Finally! Jake Rozelle and His Corvette Z06 Win the Ultimate Street Car 2021 Title
After competing in eight seasons of OPTIMA’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car, Jake Rozelle won the title in 2021 at the wheel of his 2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. The 27-year-old racer trailed last year’s defending champion, C.B. Ramey, at the halfway point but ended up winning by a single point, avenging his one-point loss in 2020.
Jake Rozelle hoists the Ultimate Street Car trophy after finally winning the title in his eighth season.
How does OUSCI Work?
OPTIMA’s Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) presented by Advance Auto Parts, is an annual series of events that take place at legendary racetracks across the country. It was started in 2008, following the SEMA Show where OPTIMA Batteries’ Director of Marketing Cam Douglass noticed that many show cars were being rolled away rather than driven under their own power. Douglass created the Ultimate Street Car Invitational to pit the cars on display at the show against each other to determine their overall street-worthiness and outright performance potential. Fourteen years later, the event has become one of the most challenging, competitive, and all-encompassing street car racing series in the nation.
The Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series, hosted by OPTIMA Batteries, is where participants compete to earn an invitation to the OUSCI, where the Ultimate Street Car title is awarded. Invitations to the OUSCI are awarded to event winners of each vehicle class in the series, winners of the special “Summit Racing Spirit of the Event” award from each qualifier, top points-accumulators during the regular season, and 10 additional at-large entries based on their season-long points totals.
Jake Rozelle competing in the PEAK Performance Challenge at the 2021 SEMA Show.
True Street Cars
OPTIMA’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car sets itself apart from other racing series by incorporating scored events that span a wide array of categories, including the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, Lucas Oil Road Rally, QA1 Autocross, Falken Tire Time Trial, and Peak Performance Challenge. These categories are intended to encourage entrants to run true street cars that are genuinely show-worthy but can put their money where their mouth is and crush the competition on the track, too.
As an illustration of the pivotal importance of a solid performance in every single event, Rozelle lost the title of Ultimate Street Car in 2020 by a single point to Chris Ramey and his 1987 Chevrolet Corvette, but he turned the tables in 2021 and beat Ramey by a single point.
This past year was the first year to include racing at the SEMA Show.
Rozelle’s Road to Victory
Rozelle grew up in Cypress, California. He was the kid who read every automotive publication he could and especially enjoyed reading about the OPTIMA series. He was a competitive desert and dirt bike racer until he had to undergo back surgery at age 17. This procedure ended his motorcycle career, but his passion for the world of motorsports was far from over.
He first experienced the thrill of the OUSCI as a spectator in 2013, and he has competed in every season since. His journey to the Ultimate Street Car title was long and intense. It involved two cars, hundreds of hours spent traveling, countless hours spent wrenching, and some familial tensions, all while he was experiencing major life events like earning his degree, working as an electrical engineer at an aerospace company, buying a home, and even getting a puppy.
Rozelle learned to make only minor adjustments during the race season, as shown at the OSUSC Willow Springs event.
When Rozelle first entered the series in 2014, he competed in his father Roy’s 1969 Camaro, which turned out to involve some unanticipated challenges. As a son racing his father’s car, Rozelle felt added pressure because he didn’t want to damage it. This concern led him to start racing his own daily driver, a 2003 Corvette Z06, in the 2017 OSUSC. He loves that he can do all of the work on his own car and race it without thinking of anyone else, but this too has downsides.
“The tough part with the OPTIMA series is that I am the owner, builder, and driver,” Rozell said. “If the car breaks, it’s on me. I know everything on the car that’s right and everything that maybe isn’t exactly the way I want, and it all weighs on me.”
Rozelle’s Lingenfelter Eliminator R Spec LS7 has a carbon fiber intake that extends above his custom hood.
What It Takes to Win
In his eight years competing Rozelle has learned many things, but his biggest takeaways are that you must consider every part of your car in order to remain competitive, and that you must spend a lot of time working to improve your car between races. The design and engineering upgrades to his Corvette have piled up over the years. This year he added a custom-fabricated carbon-fiber trunk and splitter as well as a touchscreen entertainment system with a backup camera, custom 3-D-printed interior panels, and an aftermarket nose with custom fiberglass work, among many more modifications.
“There’s a real emphasis in this series to maintain the usability and functionality of these cars,” said Jim McIlvaine, OPTIMA Battery’s e-Care Manager. “It challenges competitors in a way that no other series does, because you can’t do any of the typical things you’d do to make a car lighter and faster—it’s counterintuitive to what most folks do in racing.”
