There are some of us in this world who are Luddites: We like fountain pens, miss our film cameras, and still find ourselves mightily stirred by the low rumble of a big-block. Practicality, however, drags many of us kicking and screaming into the modern era, which includes the LS series of engines from GM.
Introduced to the Corvette in 1997, the new architecture of the LS engines began with the customary 5.7-liter displacement (346 cubic inches, to be precise). All aluminum and fuel injected, the new motor made nearly 1 horse per cube and hit fuel-economy numbers literally twice or better what the old ground-pounders from the 60s could do. Both powerful and efficient, it was an entirely different kind of wicked than the old small- and big-block V-8s that preceded it.
Good things typically migrate, and the LS has done exactly that, becoming the motor of choice for engine swaps of all kinds. For these carsand the many thousands of Corvettes, Camaros, Firebirds, trucks, and other vehicles that came with LS power from the factorytheres LS Fest.
Sponsored by Holley, a leader in the LS aftermarket (and some of whose conversion parts will appear in an upcoming LS swap on our 72 coupe project car, aka Scarlett), LS Fest is a long weekend held annually at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a stones throw from the Corvette Museum. Note that its held at a racetrack: While there is a show-n-shine event, as well as a leisurely cruise through the nearby rolling countryside, LS Fest is about going fast in a safe, controlled environment.
Even if you dont want to put your own baby out on the track, theres great joy to be had in watching someone take out a flawless C6 Grand Sport and simply flog it. While you can show up in any kind of car, only LS-powered vehicles are allowed to raceso while I made the trip up to Bowling Green in Scarlett, she stayed in the parking lot.
Much of what has driven the popularity of the LS is the Pro Touring movement, many of whose adherents were in evidence at the Fest. A natural follow-up to the drag-race-oriented Pro Stock cars, the Pro Touring canons require that a car be able to accelerate, stop, and turn with equal confidence, as well as being able to be driven comfortably for some reasonable distancethings, incidentally, that the Corvette has always done. With this ethos, it doesnt take long to figure out why the lightweight, efficient LS has become so popular. As one of the major Pro Touring events, LS Fest features racing events geared toward all these newly appreciated facets of automotive performance: drag racing, braking, autocross, and even drifting.
Drag racing is, in many ways, the main event to watch, with covered bleachers on either side of the track. In an endless line, the Camaros, Corvettes, and everything else step up, stage, and disappear into the mirage down the track. If I had any remaining prejudice against the idea of non-big-block cars being fast, LS Fest pretty much sorted that out: The fastest Corvette there, an 07 Z06 piloted by Mark Carlyle, cleared the quarter in 7.47 seconds, with a trap speed of just over 206 miles per hour. Thatll do.
Speed Stop is drag racing with a twist: In addition to launching as hard and fast as you can, you have to haul the car down to a complete stop within a box of cones. Lowest time wins.
In many ways, according to Jeff Cleary, whose 67 coupe posted the lowest time for a non-ABS Corvette, the Speed Stop is the most difficult event because of what it does to the cars balance. While accelerating, you want all the weight on the rear wheels, to minimize wheelspin; while braking, you want all the weight transferred up front so the front wheels, which do the lions share of the deceleration, bite hard instead of just locking up and skidding. Coming down from full throttle, though, initial braking makes the wheels want to lock before the front end really gets planted, requiring a delicate touch to keep the car from just sliding gleefully through the box. With a time of 7.4 secondsover a full second quicker than the fastest ABS-equipped Corvette, Mark Hardys silver 06Clearys obviously got a pretty good handle on that part.
His car, of course, isnt every other midyear. Its built on an SRIII chassis with late-model suspension and brakes, powered by an LS7 with a sheetmetal intake and other mods, and was featured recently in these semi-hallowed pages (Zero to Hero, June 12). All told, the black C2 pushes some 700 horsepower and has run as fast as 10.77 seconds in the quarter. It also acquitted itself well on the autocross track.
Generally consisting of a cone course laid out to test a cars handling in a reasonably confined area, autocross is a relatively low-speed eventcompared, say, with those 200-plus-mph trap speeds on the dragstrip. At LS Fest, the course was laid out in a track area about the size of a football field, surrounded by a concrete wall to contain anyone who got a little enthusiastic on the gas.
Autocross, incidentally, is not a spectator sport. Dont get me wrong: You can watch it, and its pretty entertaining to see, but standing behind the concrete wall, idly critiquing other drivers lines and braking technique, is absolutely nothing compared with being behind the wheel.
01 Held each year at the Beech Bend complex in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Holleys LS Fest is a great opportunity to see some beautifully crafted cars put through their paces on the trackand to do the same with yours in a controlled environment.02 For pure go-fast, the action was at the dragstrip, where the competition was fierce. Eleven-second times were relatively common, with the fastest Corvette (Mark Carlyles IPS Motorsports Z06, shown here) posting a blistering 7.47-second quarter-mile time at 206.45 mph.03 Virginias Jeff Cleary put his wild LS7-powered 67 through its paces again at this years Fest, nabbing the VETTE Magazine Fastest Corvette/Speed Stop (Non-ABS) award in the process. He also snared a coveted invite to the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational.04 While you can do a lot of other things in them, this is what Corvettes were made to do: Go fast around curves. Autocross provides one of the safest ways to do that in a legal, controlled environment, where all youre likely to hit is a cone.