Text and photography by Mike Pryka
Over the last two decades, there is no doubt that the LS engine has found its way into an enormous variety of vehicles which never came equipped with the powerplant from the factory. In years past, the traditional small-block Chevrolet would have been the choice of enthusiasts due to its popularity, but the massive push by General Motors to include the LS engine into so many of its vehicles means that there are millions of them sitting in scrapyards, just waiting for the next enthusiast to come along and plunk down a few hundred bucks to take one home.
With such a cult following, eventually the Holley Performance LS Fest—a festival to celebrate all things LS—was developed, with the East Coast version held in September every year at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
First introduced in the 1997 Corvette, the LS and its derivatives have since been installed in every General Motors vehicle which uses V8 engine power. The different designs range from the LS1 to the LS9 in stock-style blocks, the later LT-named descendants, along with an assortment of aftermarket blocks from the Chevrolet Performance Parts LSX to the Dart LS Next among others, all of which use parts from the massive LS aftermarket. This gives you quite the choice of which LS you might want, dependent upon your vehicle goal: drag racing, autocross, drifting, or even just a bad-to-the-bone street machine.
If you’re part of this following, no matter what type of racing you’re into, LS Fest is an event which demands attendance. The weekend started off on Friday morning with Beech Bend’s property packed with a large car count and an even larger spectator count. While I was talking with Lonnie Grim, the event’s tech director, he mentioned that this year’s pre-registration was 30-percent higher than in 2017, which was awesome to hear, as all week prior to the event the weather forecast was extremely threatening, with rain potential every day of the event. But it seemed that the LS gods brought some sun and kept the rain away, as we got through nearly the whole weekend without a drop.
Walking the pits, every 15 feet you stumbled across something different. Vehicles you wouldn’t exactly think to be LS swapped such as a big ol’ Chevy Caprice or this Nissan Silvia S13…there was something for everyone.
The Manufacturer’s Midway took up two whole rows, and was stacked with vendor after vendor. Brian Tooley Racing had an iconic car in their booth that is owned by professional street skateboarder Josh Kalis. This 1969 Camaro is extremely clean, and was just recently painted by Autocraft Custom Collision which laid down a custom paint color called Line Gray. Josh normally attends half-mile events with the car, where it traps around 200 mph. Under the hood is a Steve Morris Engines-built LS2 paired with twin Garrett GTX3584RS turbos to make all that power.
Something completely wild we don’t see every day is a V12—yes, a V12—LS engine, packed inside a Cheetah! This thing was ready to go with side-exit exhaust, big Wilwood brakes, and even Restomod Air. The V12LS and Cheetah boys will actually be selling this car shortly, and the new owner can take delivery at SEMA. Check out this link if you want to own this bad boy.
On the racer’s side of the pits I stumbled across this unique convertible Blazer called “Open Container”. This 4.5L Whipple-boosted LS is owned by Kari Bahus. Kari is physically disabled, but he doesn’t let that stop him from driving his Blazer; he has built and turned wrenches on the whole truck and even made a full custom hand-control setup. This was his third weekend out with the Blazer, and he was looking to get some solid testing done and get a feel for the truck with more power.
Sunny skies provided a great track surface for some drag racing. Many of the classes were able to some time runs in before qualifying started. Justin Keith’s “Stangklr” custom-blended Nardo Grey wide-body Corvette paired with Weld Racing S77 wheels was hands down the best looking C7 on the property, in my opinion. Justin was able to turn in a new personal best pass on the dragstrip this weekend with an 8.67 at 152 MPH. The major modifications to the car are the Late Model Engines 416 cubic-inch LT1 engine topped with Frankenstein Engine Dynamics cylinder heads, a Powerglide transmission, and the B&B Bullet exhaust. Oh, and the F1A-94 ProCharger supercharger.
One of the most enjoyable classes to watch was the Stick Shift/Banger class, in which Garrett Mitchell (Cleetus McFarland), Jarred Cocanougher, and Ray Bulach all battled it out, ripping gears in hopes to light the boards with a 7-second pass! Bulach’s Texas Speed and Performance turbocharged Camaro was the first and only one to do that this weekend, running 7.98 at a blistering 185 MPH—this was also his first time in the 7s, and with an H-pattern shifter to boot.
This weekend wasn’t only about the drag racing, as there were a serious number of well-built dedicated autocross and drift cars. This segment of the action was held on Beech Bend’s asphalt circle track, which is located behind the drag strip. The autocross cars had a series of test runs to get used to the course and feel out the turns, then qualifying gave the drivers a chance to obtain their quickest lap times.
The burnout competition was a fun filler to keep the fans entertained, and some participants even had tires which produced colored smoke to fill the sky. With this being LS Fest, there were all sorts of interesting vehicles—which didn’t come with LS engines from the factory—including an Oldsmobile wagon and a rock crawler with giant 35-inch mud tires! There’s nothing like a burnout contest, and this one delivered.
With great weather for most of the day Saturday, racing and all other activities went on, but later in the evening Mother Nature decided to open the skies and cancel the night of drag racing. This forced qualifying to become final, and the LSFest team made a plan for first round of eliminations to start first thing Sunday morning. But when heavy rain soaked the track on Sunday morning, they were forced to make the difficult call to halt the event to let all of the participants make their way home. All in all, LS Fest remains the place to be if you’re an LS enthusiast, so keep your eyes peeled for an announcement on the 2019 date, sure to be released soon.