by Jim McIlvaine
Kaleb Kelley’s photo
CB Ramey’s 1987 Corvette won the 2020 OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), presented by Advance Auto Parts, by just one point. Each track position is worth one point in three different timed disciplines and the margin is often measured in thousandths of a second and fractions of an inch.
You might be wondering why we should be conducting a story on OPTIMA’s OUSCI 2021, providing year-old news, but perspective is important here. There are other racing series that have failed to produce such a close finish as Ramey’s victory in 2020 and with MAVTV crews documenting all the action, runner-up, Jake Rozelle, was constantly reminded that the his 2003 Corvette was at the losing end of that paper-thin margin.
Rozelle took it all slow and renewed her commitment to do everything in her power to be the winning end of things in 2021. He repeated himself as the Holley EFI GTL class champion throughout the regular season and amassed more points than anyone else (1,484 out of a possible 1,500) on the way to a second regular season Grand Champion title.
On the other hand, Ramey has stumbled badly throughout the year. He made major changes to his Corvette C4, including weight reduction that moved him out of the GTV Classic Car Liquidators class and into the Holley EFI GTL class. He tried and failed several times during the regular season, to put together a decent run at an event. His 2020 championship gave him an automatic invitation to defend his title the following year, but the qualifying series still has the important purpose of allowing competitors to rock their cars and make the necessary changes, before heading to Las Vegas for the SEMA Show and the OUSCI.
It wasn’t until the last qualifying event of the year that Ramey managed to put together a run of over 490 points (500 is a perfect score in a weekend), a feat that Rozelle had already accomplished four times in that point. However, Ramey’s run in Kentucky seemed to indicate that he had his C4 ready for action in Las Vegas and Rozelle would leave nothing to chance.
For the first time in the history of the OUSCI, one of the timed driving segments, the Peak Performance Challenge, was held right at the SEMA Show, in the Bronze lot, next to the south pavilion. No one knew how spectators would react and the Peak Performance Challenge is a relatively unique event in motorsports, testing a vehicle’s ability to accelerate on an unprepared surface and stop within the confines of a 20 × 40 stop box. .
It didn’t take long for the motorsports-savvy crowd to cling to what was transpiring as car after car slid into the stall, enveloped in a cloud of tire smoke. These weren’t just slammed drift cars that burned tires hidden under zip-tied bumpers. These were some of the absolute best examples of show cars anyone would find anywhere on the SEMA Show.
Two-time OUSCI champion, Mike DuSold, provided live commentary on a PA system, to fill in the blanks and help the audience understand how critical each race was to these competitors. The smoke and noise attracted thousands of spectators and the pressure increased for the competitors, who were not used to having such a large gallery of busy observers.
AWD / ABS cars shone in this segment, as they often do, but that was just the beginning and for Ramey & Rozelle, with their focus clearly on their performance over the other. Ramey finished sixth and Rozelle finished fifth, giving Rozelle a point ahead. The next segment was the Lucas Oil Road Rally, which was worth 100 points for every competitor who completed it. Like every year, that segment sustained several cars that were injured after the Peak Performance Challenge and were unable to drive on public roads all the way to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Once there, the competitors lined up for Saturday’s QA1 Autocross. Ramey won in that segment and with Jordan Priestley’s Tesla Model 3 2021 finishing just ahead of Rozelle in second place, Jake’s one point lead morphed into a one point lag. The results of the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge would be published during Sunday lunch break, but not before the morning sessions of the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial.
Braking problems plagued Ramey all morning and only one of the morning sessions went without black or red flags flying. Rozelle’s Corvette ran flawlessly and posted the best time of the morning, but in the final session before lunch, Ramey hit the scoreboard with his top-10. When the Design & Engineering results were released during lunchtime, Ramey was listed as the overall winner, with Rozelle finishing with a five-point deficit in that segment.
Rozelle was already at the top of the road course standings and could not accumulate more points. With the Design & Engineering results serving as a tiebreaker, some quick calculations told Rozelle that he needed four cars to get around Ramey in the afternoon sessions, in order to capture the OUSCI title and that was only if Ramey failed to run faster in the afternoon. Given Ramey’s prowess on the road, it seemed like an unlikely scenario and Rozelle was once again looking to another OUSCI defeat with minimal margin.
The fastest cars on the Falken Tire Road course typically come out of the GTL and GTS classes, but many of the cars closest to Ramey’s passing were GT class cars, which seemed less likely. Even if Dave Schotz’s Camaro and Jonathan Blevins’ Mustang managed to get around Ramey, that would still put Rozelle’s Corvette on par with Ramey’s, with the tie-break going to Ramey.
However, as the afternoon racing sessions were underway, the cars chasing Rozelle for first place and overtaking Ramey in the process began to grow. Michael Levitas’ Porsche GT2RS and Bob Sobey’s Nissan GT-R were soon joined by Michael Rovere’s Corvette and Schotz’s Camaro. Ramey’s lead was wearing off and with an unreliable brake system, there was little he could do about it.
Entering the final group of the day, Ramey clung to a point ahead of Rozelle and history seemed to repeat itself again, but a strange thing happened on the way to the podium. Clayton Yates “Camaro and Jonathan Blevins” Mustang both found the speed they needed to get around Ramey in that final session and Rozelle’s championship was delivered on the same plate from a point that served Ramey’s title in 2020.
Hollywood couldn’t have made a more dramatic ending and the excitement was evident in both when Ramey presented the trophy to Rozelle. For an event that saw more than 90 entries in 90 years of production vehicles, it all came down to a point, decided by a split second or a glance at a cone. The competition is so fierce and the outcome so unpredictable. If you weren’t there to watch it all in person, be sure to watch the TV series every Friday night at 8pm ET / PT on MAVTV.
The 2021 program will be announced shortly and registrations will open next month at www.DriveOPTIMA.com
OUSCI Top Ten Finisher
1. Jake Rozelle, 2003 Chevrolet Corvette
- CB Ramey, 1987 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Bob Sobey, 2013 Nissan GT-R
4. Mike Rovere, 2008 Chevrolet Corvette
5. Brian Johns, 1993 Mazda RX-7
6. Ryan Mathews, 2002 Chevrolet Corvette
7. Jordan Priestley, Tesla Model 3 of 2021
8. Michael Levitas, Porsche GT2RS 2014
9. Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Ford Mustang
10. Efrain Diaz, Chevrolet Camaro 1969