The annual Holley LS Fest in Bowling Green, Ky., is a three-day opportunity to drown yourself in all things related to General Motor's legendary V8. With drag racing, auto cross, drift competition, dyno challenge, engine swap contest, car show, and dozens of vendors, there was something for every gear head.
Blane Burnett, Advertising and Creative Manager for Holley, said this year's three-day event was the largest yet, with over 1,000 participating cars and over 16,000 spectators. Despite a rainstorm that stopped all activity on Saturday, forcing the drift qualifying and competition to move to Sunday, Burnett said the drift challenge was very much a success.
“We were impressed and beyond stoked to see everyone stick around here in Bowling Green – not only the locals, but from surrounding states – and put a bow tie on the end of LS Fest,” he said. “We had a great time doing it even with conflicts with dates of other popular events around the country, and we were still able to pull off a really professional event with over 20 drift cars. Seven years ago that was difficult to do, and that says a lot about GM's LS engine and the noteworthiness of Holley LS Fest.”
The rain came Saturday around 4:30, two hours before the Lucas Oil Drift Challenge was set to begin. Event staff made the decision to end all activity shortly thereafter, forcing the remainder of the day's activities to transpire on Sunday. Because of these time constraints, qualifying for the drift challenge started 30 minutes after the originally scheduled end to LS Fest. In a flurry of efficiency and fantastic driving, qualifying and the top 16 bracket were completed in just under three hours.
Jonathan Nerren claimed the top qualifying spot, with Shane Whalley and the only naturally LS-powered (though still swapped) car grabbing second. Tyler Nelson landed another of the Zenna Tires team on the top three, with Nick Thomas in fourth. As luck would have it, the top four qualifiers were also the top four finishers.
Taking that fourth place was Shane Whalley, who began his climb by knocking out Kevin Phillips, who drove up from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in Top 16. In Top 8, Whalley drew his Tuner Tools teammate and MDU Rookie Of The Year contender Geoff Donati, where the Goat kicked the kid out of Top 8.
Whalley's run to the top was cut short in the final four by Tyler Nelson, who defeated Bryan Schiraldi in Top 16 and Hooman Rahimi's red 350Z in Top 8.
Nerren defeated Midwest Drift Union newcomer and round two winner Noah Michaels in Top 16, before knocking out the ridiculously powerful orange 350Z (which doubles as a drag car) of Jonathan Hurst.
Thomas was the first to defeat one of the Zenna cars, sending Matt Pollock home in the round of 16 before setting his sights on Drew Meyer in Top 8.
Now that the top four qualifiers were set to square off against each other, sparks really started to fly. Thomas knocked out Nerren, sending the latter into a third-place battle with Shane Whalley after his defeat by Nelson.
During that third place battle, Whalley's car developed problems which all but guaranteed Nerren the win.
“On both last runs in the same spot coming into the last inner sweeper, my steering locked up and I couldn't fight back and I just lost the car,” Whalley said. “We're going to get it back to the shop and see what's going on with that.”
Despite being unable to podium, Whalley wasn't disappointed in the weekend.
“This year I was the only original GM-powered car out here in a sea of 240s,” he said. “I'm really happy with the performance Sunday for sure.”
Nerren said he and his team had a good time at LS Fest, even if the hurried pace made things frantic for them.
“Having three cars we had 30 sets of wheels, but after every run we're swapping out a set of Zenna tires,” he said. “We were constantly having to make sure we had the tires mounted and getting the cars back and ready to go, because as soon as I'd pull back in from a run, here would come Tyler or Matt, so it was stressful just to keep the cars out there with so much going on. It wasn't optimal, however, we made it work and my team did a hell of a job. That's the first time this year me and Tyler have been on the podium together, and that was a great feeling.”
And with that, the final match was set between Thomas and Nelson. Going into the first turn, Nelson made contact with Thomas, spinning Thomas out and causing both cars to come to a halt. Their driver’s windows facing each other, the pair agreed to restart the run on their own, powering out of the first sweeper in an effort to finish the run. While this wasn't a completely successful tactic, Thomas was able to net the win after seven years of trying, defeating the last of the Zenna cars in the process.
“It keeps getting better and better,” Thomas said. “The driving gets better, the skill level increases, the builds are getting better, and the drivers are getting faster. The fans are growing and the dynamic changes constantly. It's cool to see it evolve and it's a great thing to be a part of. We've been hunting it down forever and I'm so glad we made it happen.”
Nelson said he'd be back next year to challenge for the podium again.
“I think it's the first time this year I've really had fun,” he said. “The weight wasn't on me for points or championships. And the really cool thing is that a lot of drivers are from other parts of the U.S., so I get to compete against a bunch of new guys. I'll keep an LS in my car just to come back here.”
LS Fest will return to Bowling Green next year, and it appears Holley will be bringing the event out west as well, planning a West Coast LS Fest for mid-May at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For more details on the event, head over to the LS Fest website.