2014 OUSCI Preview- Ken Thwaits' 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Ken Thwaits took home top honors in the GT3K class (over 3000 pounds) during the inaugural Ultimate Street Car Association (USCA) Series season, earning an invitation to the 2014 OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), but this is definitely not his first rodeo. In fact, it's not even his first championship in a national points series. Thwaits began his racing career back in 1978, when he ran a Formula Ford in SCCA amateur road racing events.
Ken then climbed the ladder, moving up to Pro Formula Mazda in 1984, winning the Pro Formula Mazda National Championship during the 1985 season. Thwaits then took a few years off before returning in the SCCA's Showroom Stock Class, running Camaros in that series until 1992. Another sabbatical followed and Ken didn't get behind the wheel for a competitive event until he joined the USCA circuit this year. While there was a 29-year gap between his first and second national title Thwaits is hoping he won't have to wait as long for a third.
So what was it about the USCA that convinced Ken to come out of semi-retirement and begin competing on a track again? "The USCA format is what got me interested- the BFGoodrich Hot Lap Challenge, the RideTech Autocross and the Wilwood Disc Brakes Speed Stop Challenge," says Thwaits. "You compete against the clock and may the best time win, which allows you to run your car as hard as you dare, but you aren't racing wheel to wheel, which can be hard on equipment." Ken entered the Texas race purely to dip his toe in the water and gauge how the event was run and the level of competition, but he became hooked fairly quickly. "I thought Jimi Day and the USCA staff ran a great event," says Thwaits. "I also realized you can compete at any level you choose. If you want to win, then it would take a strong commitment both from the car that you run and from a driver capability standpoint."
Thwaits made the commitment after the Texas event and ran the balance of the season, although only his top-three finishes counted toward season-long USCA points and season-long points follow the driver and car. Thwaits accumulated more than 1,000 points in nine events, but his best three outings in his 2014 Camaro 1LE totaled 552.73 points. That may still seem like a lot and it was the most of any of the three USCA classes, but Ken wasn't able to clinch the season-long championship until the final event in Pittsburgh had ended.
The GT3K class was by far the most-competitive of the three classes, with close to 200 competitors entering events throughout the season and more than 150 of those entrants finishing events and scoring points toward the season-long standings. Had Thwaits not finished the Pittsburgh event and failed to score any points, seven drivers would've caught and passed him in the USCA points standings! As it ended, Ken's podium finish kept him on top of the standings, holding off Bryan Johnson, who had three great finishes in the final five events and Kyle Tucker, who finished just 2.5 points behind Johnson.
So how did Ken end up running multiple cars and qualifying for the OUSCI in two different vehicles? "It happened by chance and out of necessity," says Thwaits. "After Texas, I contracted with Bruce Raymond of Raymond’s Performance to build us a Camaro 1LE to compete in more of the USCA events. At the same time, I took delivery of a new Z/28 and had Lingenfelter Performance Engineering build us an engine for the Z/28." The Raymond's crew continued to work on the 1LE, but the Z28 was fast right out of the box, so Ken hopped behind the wheel of that car and went to work.
Ken ran the Z28 at Fontana and won the fastest Fifth Gen in it's first event. He took it to Road America the following weekend and qualified for the OUSCI, but also had an on-track incident that caught the attention of just about everyone online, including Jalopnik. That mishap re-directed the Showtime Motorsports team to focus their attention on the 1LE for the remainder of the season. "As it turned out, the 1LE continuously got faster both from working to make the car faster and my driving skills began to get better the more I competed," says Thwaits.
Since both vehicles were poised to qualify for the OUSCI either through event wins or points, Ken had planned on taking the Z/28 to Pittsburgh, as a final test session for the OUSCI. However, when it became apparent that he had a chance to lock up the season-long points title, he opted to run the 1LE, although it is the Z28 that will be competing in the 2014 OUSCI at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (buy your spectator tickets here).
Many of the 100 expected competitors in this year's OUSCI are looking at competing in the event as a victory in itself, but Thwaits has made it clear he wants to win. The Z28 is receiving some aerodynamic upgrades to improve stability and Lingenfelter is turning up the wick even further on his potent powerplant. By the time it arrives for display at the SEMA Show, Ken estimates the car will be producing 680 horsepower and will weigh in at about 3,720 pounds.
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a new venue for the OUSCI in 2014, which may be an advantage for Thwaits. "I have been to the track before when my sales training company, Precision Dynamics International launched the Nissan GT-R when it was new back in 2009," says Ken. It's been a few years, so Ken is joining the legion of OUSCI competitors who are helping boost the YouTube traffic for several videos that have been posted of the facility.
Ken has as much racing experience and as much USCA experience as any competitor in the field, so we were curious to find out who he thought would be the most-competitive contenders in the field. "I see cars that make good power and have a light vehicle weight being the most competitive, like a C5 or C6 Corvette," says Thwaits. "The GTR’s are making big power however and could run away with it and the Evos are also making good power to weight and handle like slot cars, so they could dominate. I will also say that the fifth gen Camaros have always been competitive, no matter what track configuration and quite frankly, have been defying the laws of physics in regards to vehicle weight. It’s a crap shoot….it’s Vegas!"
We can't wait to see how it all shakes out and we hope to see you there! If you'd like to catch some episodes of OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, be sure to tune in to MAVTV on Friday and Saturday nights at 8PM ET.
Ken also wanted to make sure we mentioned his sponsors, including Showtime Motorsports and their apparel line, Raymond's Performance and Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. You can follow Showtime on Facebook and Instagram and you can follow Ken's personal facebook page as well.