By Jim McIlvaine
The fourth stop in OPTIMA's 2020 Search for the Ultimate Street Car series, presented by Advance Auto Parts, took competitors to Atlanta Motorsports Park, just outside Dawsonville, Georgia. Often confused with nearby Road Atlanta and Atlanta Motorspeedway, this club track is nestled on a mountaintop just outside Bill Elliott's boyhood home of Dawsonville, Georgia. The track was designed by famed Formula One track architect, Hermann Tilke, who also designed Circuit of the Americas in Texas.
The road course circuit in Dawsonville features 16 turns and 98 feet of elevation changes, with cars almost constantly either heading uphill or downhill at nearly every point on the track. In addition to hosting the Falken Tire Road Course time trail, a portion of the 2-mile track was also coned off for use on the QA1 Autocross, while the keyhole skidpad was utilized for the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge. The Lucas Oil Road Rally took competitors past the legendary Dawsonville Pool Room to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
The Dawsonville event marked the first of the year East of the Rocky Mountains, essentially serving as the season-opener for many competitors on that side of the country. With three West coast events already having been run, the bar has been set in many classes, where a competitor's best three finishes count toward their season-long point totals.
After a lackluster performance at Pike's Peak, Jonathan Blevins wasn't taking any chances and came all the way from Oklahoma in search of a better third score in the GT Class. His '08 Shelby GT500 Mustang found it, with a season-best 471-point finish. That extended his point lead over Dennis Healy's '15 Ford Mustang from 25 points to 70 points.
Chris Smith's '70 Camaro is based out of Ohio, but as he saw CB Ramey's C4 Corvette building a formidable points lead in the Classic Car Liquidators GTV Class, he decided to do something about it and made the trip out to Pike's Peak. Ramey covered Smith by 20 points out there, but Smith followed that up with a 476-point class win at AMP. That brought him into sixth place in the standings after having run just two events and if he can post a 472-point performance at his next event, he'll pass Ramey for the lead...if Ramey doesn't bump up his total.
Austin Barnes' incredible 15-event GTS Class win streak came to an end at Atlanta Motorsports Park, as braking issues prevented him from making a clean lap on the Falken Tire Road Course time trial. That opened the door for Ryan Mathews' '02 Corvette to take home the class win, but Barnes' '09 Corvette still has a stranglehold on points in the class.
John Laughlin's 2019 Tesla Model 3 is the defending GTE Class champion for electic vehicles and he made his season debut in commanding fashion, grabbing a class-record 475 points that seems unlikely to be challenged for the rest of the season.
Eric Fleming has long been one of the top drivers in the series and he proved it again at AMP, taking home the Outlaw Class win in his '06 Corvette. However, a trip to Las Vegas later this year isn't in the cards for Fleming, so the SEMA invitation was accepted by the Outlaw runner-up, Adam Ulrich and his '01 Corvette.
Jake Rozelle's '03 Corvette captured the first three wins of the season in the Holley EFI GTL Class, but it was parked back in California when Robert DeuPree's '13 Lamborghini Gallardo took home the win in Georgia. DeuPree reeled in Rozelle's point lead somewhat in Georgia, but he'll still need at least two more strong finishes to pass him in the points.
The largest field of the season turned out for the GTC Class, but defending class champion, Brian Johns reaffirmed his position as top dog. There was hope that Doug Wind's 700-horsepower Dodge Neon might make an appearance and challenge Johns for a class win, but the SRT4 never materialized, so we'll have to see if it makes an appearance later this season and challenge Johns for the class championship.
It's a quick turnaround for the series, as it visits Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, for a mid-week showdown on August 13 & 14th. Learn more about the series and how you can get involved with your street car at www.DriveOPTIMA.com
GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Shelby GT500
2. Kong Chang, 2017 Shelby GT350
3. Luke Vigneault, 2011 Dodge Challenger R/T
Classic Car Liquidators GTV Class (pre-1990, 3200+ pounds)
1. Chris Smith, 1970 Chevrolet Camaro
2. Cody Puckett, 1970 Chevrolet Camaro
3. Bret Voelkel, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro
GTS Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Ryan Mathews, 2002 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Mike Gallagher, 2016 Ford Focus RS
3. Nate Mckeever, 2003 Chevrolet Corvette
GTE Class (Electric vehicles)
1. John Laughlin, 2019 Tesla Model 3
Holley EFI GTL Class (non-compacts under 3200 pounds)
1. Robert DeuPree, 2013 Lamborghini Gallardo
2. Paul Curley, 2003 Chevrolet Corvette ZO6
3. Garry Walsh, 2004 Chevrolet Corvette ZO6
GTC Class (two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Brian Johns, 1993 Mazda RX-7
2. Darren Garvin, 1973 Datsun 240Z
3. Dayton de la Houssaye, 2016 Mazda MX-5
Outlaw Class (relaxed aero rules, pro drivers allowed)
1. Eric Fleming, 2006 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Adam Ulrich, 2001 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Corrin Tyson, 2009 Honda Civic
Spirit of the Event Award:
Charles Davis, 1973 Chevrolet Camaro
2020 OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 14-15
Willow Springs International Raceway May 29-30
Pike's Peak International Raceway July 11-12
Atlanta Motorsports Park July 25-26
Road America August 13-14
NOLA Motorsports Park September 19-20
NCM Motorsports Park October 10-11
OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational November 7-8