Text and photography by Richard Fong
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. While that tag line might be Las Vegas’ motto, the recent action at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway was anything but a secret. And it shouldn’t be, as the Third Annual Holley LS Fest West event proved a massive, three-day celebration of Chevrolet’s LS engine. Holley created the LS Fest West event in 2017 in response to the call from LS fans from the west who could not make the journey to Kentucky for the original LS Fest. The sheer variety and number of vehicle entries three years on proved this decision a sound one. From dawn to dusk, each day proved action packed, showcasing the versatility of the LS engine and the myriad applications it serves in the automotive realm.
Josh Mazerolle’s Twin-turbocharged Toyota Hilux widebody could not be ignored. Check out the attention to detail on the sheetmetal work, especially the C-clamp!
The event encompassed practically the entire motorsports spectrum from the traditional Show-N-Shine car show to the cornerstone dyno challenge and drag racing. The action rarely stopped at this V8 amusement park, as the autocross, drift challenge, off road, burn out contest and side show venues kept the sound of roaring engines in our ears throughout the day.
Show-N-Shine – Car Show
The Show-N-Shine car show area was located at the heart of the venue, within easy reach of just about all of the activities. It was in this area that the cleanest rides were displayed, from vintage to contemporary. Many of the rides on display offered a glimpse of what the intersection of form and function look like. Of course, some vehicles were finished nicer than others, but no matter the external shell, the LS hearts were in the right place.
Weaver Customs brought out a sweet ’53 Bel Air with suicide doors and an LSX engine topped with a pair of siamesed blowers.
The HP Tuners Dyno Challenge started each day at 9 am and was open to registrants wanting to see what output their machines were producing at the wheels. Dyno challengers were split into two categories, naturally aspirated and power adder. On the N/A side, Adrian Herrada took the top honors with his 2000 Camaro putting down 554 horsepower. Only 18 horsepower separated him from the runner up, Kevin Fredenberg in his 2006 Corvette. On the power adder side, the big dog of the dyno for this event was Cleetus McFarland. His 2001 Corvette Kart, nicknamed Leroy the Savage, produced 1,352 horsepower from its twin-turbocharged 427ci engine. The Corvette Kart was the only vehicle to eclipse the four-digit mark that weekend, and even made a few exhibition passes down the 1320. Garrett Brumley came in second, making 979 horsepower with his 1972 C10 truck.
The Cone Zone
No, this is not a reference to the department of transportation work zones. We’re talking about tire-scorching events taking place within the K-railed arena behind the main grandstands. This coned zone served as the Autocross, Drift Challenge and 3S Challenge battlegrounds. Simply changing the layout of the cones prepared the course for each of the events.
There was plenty of cone dodging happening on the QA1 Autocross course throughout the weekend. A broad range of vehicles could be observed as drivers negotiated the cone course during specified sessions each day, with progressively quicker laps recorded in each class. Mike Dusold in his ’67 Camaro led the vintage class with a best combined lap time of 51.518 second. In the truck class, David Carroll executed the quickest laps of the weekend, getting from start to finish in 55.607 seconds behind the wheel of his ’74 C10. The top finisher in the Late Model class was Rich Willhoff, whose best laps behind the wheel of his 2006 Corvette totaled 51.768 seconds.
The Baer Brakes 3S Challenge is a derivation of autocross, testing the drivers and their cars in speed, stopping, and steering. This event was run in a similar fashion to gymkhana, where the competitors start off from the middle of the course on parallel straights, then splitting off to drive a mirrored course that included a chicane and a stop box at the finishing point. Each driver runs both courses back-to-back, and each pass is timed. This competition challenges the drivers to accelerate, brake and turn in the shortest possible time. The left and right times are added together to yield a total lap time to measure against. Dusold led the vintage class again with a best time of 25.636 seconds. Carroll led the truck class again too, with a best time of 28.069 seconds. Willhoff finished on top in the Late Model class with a combined best of 25.349 seconds.