Rozelle has also learned that during the racing season, it’s best to keep work limited to vehicle maintenance and minor tweaks. “I don’t gut the car like I used to—that’s how I would get burned out and make mistakes,” he said. “During the racing season, I am busier with racing and logistical planning, and I tow the car to every event.”
Building to Win
The off-season can be just as busy. “The car did not run from November to January,” Rozelle said. “I needed to replace, rebuild, clean and inspect every part. I usually spend at least four hours a day, five days a week performing these inspections.”
Rozelle’s Corvette captured in action running the PEAK Performance Challenge at the 2021 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
Just three days after losing the title of Ultimate Street Car by one point in 2020, he had his Corvette torn down to the frame so that he could send the 454 LS7 engine to Lingenfelter for a rebuild and get other parts to sponsors for rebuilding. His race-prep timeline involved having his car up and running again by February and beginning track testing about three weeks prior to the first OPTIMA event in March.
Fortunately, Rozelle revels in the build. He said he enjoys building the car more than he enjoys racing it, though he does love racing. He even loves the late nights in the garage, which he attributes to his engineer’s mindset. He enjoys making tweaks and seeing the results of those changes. He spoke to the unique challenges posed in the OUSCI when compared to other racing series, citing how other series have spec motors and horsepower caps.
“My car makes around 800 horsepower, which is a lot,” Rozelle said. “But the series has no horsepower or engine limitations, so you could be competing with cars well into the four-digit horsepower range. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Rozelle won his vehicle class at OPTIMA’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car (OSUSC) race at Willow Springs International Raceway.
Keeping It Street
But it’s not all about horsepower and track times, as McIlvaine pointed out. The design and engineering portion of scoring is integral to an entrant’s overall performance, and it is intended to preserve the ability of these cars to be viable street cars. Every part is inspected in the design and engineering section, from the trunk space to the back seat to the stereo system. Encouraging these modifications seems frivolous, but it serves to keep entrants focused on the everyday drivability of their builds, and ultimately promotes the automotive aftermarket.
“It’s a weird dichotomy because you basically have to build two cars, a show car and a track car, and the track car is always trying to kill the show car,” Rozelle said. “I try to drive other cars as much as I can for practice because my car is hard on things. Every time I drive my car it beats it up a little and with the design and engineering challenge in mind, I try to save it for the events.”
OPTIMA Batteries hosted the Peak Performance Challenge, the acceleration and braking segment of OUSCI, at the SEMA Show for the first time in 2021.
The OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational is a truly unique racing series that brings out the passion in everyone who competes. Even the competitors who do not win the title believe that their car is the ultimate street car, and that passion is exactly what this series is about.
Jake Rozelle vowed to keep competing until he won the title of Ultimate Street Car. It took eight years, two cars, a lot of time and energy, and the right balance of intuition, skill, restraint, practice, knowledge, and support. Now that he’s the champion, the goals might be less clear, but the passion is still alive.
The OSUSC series included events all around the country, from Atlanta Motorsports Park in Georgia to Willow Springs International Raceway in California, and Rozelle towed his car to each event.
Anatomy of The Ultimate Street Car
Vehicle: 2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Weight: 2,990 lbs.
Engine: Lingenfelter Eliminator Spec R 454 LS7
Transmission: close-ratio TR6060
Clutch: Centerforce TRIAD clutch
Rearend: C6 ZR1 rear end with OS Giken differential, 3.90 gears, and ZR1 axles. Custom rear subframe with mounts for larger diff/trans while maintaining factory suspension geometry
Exhaust: custom titanium exhaust
Headers: ARH headers
ECU: E67 standalone
ABS module: MK60 standalone
Launch Control: Lingenfelter launch controller
Brakes: Wilwood & two-piece floating rotors
Wheels: Forgeline VX1R
Suspension: Van Steel anti-roll bars, Delrin bushings, and bumpsteer correction kit front and rear; JRI coilovers custom valved by Ultimate Performance, LG billet drop spindles
Fenders: wide-body fenders (0.75 inches per side front, 1.5 inch per side rear flare)
Radiator: custom tilted radiator and aluminum ducting through hood
Carbon work: ducted hood, mirrors, canards, rear spoiler with aluminum blade, custom trunk and splitter
Design and Engineering Modifications
Purple and grey exterior wrap
AEM CD-7 GPS/Data Logger in-dash
64-sensor tire temperature system monitored in-dash
Flocked dash and interior inserts
Sparco seats, custom upholstery, custom steering wheel and seatbelts
3D-printed interior panels to control dash and entertainment system, wrapped to match the car
Touchscreen entertainment system with reverse camera and aftermarket center console