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Posted: Oct 21, 2014

2014 OUSCI Preview- Joe Escobar's 1974 Ford Pinto

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Before we get too far in on the preview of Joe Escobar's 1974 Ford Pinto, we need to make it clear that his is likely to be one of the most-intimidating entries in the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), presented by KN Filters. It's a phenomenon that seems to happen every year, with cars like VW Beetles, Chevy Sonics and the like. They are all fairly-mundane sounding on the surface, but take a deeper dive into the vehicle and that is rarely the case for anything that makes it's way into the OUSCI.
 
That's where the intimidation factor begins. OUSCI competitors know the field is stacked with outrageous, but totally street-legal cars and trucks. However, that is less obvious to casual observers, who make up the vast majority of the audience, whether that is someone watching at home on TV, reading about the OUSCI in their favorite magazine or scanning the results online. As soon as those folks see "Pinto" in the standings, their immediate reaction will be to find out who couldn't beat a car that while beloved by some, has not exactly been universally embraced as an automotive performance icon.
 
So how did Joe Escobar's Pinto make it into the OUSCI? He earned his entry by winning the GT2K (under 3,000 pounds) class in the inaugural season of the Ultimate Street Car Association (USCA). He wasn't just the top finisher in the class, who hadn't already won his way into the OUSCI, Joe emerged from the Portland USCA event with a hefty and insurmountable lead that none of the 25+ competitors could overcome in the final three events.
 
That points cushion also came with a nearly three-month long window for Joe to make improvements and upgrades on a car that was already finishing in the upper quarter of 60-car fields at Goodguys events. So what has Joe been doing to his 140 cubic-inch mill and the metal that surrounds it? "I just installed a roller cam from Schneider Racing Cams in San Diego, along with some heavier dual-valve springs, which I hope will be good for another 20 horsepower or more" says Escobar. 
 
He has already noticed some improvement on the top end, but some losses on the low end, which he thinks he'll be able to resolve with some carburetor jetting. Joe also installed new RideTech HQ shocks that he bought with the RideTech Renegade award gift certificate he picked up earlier this year. However, that addition required some significant modifications. "The stock Pinto shock setup in the rear wouldn't allow for adjustment, so I had to create a new subfloor in the rear deck area and make access panels to reach the shock adjusters," says Escobar. There is now a hinged compartment covering the spare tire well, as well as another where the rear seat used to be (weight reduction).
 
Joe also upgraded his wheels and tires for the OUSCI, moving to 16x7 Mustang Pony wheels with billet spacers, wrapped in 215/45-series Falken rubber, which adds about an inch and a half of footprint over the tread he previously-ran on his 14-inch wheels. Those wheels and tires are about six pounds heavier on each corner, but Escobar also installed a lightweight aluminum driveshaft (Ford Aerostar AWD rear shafts are a direct bolt-in), as well as a new transmission yoke, which seems to have cured some driveline vibration issues he previously had.
 
Escobar also knows the value of the Lingenfelter Performance Design Engineering Challenge, so he has also made several aesthetic improvements to his blue oval. "I cleaned up the engine compartment, painted the valve cover, intake and assorted parts, added new plug wires and a OEM Pinto sport mirrors, that still have the functional, old-fashioned, adjustment cables," says Joe.
 
If we've lulled Joe's fellow competitors into a false sense of security with talk of 215-series tires and engines with a single valve cover, let's shatter that feeling with a reality check. Attrition happens in the OUSCI every year. Someone always breaks and is unable to finish the event and with a field nearly double the size of what we've seen in the past, there are likely to be more than a few such casualties in 2014.
 
"One thing about less horsepower, is you are less likely to break something in the drivetrain, especially because the transmission, rear end, front hubs and many other parts that were used in the Pinto came from heavier cars, so the load on them is even less," says Escobar. Joe made it into the OUSCI because he was able to finish three USCA events, so the chances are very good that he will finish the OUSCI as well. Additionally, this year's venue at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, doesn't offer much of an advantage for high-horsepower cars.
 
While the autocross courses at other USCA venues like Daytona International Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Road America were absolutely massive and essentially small road courses, the RideTech Autocross courses at LVMS won't be nearly as large. That's right, we said courses (plural), as the RideTech Autocross at this year's OUSCI will feature mirrored courses, where competitors will still be running against the clock, but they'll also be running at the same time as another car that starts right next to them. Go head to head against the Pinto and if you mess up, you'll get beat and the crowd will probably let you know it. Even more intimidating must be the thought that Joe's Pinto could simply out-drive your car, even if you didn't make a mistake.
 
Joe does a good job of trying to downplay the situation, but even he knows he will be playing with house money in Las Vegas. "If the Pinto were to break down, there would be those that might say, 'What do you expect? It's a Pinto,' but if the little engine that could makes even a decent showing, I could beat some competitors just by attrition," says Escobar. Make no mistake, if Joe is running at the end of the day, he will beat some cars by attrition, but he'll also likely beat a few on the track, as he has done already this year.
 
"The game plan is to have fun," says Escobar. "I'm sure there will be lots of folks in the stands rooting for the little Pinto in a sea of Camaros, Corvettes and other muscle cars and hopefully, it will show folks that their own car is good enough to compete in the USCA and make it to the OUSCI." You can see it all go down over two days at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Buy your tickets online now and be one of the first 1,500 fans to receive a free OUSCI event t-shirt."
 
Joe didn't mention any of his sponsors to us besides ZBeta Consulting, but we're sure he wouldn't mind if we slipped in a plug for Joe-Escobar.com, so go check it out!

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