The Drift Challenge always draws a crowd, and spectators lined the K-rails to watch drivers smoke the tires as they negotiated the course. As you would expect, every competitor had an LS engine under the hood. Yet more than 70-percent of the 30 entries were Japanese chassis, which tend to be lighter, better balanced and more affordable than most vehicles factory equipped with LS engines.
Practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday track sessions led up to the main event on Saturday afternoon, as the field was pared down. The top 16 drivers of the Drift Challenge lined up Saturday afternoon, prepared for tandem battles. Many were hopeful for the 2018 winner, 14-year-old Branden Sorensen, as he returned to compete in his LS-swapped 3-series BMW. Unfortunately, Sorensen faced elimination even after a “one-more-time” rebattle against Tony Cisneros in the first round of eliminations.
The field thinned as the eliminations progressed, and the final four in the semi-finals were Ian McDougal, Nate Hamilton, Brody Goble and Brandon Schmidt. Fierce battles ensued, and before long, McDougal and Goble found themselves staged up and ready to attack the course, vying for the third spot on the podium. In the end, McDougal came out on top, claiming the last step on the podium. Next it was a battle for the top step, as Hamilton and Schmidt faced off in the final. When the tire smoke settled, Schmidt prevailed over Hamilton to take the win.
The stadium located near the registration area offered a clear view of the dirt track. Sweepers, hairpin turns, jumps and even bigger jumps awaited the competitors in the off road arena. Pre-runners and UTVs along with trophy-truck style vehicles attacked the jumps and the turns making it look all too easy to catch air and negotiate turns while kicking up mounds of dirt in the process.
A perilous jump toward the end of the session sent this racer tumbling before bursting into flames. Thankfully both driver and co-driver escaped shaken, but unscathed. The vigilant emergency crews helped to put out the flames before the whole truck could be consumed.
Mr. Chow’s Side Show
Who doesn’t enjoy a little hooning? The guys from the Sac Speed Shop certainly do. They penned off a little area of the lot to create a safe and crazy arena just for the side show fans to watch registrants do insane burnouts, donuts and figure eights while smoking their tires to the cords. There were a variety of rides ranging from Corvettes and Camaros to Donks, trucks and even an RV. That last vehicle did not fare too well, as it ended up on its side on Saturday afternoon. Poor Winnebago.
After his tire-smoking side show performance, this driver pulled up to the announcer’s tent to propose to his lady… she said yes! Couples that race together, stay together.
Dario Gaiga’s blown ’77 Austin Mini showed that a repurposed newspaper tube can serve as an air scoop. This little monster won the Cinco de Mayo Tire De Fry’O contest.
The venue with the meanest machines—by far—was the drag strip. “The Strip” is a world class facility that hosts NHRA competitions, and the quality of the track and the painstaking prep between rounds just proves it. There was no shortage of VHT being applied, giving everyone on the track the opportunity for maximum traction off the line. All of the classes ran the full quarter-mile, except for the trucks, who ran the eighth-mile. There was plenty of opportunity for registrants to make shakedown passes and grudge runs throughout the weekend, as the drag strip always seemed to have cars in the staging lanes.
Plenty of torque and traction to lift wheels at the drag strip.
Busted! Corvette with a Rotary Engine Impounded!
Rob Dahm of YouTube fame bragged about sneaking a turbocharged 13B-REW rotary engine into LS Fest under the hood of a Corvette project car he had just finished. The publicity stunt was a funny one, but could have gone over better if it didn’t happen on Sunday at 2 pm, when most attendees had already left the venue. Check out his YouTube video—it has over 975,000 hits in just over a week, and it was published a week after the event ended. Of course, LS Fest knew he was coming.
Next Stop: Bowling Green, Kentucky
As the action wound down on Sunday afternoon, the western USA got its fill of LS V8 engines to last for at least a little while. The next injection of V8 action goes down the weekend of September 6-8, 2019 at Beech Bend Raceway Park, as the Holley LS Fest East prepares for its Seventh Annual event.