Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge – The ST held it's own

What is an underdog? Webster’s dictionary defines it as “a person, team, etc., that is expected to lose a contest or battle.” So by knowing this, and freely accepting a level of competition, what would the mindset of said underdog be? Not to get too philosophical but, in vehicular competition this could be demonstrated in two ways. One, in a car that you have no emotional connection with (i.e. beater), or two, with something that you do love and want to get the best out if it knowing it’s limits and your own personal ones and come out unscathed. The latter would describe my own experiences at the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge. By taking my daily driver out (a 2014 Ford Focus ST Mountune MP275), I wanted to gain confidence and improve my own driver skills. I also wanted to have a lot of fun. But my story is one of many, the people and the grassroots emphasis of how the event feels is perhaps the most interesting so let’s dive into what makes the event so special.
Bright and early on day one, I was anxious to say the least. While waiting for registration I started seeing the competition arrive, mostly in large race trailers in sponsored vehicles. Some seemed a bit less “flashy” but just seeing how those cars were set up they were sure to be dominant on the track. I will be honest my nerves started to get the best of me. But our fearless leader Jeff Glucker said something that stuck with me for the rest of the weekend, “soak it in and don’t worry about anybody else…drive like you belong.” 
Driver’s meetings and interviews ensued before we were let out of the stable to get our day started. We all walked the courses we would be running for the day which consisted of a fairly high-speed autocross and a start/stop challenge. Because I am the knuckle head that I am I thought I had all my safety gear in order…that was not the case. Wrong safety rating on my helmet meant I had to share. Luckily, Friend-of-Hooniverse Jason Torchinsky was there in his 1973 Beetle so we shared the paddock and helmets for the weekend. This gave me an opportunity to see the competition at full pace and then I saw the Beetle run. Hats off to Jason because this was probably the best thing I saw all weekend. Seeing that Beetle lean and squeal through the autocross shows what the spirit of the event is. If you are ever at a track or autocross and there are instructors there giving training, take them up on it. I always want to improve my abilities and had my instructor go over what to expect over the course that was set up. After 9 runs I dropped my time by 2.7 seconds and was quite happy with the results. This is my daily driver after all and I have to be able to drive back after the events the next day so I decided to let the ST cool down in the paddock.
After giving the brakes and tires a thorough work out throughout the day, we moved onto the Road Rally portion of the event… basically your standard Poker Run. The route is designed to encompass rough road surfaces, stop and go traffic, and highways through a variety of mixed traffic. For some of my competition this could be a very difficult task as this will be the proof that your car is in fact a street car. One casualty that comes to mind was the lovely orange 69 Firebird that suffered a fuel pump issue on the final exit on the way back to the speedway. Suffering a point loss by not getting back in time I was very happy to see that the next morning they were able to fit a stock fuel pump so that they were able participate in the road course portion. The next day we moved over to the infield course at the Auto Club Speedway. We did our track orientation with a few lead-follow laps and were separated into 3 groups; Expert, Advanced, and Novice. I’ve had some track experience but opted for Novice because I didn’t feel a need to risk my car to go into point by passing. Lap after lap I was starting to feel more comfortable with how the ST behaves on track. At one point I was behind a 2011 911 GT3 RS and held with it in a few corners and then was completely blown away after that, oh well. At the end of the day, points were awarded and invitations to Las Vegas were sent out to the top performers. The most special award was given to Wes Drelleshak whom you may have seen his 1959 Chevrolet Apache in an episode of Big Muscle on /DRIVE. He spent 3 weeks getting his truck ready for the event and was given the “Spirit of the Event” award. If you have ever wanted to see what you and your car are capable of this is the event for you. Even if not for the competition but for the overwhelming feeling and fine example of what car culture is. Special Thanks for Optima Batteries for hosting the event. [Disclaimer: Optima let us enter the street challenge, and didn’t charge us a dime for the pleasure of doing so.] [Photo Credit: Optima Batteries and Optima Jim, TCI Engineering, Kahn Media, and Pro-Touring.com]

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