When traffic is backed up from the entrance to Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Ky., several miles back to Interstate 65, that can mean only one thing: it's the time of year for perhaps the largest celebration of General Motors' LS-series engines in the world, the Holley LS Fest.
Love them or hate them, there's no denying the incredible popularity of this family of power plants and the increasing number of platforms in which they're being placed. A car show, drag racing, autocross, dyno challenge, a plethora of vendors, and the ever-popular drift challenge were only some of the events showcasing the capabilities of these engines at the three-day spectacle, all to be witnessed by nearly 25,000 spectators - some 10,000 more than the previous year.
Blane Burnett, advertising and creative manager for Holley, said this year's event trumped last year's record breaker, with triple digit pre-registration gains catapulting the number of competitors well into the 700s before factoring in those who registered on-site. In total, there were 1,214 cars in attendance. The only area that saw a decrease in numbers was the number of competitors in the drift challenge, which could be partly blamed on the Formula DRIFT Texas round happening the same weekend, preventing some of the heavy hitters from making the trek to Bowling Green.
"The drifting this year was every bit as entertaining to our crowd who otherwise doesn't really have a place to go see drifting," Burnett said. "People make this a destination event, and have even honeymooned here. They bring their kids, parents, families, and friends, and love witnessing multiple disciplines of motorsports converge in one place."
Drift challenge practice started late Friday afternoon with about an equal mix of drivers who competed last year and those who were attending for the first time. And while not competing, 2015 Midwest Drift Union champ and current Pro 2 driver Dirk Stratton was on hand doing demo runs with his new Camaro build.
Last year, heavy rains on Saturday during what was supposed to have been drift challenge time ended up shutting down the entire festival, pushing qualifying and competition into a three-hour window at the end of the day on Sunday. This year, the weather couldn't have been more perfect, and top-16 battles took place under the lights for a record crowd, many of who were getting their first taste of drifting in person.
Current Midwest Drift Union points leader Geoff Donati scored a by-run in the first run of top 16 with his top qualifying score.
Derek Madison, who scored his first podium finish at MDU at round three, took the win over the gold SC of Ryan Ueltschi, followed by Noah Michaels taking out the only naturally LS-powered car in the drift competition this year, a C5 Corvette driven by Marc Rose, with his LS6 S13.
Last year's MDU champion and current Formula D Pro 2 competitor Alec Robbins got the win over the white S13 of Xavier Jennings in the next pairing after a one-more-time, and his crew had spent the earlier part of the day frantically trying to put body panels back on his 350Z after it suffered a crash at FD Texas the day before.
Dan Perlenfein's blue SC would then get the win over the patriotic-themed BMW of Steve Topping, whose passenger quarter panel is still damaged from his wall tap at LS Fest in 2016.
Formula D Canada competitor Jonathan Nerren would advance in the next pairing from his bout with Larry Smith's red S13, with Nerren's teammate Tyler Nelson taking the win over Shawn Bellovich's yellow S13 hatch. Electrical problems with Jonathan Hurst's orange 350Z gave Kyle Botero and his E30, their first time in a competition setting, the win to wrap up top 16.
Donati's first pairing would come against Madison in the first match of top eight, with Donati advancing up the ladder. Michaels would then eliminate Robbins in their pairing. Nerren and Nelson would win their matches against Perlenfein and Botero, respectively, to advance the Zenna Tire team to the final four.
The first pairing of the final four between Michaels and Donati would see Michaels getting the nod to advance to the finals, with Nelson beating his teammate to square off against Michaels in the final bout.
This meant Donati and Nerren would battle it out for third, with the Zenna Tires S14 securing the bronze prize.
Michaels would go for the gold and knock out Nelson in their pairing, putting the Torqstorm Superchargers S13 on top of the podium in a very hard fought battle between both drivers.
The victory came as a bit of a surprise for Michaels, who was knocked out in top 16 by Nerren last year at LS Fest.
"We came and we conquered," said Michaels, who hails from Medina, Ohio. "It wasn't what we were expecting, I can tell you that much. We were shooting for final four, but I'm always going to be happy with a win especially going against the caliber of cars that was here this weekend." Michaels currently sits second in points (as of this writing) in the U.S. Drift Formula pro-am series, with a chance to take the overall championship during the upcoming season finale at Kil-Kare Raceway in Xenia, Ohio.
While the Bowling Green date for 2018 hasn't yet been set, the LS Fest West event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be May 4-6.