Holley LS Fest is an event unlike any other; a massive celebration of any and all things powered by the mighty GM LS v8 engine. Now in its ninth year at the Beech Bend Raceway park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, LS Fest has become a must attend event for any automotive enthusiast with an affinity for the iconic LS engine. In addition to a massive show-n-shine section, the three day weekend boasts a variety of challenges for cars and drivers of all sorts including autocross, drag racing, a burnout competition as well as a dyno challenge, just to name a few.
However, few spectacles throughout the weekend pack the grandstands as well as the Drift Challenge, and this year’s competition set record crowd attendance numbers. Nineteen drivers, ranging from Pro-Am regulars to Formula Drift Pro competitors, brought their LS powered drift machines from all over the US to compete for cash and other prizes in a top 16 bracket battle that featured tight tandem runs and close calls that consistently kept fans on the edge of their seats.
Around 12 drivers spent Friday evening getting used to the course layout and finding the track limits in practice. Since last year’s festival, the track has undergone resurfacing that would in itself, challenge the competitors throughout the weekend. The practice session would prove especially tricky to some drivers who brought a new chassis with them.
One such competitor was LS Fest regular, Matt Lynch. In years past, Matt drove the ever popular Nissan 240sx s13 chassis, however this year, he turned heads in the paddock with his insanely loud convertible Ford Mustang that he describes as “a whole new monster”.
“I came in with an s13 set up on it” explains Lynch, “Just went out there to really get into it, and as soon as I threw it into the first turn it had so much grip!” Matt and his crew made adjustments to the car to compensate for the chassis’ mechanical grip but suffered a clutch failure before qualifying the next day that dashed their competition hopes.
Another driver who would make a real impact on fans throughout the weekend was competition newcomer, Marc Rose and his C5 Corvette. Marc drove his very first tandem laps during the Friday practice session!
Marc describes the car as a “completely parted out and flooded shell out back of a garage”. “We brought it back in and built it. It has a carbon fiber driveshaft, RPM stage 5 tranny and diff, 414 stroker” Rose lists. “I put all the good stuff on it. So far, it’s a great drift car”. He went on to explain that everything structurally was completely stock except for modified front knuckles.
St. Louis driver Steve Topping brought his stroked LS2 equipped ‘Merica E36 BMW’ to the event after almost a year of the car sitting quietly in a garage. Since the car’s last event in 2016, Steve explained that preparation for LS Fest involved little more than “checked suspension components, did an oil change, put new spark plugs in it, replaced two coil packs, fired it right up and put it on the trailer to come down here”. Topping managed 6 practice laps which he said “went well because I didn’t break anything, and that’s unusual for me during practice so I’m pretty stoked!”
Midwest Drift Union competitor and Kentucky local Jonathan Hurst’s bright orange twin turbo charged 5.3L powered Nissan 350Z is a vehicle that demands attention. Hurst’s drift car sees regular drag racing time and is probably the only car drifting while sporting a packed drag parachute! When asked about leaving the chute on the car throughout the weekend, Hurst said “I’ve always thought it would be cool to do it and this is probably the best event to do it at.”
A second practice session, qualifying and Top 16 competition took place on Saturday with a grid of 19 drivers instead of the previous day’s dozen. One of the new additions was Formula Drift Pro 2 driver Alec Robbins, who on Thursday had suffered a large crash while participating in a practice session during FD Texas 12 hours away from the LS Fest venue. Robbin’s crew at Koru Works managed to get the car track ready again in time to compete and place 4th in Texas, then leave immediately to make LS Fest the very next day. Alec would go on to qualify 4th here at Beech Bend Raceway. “We left Texas around 10:30 or 11:00 last night, drove straight through the night, got here about a half hour before practice started. We went straight into practice and straight into qualifying” Robbins said.
Ohio driver Geoff Donati wowed the crowd in his Tiffany Blue LS2 6.0 powered Nissan S14 with impressive proximity to the wall all day. Donati earned the top spot during qualifying and finished 4th during competition. “I’ve driven this track a couple of times this year so it’s good to come out and be comfortable already,” Donati said. “But for qualifying I really like to turn it on and I’m glad I could put down a pretty good run for the crowd.”
Teammates and Formula Drift Canada pro drivers Jonathan Nerren and Tyler Nelson joined the event on Saturday in their matching Zenna Tires Nissan 240sx S14s and ran numerous practice laps together, keeping the spectators in awe of their incredible proximity. “With Tyler and I driving so much together, we know each other’s driving style and push each other a ton so it really helps us out against other competitors. We’re constantly progressing and pushing ourselves to that next level” Jonathan Nerren said. The duo would go on to qualify 3rd and 10th and advance to the final 4 battle where Nelson would beat Nerren to a 2nd place finish while Nerren filled the final podium step.
Intense tandem battles were driven under the track lights while the cars turned fresh black rubber into hazy white atmosphere. In a true ‘David and Goliath’ moment, Jonathan Hurst’s twin turbo charged 350z suffered electrical issues during his runs with Tennessee driver Kyle Botero and his naturally aspirated 5.3L BMW e30, which opened the door for Botero to advance to the top 8.
Driver Derek Madison experienced a tense moment on Saturday when his LS1 powered Nissan 240sx S14.5 was accidentally bumped by a trailer near his pit area. After a quick once over, his crew deemed the car track worthy and he went on to qualify 8th.
Midwest Drift Union and US Drift regular Noah Michaels was on fire all evening in his supercharged LS1 powered Nissan S13 hatch. Michaels qualified 5th and defeated 12th place qualifier Marc Rose in his first battle. Michaels then moved on to face Pro 2 driver Alec Robbins, who was fresh off of a one-more-time battle with Kentucky local Xavier Jennings and his 5.3L turbocharged Nissan s13 hatch. Michaels would beat Robbins as well and move forward to a battle with Geoff Donati. Noah kept the momentum going with a win against Donati and faced off with Tyler Nelson in his Jonathan Nerren Racing supercharged S14.
“I had a little boost of confidence; things were turning out pretty well” Michaels said. He went on to explain that he could visualize the win after besting Geoff Donati. “I was stoked on how close I got to him in the chase battle so after that I had a huge boost of confidence going into the battle with Tyler Nelson”. Noah admitted that knowing Tyler’s talent had him slightly more apprehensive. “He’s got a really fast car, a good set up, he shreds.”
Michaels went into the final battle with Tyler Nelson on a set of Zenna tires he acquired from the Jonathan Nerren Racing team. “The final was my first time ever on that (brand of) tire. It was predictable, it was smooth, it was smoky. It worked.” Michaels would defeat Nelson and take the win. All three podium finishers took home cash prizes courtesy of Holley Performance and custom steering wheels from Grip Royal. Noah Michaels 1st place spot also earned him a set of Fortune Auto Series 500 coilovers.
With competition wrapped up, drivers were free to spend Sunday putting on a show for the fans. Spectators were treated to even more close tandem runs and a couple wall taps by the brave few. Formula Drift Pro 2 driver Dirk Stratton even brought his Lingenfelter Performance Chevrolet Camaro street car out for the crowd.