Amid the plethora of LS-based activities presented to yet another record crowd at Holley LSFest in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the drift challenge arguably remains one of the most popular. Between drag racing, autocross, a massive show-n-shine, burnout contest, dozens of vendors and more, the event provides an outlet for a crowd that might not otherwise attend a drift competition to witness what so many others already know and love.
Though weather was less than ideal throughout most of the weekend, all but canceling Sunday's festivities save for autocross, the festival saw another Saturday attendance record broken, just as it has practically ever year prior.
"The Lucas Oil Drift Challenge always draws a big crowd at Holley LS Fest, and this past weekend was no different," said Blane Burnett, advertising and creative manager at Holley. "What did surprise me, though, is how devoted our fans have become. Despite the rain that moved in even before the competition started, the majority of fans stayed in their seats to see who would emerge as champion after the final battle."
The Lucas Oil Drift Challenge saw 23 drivers register, in everything from the now common LS-swapped S-Chassis, to a Lexus SC, Infiniti G37, Mustang convertible, and of course, an actual Corvette. Driver skill level was as varied, from fairly novice to a handful of Formula DRIFT competitors.
While drag racing, autocross, and myriad of other activities took up the bulk of the weekend's festivities, drifters took to the track for their first practice session on Friday evening around 6 p.m. Cloudy skies and spitting rain mean fans weren't treated the wonderful sunset that usually bathes the track in orange light, but drivers still came out swinging. By the time all-natural light was lost, half of the track lights mysteriously stopped working, forcing a delay in the action for a good chunk of time before drivers and crew decided they were going to send it anyway, with some headlight-less drivers all but disappearing into the abyss of turn one.
Saturday put drivers back in the daylight for a couple more practice laps before delving into qualifying. Sixteen drivers laid down a scoring run to dictate a full competition field, with Pro 2 driver and 2017 Midwest Drift Union champion Geoff Donati taking the top spot in his LS3-powered S14.
Just before it was time to send the first pair of drivers for competition, the drizzle began, and the lights went out again.
Donati drew number 16 qualifier Larry Smith and his red S13 for the first pairing, making easy work of the match and advancing to the Great 8. Formula DRIFT pro driver Taylor Hull in the 800 hp LS7 ATS-V did much the same in his battle against East10 Drift pro-am competitor Kyle Wood and his LS6-powered S13, itself making 470 hp.
The some-would-consider-blasphemous LSX-powered Mustang of Matt Lynch saw battle with J.T. Trujilo's red LS2-powered S14, which allegedly belonged to his girlfriend. Lynch would get the nod to advance, while a one-more-time was called in the next pairing between Pro 2 driver Jonathan Hurst and his twin-turbo 800 hp G37 and Brian Broberg's 280 hp S13, proving a 500-plus horsepower deficit doesn't mean an easy victory. Hurst would nonetheless be declared the winner.
Veteran drifter James Evans in the LQ9-motivated Sikky 350Z brought 900 hp to the table with the help of a Magnuson supercharger, pitting it against the 440-horse naturally aspirated LS1 S13 of Josh Fray, who was in only his second competition. Evans would take the win, as Abe Heath's patriotic-themed LS3-powered S13 putting down 420 horsepower went toe-to-toe with the LM7-swapped SC300 of Dan Perlenfein, with the Lexus ultimately advancing.
Rounding out the Top 16, Pro 2 driver Hooman Rahimi and his LS7-powered 350Z took on and defeated the LQ9-swapped S14 of East10 pro-am driver Ethan Parnell, who was a first-time competitor at LS Fest, while Derek Madison's 5.7L S14 was knocked out by Andrew Schulte's pink and blue LS2-packed S13 to conclude the first set of rounds.
Donati and Hull threw down in the first bout of the Great 8, with Hull putting the Pro car past the Pro 2 for a spot in the Final 4, as Hurst put his own Pro 2 car into the same half of the bracket with a win over Lynch. Evans bested Perlenfein in the second half of the battles, as Schulte slid past Rahimi to round out the Final 4.
With flames spitting from the top and bottom of Hurst's G37, there was no doubt how hard he was charging against the Cadillac of Hull in the first semifinal pairing; alas, Hull would secure a spot in the finals, sending Hurst into a battle for third.
Finding him in that battle was Evans, who would ultimately take the win after falling to Schulte in their semifinal pairing, earning him the bronze spot on the podium.
This set the final match between Hull and Schulte - Cadillac vs. Nissan, ATS-V vs. S13, LS7 vs. LS2. Despite a decent power deficit, Schulte hung in there, but Hull proved too much and clinched the win, as Schulte was awarded the silver. Both drivers were competing at LS Fest for the first time.
"A special thanks is due to Tom Bogner and the fine folks at Lucas Oil for being a part of this event, and Fortune Auto, as well as to Nick Swann and his team for helping make this event segment what it has evolved into over the years," Burnett added.