For some of us, our biggest concern when it comes to our cars, is where to get gas and when to change the oil. AIRAID team driver Ken Thwaits thinks just a little differently than the average driver. In fact he’s the guy who’s trying to figure out where to get more horsepower and when he can get back out on the track to test his new suspension setup.!
The Man, The Myth, The Legend - AIRAID team driver, Ken Thwaits
2016 marks the third year that Ken Thwaits has competed in OPTIMA’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car series. Don’t let that fool you though. Thwaits has been involved in some sort of motorsports since he was a teen and you may recall in 1985 he became a Mazda Pro Series National Champion. You might even say that Ken has an advantage on his competition with all his experience. More important than that, he puts in the time and effort it takes to be on top. The man definitely walks the walk.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a diverse field of cars at OUSCI, OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational, ranging from Corvettes to Evos and late model Camaros being on the podium. We’ve even seen some of the competitors, like Thwaits, along with AIRAID team drivers Jordan Priestley and Chris Jacobs, running multiple cars in the series qualifiers, to see for themselves if in fact they were driving the Ultimate Street Car. Needless to say this year saw some of the toughest competition to date in the series and that made for an even more exciting Grand Finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for OUSCI!
Thwaits brought back his 2014 AIRAID-equipped Camaro Z28 this year for the series. This was definitely the car to beat in the GT class during the 2015 season. With such a trusty steed he was certain to achieve higher heights in the 2016 season, perhaps even an OUSCI podium finish and reclaim his title as OPTIMA Series Season Points Champion!
JJ Furillo working feverishly to get Thwaits back out on the road course at Thunderhill
Going into the season Thwaits had a fully tested and dialed car. Unfortunately, the tides turned early on and he didn’t have it so easy this year. His AIRAID-sponsored Camaro challenged him from the start with minor mechanical issues and a slipping clutch at Thunderhill to discovering after the event they would need a complete motor rebuild before competition at the next event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Even with these challenges, Thwaits walked away with 1st place finishes at both events. In fact his luck held throughout the New Jersey Motorsports Park qualifying event, yielding him another 1st place finish. But it was here at NJMP that Thwaits made his commitment to work at getting back the title of series points champion.
Preparing for autocross at OSUSC event in Bowling Green, Kentucky at the National Corvette Museum
This was familiar territory for Thwaits having been OPTIMA’s 2014 Series Point Champion. In 2015, Ken lost the title to fellow competitor, Kyle Tucker of Detroit Speed and Engineering and it was time to get it back! OPTIMA recognizes the driver that not only attends the most qualifier events across the nation, but considers the competitors points earned throughout the year based upon their scores at each event. After the final qualifying event, points are calculated for each driver and the OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car Points Champion is announced at the SEMA Show.
With renewed energy and an intense drive to win, Ken Thwaits and the Showtime Motorsports team headed to Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of the National Corvette Museum and the fourth installment of the OSUSC qualifier. Here, he and his fellow competitors encountered jaw dropping heat and humidity that would ultimately affect the outcome of our AIRAID driver's finish. Track temperature at mid-day would cause his AIRAID-equipped Z28 to slip during the autocross and speed stop challenge. He and his right hand man, JJ Furillo of Ultimate Performance, would chase that slip throughout the day adjusting shocks, changing tires, whatever it took to improve Thwaits time out on course. A determined Ken Thwaits would walk away from this event with a respectable 2nd place finish. Not what he had hoped for but most assuredly very pleased.
Throughout the season Ken made some modifications to the car that have made a tremendous impact this year helping him earn 4 GT class wins, plus one GT class 2nd place finish in the 5 OSUSC qualifier events he entered with his 2014 AIRAID-equipped Camaro Z28. This car originally debuted at the Optima Michigan race mid way through the 2015 season. The most notable change would have to be the Centerforce DYAD triple disc clutch. The unit was custom built for the recently rebuilt 740hp Mast Motorsports LS7 complete with one-off AIRAID carbon fiber cold air intake. They added an MTI 6060 sequential 6-speed gearbox to get behind all that horsepower. The team has upgraded to a DSE suspension, front and rear, added JRI shocks, PAC Springs, AP Racing six piston calipers with 15.4” rotors in the front and four piston calipers with 15” rotors in the back. The Z28 interior got a full custom roll cage, plus custom upholstered and embroidered race seats. Taking aesthetics a step further, Thwaits even had the instrument panel hydrodipped to give it that carbon fiber look. Finally, where form meets function, they’ve added carbon fiber. The addition of a carbon fiber hood, front fenders, doors, deck lid, trunk pan, and mirrors have lightened this heavy hitter up. A carbon fiber splitter and skirts not only look great but trim some of the weight as well. Finally, a custom rear dual element spoiler helps create downforce and stick. Top this all off with a custom black pearl paint job and red pearl racing stripes and this beauty looks as great as it performs.
Ken Thwaits feeling the win at Thunderhill Motorsports Park after a challenging race weekend
OPTIMA’s final qualifying event, held at Autoclub Speedway in Fontana, California, turned out to be yet another incredible win for Ken Thwaits and his team at Showtime Motorports. Perhaps his choice to switch to the Bridgestone RE-71R tires played a role or maybe it’s more about Ken’s commitment to this sport. Thwait’s committed early on to doing his best and maintaining a positive attitude. Of course, like so many others, he wants to win, but he is willing to toe the line and do the work to come out on top even if it means making driver modifications. He credits his success this year in part to his nutritional and lifestyle changes that have afforded him a clearer mind and slimmer physique.
The AIRAID-equipped 2014 Camaro Z28 of Ken Thwaits out on course at New Jersey Motorsports Park
Thwaits ran two cars competitively this year in the series and qualified both to compete in the OUSCI, the series finale. As he watched the field stack up and calculated his strategy, he decided that this year his 2014 Z28, the Black Pearl, would sit this party out. Instead he opted to run his 2006 Mitsubishi EVO and found himself sitting pretty after day 1 securely in second position, separated from first position by mere tenths of a second. Day two however, would prove to be rather challenging when during his first lap out on the road course for the Hot Lap Challenge his EVO motor failed before he could complete one full lap. Feverishly, he and his team scrambled to get the parts he needed to get back on course. Time was limited and he would need to get at least one decent lap in before the day’s end. The winds of fortune blew his way and Lady Luck had him back on course during the final session of the Expert Run Group. One great lap was what he was looking for and while it wasn’t his fastest, it was enough to secure him a podium finish, 2nd place overall for OUSCI. Danny Popp once again took the OUSCI overall win in his C5, aka the Blue Rocket, and Brian Johnson edged out Thwaits in the GT Class for series points champion. Be that as it may, Ken Thwaits has every reason to be very happy with what he accomplished this year, two cars, ten races, and nine podium finishes!
Ken Thwaits with Brian Johnson and Jordan Priestley at National Corvette Museum
We look forward to seeing Ken Thwaits out and back on top in 2017 with the OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car series.
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Thwaits coming in hot at the speed stop in the Bull Ring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Ken Thwaits, left, along with Danny Popp, center and Rich Wilhoff, right on the OUSCI Podium