 1985 Camaro
1,251 points, Charles Davis, 1973 Camaro
1,176 points, Paul Bulski, 1971 GS
1,157 points, Robert Britton, 1965 Mustang
1,155 points, Carl Roeger, 1968 El Camino
1,143 points, Andrew Scott, 1987 Grand National
1,089 points, Garrett Randall, 1970 Corvette
1,037 points, John McKissack, 1966 Fairlane
1,019 points, Bret Madsen, 1968 Camaro
If it sounds like anything is a given in this class, it isn’t. There are names like Larry Woo, Chad Ryker and Chris King that could throw a monkeywrench in these projections and knock everyone back several spots. At this point, we’ve lost track of how many cars could finish the season over 1,000 points, but suffice to say, it’s a big number. That leads us to those final at-large invitation to the SEMA Show and OUSCI. How could those potentially play out? Here’s a potential list of at-large invitations to start with:
1,266 points, Andy Voelkel, 2020 Corvette GTS
1,254 points, Ray Ellsworth, 2008 Viper GTS
1,236 points, Michael Ellison, 2017 Mustang GT
1,233 points, Jesse Shaffer, 2015 SS GT
1,222 points, Dennis Healy, 2015 Mustang GT
Last Five In:
1,219 points, August Falkner, 2021 Camaro GT
1,205 points, Austin Keys, 2002 WRX GTS
1,189 points, Danny Weller, 2017 Camaro GT
1,185 points, Bill Haynie, 2013 Ford Mustang GT
1,178 points, Bret Voelkel, 2020 Corvette GTS
First Five Out:
1,159 points, Koda Atwood, 2018 Camaro GT
1,157 points, Robert Britton, 1965 Mustang GTV
1,155 points, Carl Roeger, 1968 El Camino GTV
1,155 points, Vernon Jolley, 2019 Corvette GTS
1,143 points, Andrew Scott, 1987 Grand National GTV
There’s obviously not much cushion for any of those folks and fortunes can change dramatically with each event. That’s part of what makes this series so exciting and why you should definitely catch it in-person or on MAVTV every Friday night at 8PM ET/PT. Take a look at the winners and a massive photo gallery from the most-recent event at Atlanta Motorsports Park below and head over to www.DriveOPTIMA.com to learn how you can be a part of this series in your street car or truck.
Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc…)
1. Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Ford Mustang
2. Kong Chang, 2017 Ford Mustang
3. James Thomas, 2016 Ford Mustang
Classic Car Liquidators GTV Class (pre-1990, 3200+ pounds)
1. Chris Smith, 1970 Chevrolet Camaro
2. Cody Puckett, 1970 Chevrolet Camaro
3. Wayne Atkins, 1985 Chevrolet Camaro
GTS Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Ryan Mathews, 2002 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Richard Forsythe, 2008 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Andy Voelkel, 2020 Chevrolet Corvette
Holley EFI GTL Class (non-compacts under 3200 pounds)
1. Jacob Fisher, 1985 Porsche 944
2. Danny King, 2019 Porsche GT3RS
3. Troy de la Houssaye, 2021 Audi TT RS
No Limit Engineering GTT Class (Trucks & SUVs over 3200 pounds)
1. Preston Folkestad, 1984 Chevrolet C10
2. Nate McKeever, 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee
3. Henry Crawn, 1968 Ford F100
GTC Class (two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Brian Johns, 1993 Mazda RX-7
2. John Laughlin, 2007 Honda S2000
3. Doug Wind, 2004 Dodge SRT-4
Outlaw Class (relaxed aero rules, pro drivers allowed)
1. Anthony Palladino, 1969 Datsun Sports 2000
2. David Owens, 2014 Chevrolet Camaro
Summit Racing Spirit of the Event Award:
Chris Rhinehart, 1972 Chevrolet Nova
2021 OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 20-21
NOLA Motorsports Park April 10-11
Willow Springs International Raceway May 28-29
Atlanta Motorsports Park June 19-20
Utah Motorsports Campus July 17-18
Road America August 20-21
NCM Motorsports Park October 9-10
OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational LVMS November 6-7