The Ultimate Street Car Association is a relatively new, grassroots motorsports organization focused on providing a unique and fun racing experience for people with track-ready street cars. Their Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car is a comprehensive competition that focuses on both the track readiness and street readiness of the entrants’ vehicles. Over the course of two days drivers participate in an autocross competition, “speed stop” competition, hot lap challenge on a road course, a road rally on real highways, and a design and engineering competition that is as much about the performance upgrades to the car as it is about the creature comforts and road worthiness of the vehicle. Day one of the Charlotte event was held at the ZMax Dragway in the West parking lot, which is where the CCR-SCCA holds their autocrosses. The second day was set exclusively for the road course event, which was held inside Charlotte Motor Speedway and included racing on the NASCAR oval as well as the infield. I chose to enter in only the first day competitions, because my greater goal is winning the CCR-SCCA rookie of the year title and didn’t feel like the car was prepared for the abuses of track driving. Additionally, I would rather not be on track without a five-point harness and roll cage, or at least I know I wouldn’t get the most out of the car without it.
The day of the event was blisteringly hot with temperatures peaking in the low 90’s. A sold out field of 75 entrants made for an active paddock full of amazing cars. The field was entirely American classic or modern muscle cars except for a Porsche 944 with an LS3, two Impreza WRX’s (including mine), a Mitsubishi Evo, a Honda Civic Si, 2017 Mazda MX-5, and a couple of sport SUV’s. Tech inspection was taken care of the night before, which was easy and painless, so Saturday morning was calm. The action got started around 10am after track walks and a driver’s meeting. My run group was set to autocross in the morning and speed stop in the afternoon. For both events, you can run as many autocross and speed stop laps as you can fit into the allotted time. It took about 20-25 minutes to cycle through the entire run group for autocross and 12-15 minutes for speed stop, which added up to almost ten possible autocross runs and even more speed stop runs. With this kind of seat time and no work assignments the value is abundantly clear. The competitors brought outstanding vehicles, which turned any downtime into an amazing car show to walk through, hear and smell. Despite this incredible assembly of hot rods and speed machines, I felt very welcomed by everyone at the event. The usual suspects were apparent but didn’t form uninviting cliques or cast shade at the newcomers. Even the race director made a point to stop by to ask how my car and I were doing and to make sure that I was enjoying the event. Hot, sweaty and tired, I left the event very happy with my time and money spent competing at my first USCA Charlotte event. Since the road rally destination was my stomping grounds, GoPro Motorplex, I decided to head home early since I wasn’t racing for points as a one-day competitor. I’m sure the after party was a blast though! I plan to return next year with more power and better handling to continue on my path of building an Ultimate Street Car.
Speaking of, this event was the debut for my Hawk HP+ brake pads, Powerslot rotors, and Eibach camber bolts. A snafu with the mechanic I enlisted to align my car put my suspension settings in a less than precise position, but I know that my front camber was somewhere between -2.6 and -2.8 deg, my rear camber was in the range of 0 deg to -.8 deg, and I set my front toe out 1/16″ and rear toe out 1/8″. The change in handling characteristic was astounding. My car was so much more responsive with a tendency to oversteer (for the first time!) that I even went two-feet-in at one point in my first run in order to catch back up to the car! After that first run I knew what to expect and was able to make more and more speed out of the car. The tires came in with much more even heat distributions across the treads, and it was clear that I wasn’t rolling over onto the sidewalls as much. On some hard, off-camber corners I could still get the tires chirping and sliding on reduced contact patch, but that occurrence was greatly reduced. The increase in cornering grip was immediately evident and a freer car meant I could get the car to rotate through the corner better. With these improvements in hand it seems like the next step is to reduce roll through bigger swaybars and stiffer springs (coupled with better dampers, of course). I’m looking forward to my next CCR autocross to really validate the changes I made. The USCA course was more open and faster, likely to accommodate the hot rods in the group and to make for better TV, so the next SCCA event will really show what it can do. The new rotors and pads also made for greatly improved stopping power. I could brake harder and with more confidence than ever before, which really showed in the speed stop competition. Before the next SCCA autocross I’ll be installing stainless steel brake lines at all four corners in order to improve braking responsiveness and control. Look out for a tech article on the camber bolts installation as well as more information on the brake upgrades coming soon.
After seeing what I was up against at the competition, not finishing last became my true goal. I’m glad that I didn’t finish last, but I think that in the end it wouldn’t have mattered. I learned a lot and had a great time connecting with other car nuts, which is what this is all about in the first place.