Optima Batteries has decided to be even more awesome by sponsoring another racing series. But this isn’t your average operation. You don’t have to sell the right half of your brain to afford the tires. It’s a series strictly for street cars: the Ultimate Street Car Association. You can only run what you drove in, and it’s designed to be the best looking racing series of the year.
This whole sphere of genius started back in 2009 at a small automotive event in the desert called SEMA. You probably haven’t heard of it. The idea was that race organizers would host this big championship, the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, for the coolest and best performing street cars in America. Then they’d bring in their 20 favorite cars from SEMA to join the party. It was of course, a massive success, and Optima has run the OUSCI every year since.
This year they launch the Ultimate Street Car Association, a nationwide racing series similarly structured and pointing toward the OUSCI at SEMA. If you win, you get in. There are 10 events, ranging from March to October, and set everywhere from Laguna Seca to Pittsburg and Sebring to Portland. There’s even an event near us, just outside St. Louis. I’m going to try to blackmail my boss so he’ll let me go cover it in July.
At PRI last month, I tried to keep myself composed while I talked to co-founder Jimi Day about the series.
Here’s how a USCA weekend breaks down:
Road Rally – Each event starts with a rally to get to the race track. Sadly, this isn’t a mudslinging, drift-happy rally like we see in the WRC. It’s the other kind that focuses on navigation and timing consistency. But though it’s not for speed, the rally segment serves a few key functions. It makes sure every car is street legal, glass to tires. You have to run an alternator. (Unsurprisingly, organizers recommend it’s charging an Optima Red Top or an Optima Yellow Top. Optima Blue Tops are not recommended.) It encourages families to ride along, proving the practical streetability of the participants. And it’s fun. It’s a cruise, dude.
Though you can trailer your car to the start of the rally, you have to leave your trailer there. Every bit of equipment and tooling you need for the whole event must be carried in the car. So use one with a trunk. You’re also allowed but one set of tires for the whole event, so you can’t mount your illegal R Compounds on the roof rack for autocross.
Autocross – It’s just like your routine, weekend autocross, but instead of rusted Sentras and caged Miatas, this one is populated with vintage Mustangs and C2 Corvettes. I love that they included the Autocross, not only because it’s one of the best ways to test driver skill, but also because it’s not often you see classic, glistening muscle cars dodging cones. Usually when they’re driven at all it’s down the 1320. Autocross also encourages suspension modification, which is a swiftly growing field within the resto-modding community. If you want to banish your leaf springs for a set of trunk-mounted pushrods like Mike Maier, you’re probably going to stand out between the cones.
Speed/Stop – It’s like a drag race, but it requires upgraded brakes. No more drums on your ‘60s-era muscle car.
Design and Engineering – Vintage racing is pretty common. But the D&E section of a USCA event sets it apart from most vintage races. Since USCA uses a point system, with each segment counting toward a total, D&E could cost or win you the event. Yes, your car needs to be fast, responsive, and maneuverable, but it also needs to look good. As much as I love a hardcore racing series that’s all about speed, it’s nice to see one that’s also about the visual spectacle.
Timed Laps – This is what will probably get everybody there. It’s a real life road course, with the top classes allowed to pass in certain sections of the track. I’ll bet if you really concentrate during this portion of the weekend, you’ll be able to imagine a different world: one in which all the marketing language ever slapped on the sports cars in America finally comes to life. GT means Grand Tourer. R/T means Road and Track. The things you imagined doing with your muscle car when you were 9 and you first saw the commercial for it, you finally get to do. And thanks to the wonders of resto-modding, you won’t kill yourself this time.
So if you have a beautiful, classic street car that you’ve given a pro-touring onceover, and you finally want to be able to push it to its limits in a safe and legal environment, check out the USCA.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.