There are moments in life that ignite our passions and define our futures, and for me, that epiphany happened at Holley’s LS Fest East 2023. Amid the roar of engines, the smell of burning rubber, and the thrilling spectacle of wheelies and drag races, I found my bliss. Whether I was listening to the passionate or funny stories behind each build, marveling at my first-ever drag race, or hearing open headers, I knew I had discovered heaven on earth. It was more than a car event; it was a revelation that showed me the very core of the racing community.
Having been to SEMA in the past, I knew what to expect in terms of the crowd and vendors, but wasn’t prepared for the racing and drifting community. Where I am from, the closest drag strip is hours away, so we build cars for stop light to stop light. We don’t have staging lights, timers, or pits. With this trip to LS Fest being my first experience with these things, I didn’t know what to expect.
I quickly found out what the racing community was about. I looked around in the staging area and saw competitors helping each other push their cars, diagnose problems, and just enjoy being around each other. Looking around also revealed cars that weren’t built by individuals, but rather, by families. You’d see father/son builds, father/daughter builds, and even some that had the whole family involved.
Moving on from the staging lanes, led me to the drag strip. That is where it hit me that the 1,320 feet of a drag strip is more than asphalt — it’s a living tapestry of emotion and experience. Each inch holds the essence of speed, the trials of breakdowns, the sweet taste of victory, and the bitter taste of loss. After years of watching YouTube videos of drag strip racing, LS Fest had finally brought me to the real thing.
Luckily enough, the first car I watched make a pass, pulled the front wheels. While this doesn’t always make for a great 60-foot time, it was so cool to see it in person. Although the Fox Body went on to run the quarter-mile in 10.859 seconds at 104.14 mph, compared to the S10 which went 10.256 seconds at 131.97 mph, it was still amazing to watch as my first pass. Whether it was a 12-second quarter-mile pass or a 4.209 eighth-mile pass, I was grinning ear to ear the whole time.
Right behind the drag strip was autocross and drifting. My closest comparison to these events is late nights in a Walmart parking lot. Before watching these drivers handle the track so smoothly, I had the thought that anyone could get behind the wheel and do such a thing. My nights of parking lot hooning had definitely given me a false sense of confidence, and that confidence quickly faded. Watching the autocross drivers handle the turns without shredding an ounce of rubber and make seamless transitions from high to low speed, made me happy to just be behind a lens and not a steering wheel.
Now drifting, on the other hand, that event had an unfathomable amount of rubber being thrown and burnt. At times I couldn’t tell if it was a burnout contest or if they were still drifting. The fact that they were able to throw their cars around without losing control and spinning out was truly amazing.
The car show was a great experience as well. From newly introduced LS enthusiasts to lifelong members of the LS community, they had it all. There were straightforward swaps without performance mods or fancy parts, there were high-end swaps and even some that were in-between. It was obvious that the cost of the build didn’t matter, everyone there was on common ground. Talking to the builders was an experience that provided a lot of insight. Even though I am not currently working on any LS swaps, I was provided with a lot of do’s and don’ts. Many people were also giving me recommendations on what parts to run and all sorts of tips that were unsolicited, but greatly appreciated and duly noted.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and that is still the case with such an event. Our Editor at LSX Magazine, Jeremy Nichols, tried to prepare me by telling me not to worry about trying to cover everything because it’s almost impossible, but I wanted to prove him wrong. I took over 2,000 pictures just to realize that he was right. In hindsight, I wish I could’ve heard the story behind more builds, seen every build, and watched every competition from start to end.
In my mind’s rearview mirror, Holley’s LS Fest East 2023 looms large — a lively variety of roaring engines, human ingenuity, and the unbeatable spirit of the automotive community. Every moment was a lesson, every encounter a discovery, from the fellowship in the staging lanes to the thrills on the drag strip. From the precision of autocross to the controlled chaos of drifting. Although I wasn’t able to hear every tale or see every example of creativity, what I did see and hear has permanently changed my understanding of what it means to be in this community.