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						Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge 6

Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge

By Deb Murphy

Back in early November, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the scene of what could best be described as an car builder’s Valhalla. More than 100 street-legal cars, both domestic and imported muscle, along with station wagons and vintage pick-ups—and an odd assortment of wolves in sheep’s clothing—competed for top dog at the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge (OUSCC). The cars pounded through a two-day gauntlet accompanied by a soundtrack of engines growling to redline.

About the only thing the motley collection of qualifiers had in common was their street-legal status. Of course, each of them had to have already excelled in one of a dozen or so OUSCC regional events to get to the championship round in the Nevada desert. While all of the participants could have legally driven to the competition, each pushed that technicality to its limits, maxing out horsepower, balancing the rest of the drivetrain to match, and tweaking suspensions to put the power to the pavement.

The event demanded prowess in several different feats of performance: flying through a side-by-side autocross course (the Ride Tech Street Challenge Autocross), drifting through turns on the road course (BFGoodrich Hot Lap Challenge) and gauging max speed in preparation for a stop-on-a-dime finale (Wilwood Disc Brakes Speed Stop Challenge). Others included the Lingenfelter Performance Design Challenge and a 25-mile cruise through the streets of Las Vegas (Ride Tech Street Challenge Autocross), a daunting challenge in itself.

Danny Popp came out as top dog in a 2003 Corvette Z06. It was a repeat performance as Popp had claimed the championship at the 2011 event. Max points in each event was 25. Popp’s Lingenfelter-powered Vette beat out Brandon Ranvek behind the wheel of a 2006 Mitsubishi Evo by 0.467 points— barely the width of a feeler gauge.

 With multiple autocross championships to his credit and a 9-to-5 job race-prepping Corvettes, Danny Popp sealed the 2014 OUSCC championship with a two-second edge over the next competitor in the Hot Lap roads course, with a time of 1:43.593. Popp installed a high-performance drivetrain focused on the Lingenfelter LS7 388 engine that delivers 550 hp at the wheels. The suspension got special attention with custom leaf springs, bushings, double adjustable shocks, custom three-piece sway bars and Baer 6-piston brakes. Popp’s already registered for the first OUSCC event at Thunder Hill

Brandon Ranvek describes his 2006 Evo as, “A beast. The most important ingredient is seat time with the vehicle. I know this vehicle, this chassis.” He obviously does know the Mitsubishi. In his first year at the Challenge, Ranvek took first place in the dual autocross and speed-stop challenges. Ranvek upgraded and tweaked the Evo’s suspension and modified the stock engine to generate over 100 hp per cylinder. “I’m impressed at the quality of the builds,” Ranvek said, “then watching these cars get pushed like the builders intended.” Ranvek will be back next year to see if he can unseat Popp, but first he’s rebuilding the engine to handle the racing abuse.

A General Motors Engineering Group Manager and former Program Manager of the Camaro Z/28 program, Mark Steilow brought, what else, a ‘69 Chevy Camaro to this year’s championship run. The Camaro was an evolution of three of the previous cars he had run at Challenge events. A performance car builder since the age of 16, Steilow got his first taste of the Challenge in 2009 and plans on coming back this year, but not in the same car. 

Andy Smedegard finished in 11th place with his daily driver, a 2001 Honda S2000. The 29-year-old Wisconsin IT specialist got involved in competitive driving six years ago and was talked into the Challenge event at Michigan Speedway by a group of racing buddies. The only street car he had was the Honda, upgraded with a bigger front sway bar and an AEM intake. He won. In preparation for the championship, he added a supercharger and a Ground Control suspension, then spiffed it up with a matte-yellow wrap. “I was racing my $10,000 daily drive against $100,000 plus cars that you only get to see on TV,” he said of the Vegas Challenge. He may retire the S2000 this year and return his Mitsubishi Evo back to street legal.

Wes Drelleshak’s 1959 Chevy Apache Fleetside stood out as what he hoped would be an inspiration to other builders to go for pure performance combined with the patina look. “It was what I had at the time and I thought ‘Why not?” Drelleshak said. He and the Apache finished 37th, a respectable finish considering the competition. With the help of a Fillmore, Calif. rod and custom shop, Drelleshak installed a No Limit Engineering front and rear suspension, Brake Man performance brakes, Ride Tech triple adjustable shocks and Falken tires. He powered-tuned a Black Widow exhaust at a shop in nearby Escondido and replaced suspension points with FK rod ends. For next year’s run, Drelleshak may swap out the Fleetside’s tranny. “I couldn’t shift above 5000 rpm without grinding gear,” he winced. “That’s a huge disadvantage.”

After supporting family and friends at OUSCC events for the last four years, Deb Farrington manned up and entered with her 1964 Chevy Chevelle wagon. She and her husband bought the ’64 in 2003 to give them something to both drive and play with until a 1966 Chevelle was finished. Over the last 11 years the firefighter/paramedic for the Indianapolis Fire Department and her husband upgraded the chassis with all DSE suspension parts, Baer brakes, a new ZZ4 crate engine with Holley fuel injection and a T-56 six-speed tranny. Farrington plans on working on working on her driving skills this year.

Randy Johnson’s 1973 Chevy Camaro was brought to life as a display car for SEMA 2013. The owner, with his wife, of D&Z Customs in Kewaskum, Wis., the car was a vision of what Johnson thought would make the second-generation Camaro work better on the track. “We tested suspension set-ups to get the car dialed in and handle better in different situations,” he said. “We also gave the engine more linear power.” A veteran of the OUSCC since 2009, Johnson will be building a C5 Corvette for this year’s competition.


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