Id been talking to Cleary about his car between runs, when I noticed he carried a passenger for a lap. I dont want to be forward, I asked him when he pulled back around to the grid to wait his turn for the next run, but would you mind letting me ride with you?
He grinned. Absolutely!
Let me go get my helmet.
With the helmet on, and having signed the tracks I-wont-sue-you-waiver, I slipped down into the passenger seat, fumbling with the cam lock on the five-point harness, inadvertently releasing it several times until I finally figured out you just plugged each strap in, one at a time. Tightening up the shoulder straps, there was nothing left to do but wait as the line of cars inched slowly toward the starting line. Momentarily leaning my helmet backwards against the padded rollbar behind my seat, I no longer heard the engine. Instead, I could feel its churning idle rumble through my entire body as we waited.
The lights at the starting line come on slowly: pre-clear, stage, and then, without fanfare, an unannounced whisper of a thing, the green light blinks unceremoniously on. And the world explodes, the tires scramble for grip, and the car launches, hurtling forward at improbable speed down the short straightaway as your mind wonders in almost disembodied fashion when youll ever start to slow downand you suddenly realize there are cones right in front of you and youre making a U-turn, smooth and hard, and you feel the even transition from power to brake and back againbrake, gas, brake, brake, gasfeeling the pulsing throttle as the driver constantly modulates the power to the rear wheels, keeping the tires clawing at the absolute limit of traction, right on the ragged edge of watching the scenery start to go sideways. A right, another right, then a left, through the orange cones and toward the white wall, close one moment, farther away the next, and the car negotiates the curves, then the last hard left and a pair of chicanes as you rock from one side through the dogleg, pulling hard toward the pair of checkered flags on either side of the finish line, and then to the stop cone beyond them, where the car must come to a halt or be penalized.
The sensation is unique: rocketing wide open toward the concrete wall, an all-consuming rush, a fear without panic, again wholly focused on When are we going to stop accelerating? And then, suddenly, stillness. The car stands motionless, the checkered flags once again hang limp against their staffs. Look left to see your time in big red numbers on the display near the starting line, then idle slowly back to the staging area and get in line to do it again.
Fastest Corvette honors in the autocross went to Russ Coleman and his silver 02 Z06, which negotiated the cone course in a blistering 44.31 seconds. Its worth noting here that in addition to its own merit as a track event, LS Fest also serves as a qualifying event for the wildly popular Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, which ensures fierce competition from all comers. This is especially true for companies like Pro Touring powerhouse Detroit Speed, which showed up with some particularly impressive first- and second-gen Camaros, and whose reputation is built on making old American iron handle. And make no mistake, while Corvettes are more naturally suited for such things, the Camaros finished strong, accounting for four of the fastest five cars in the autocross, with an LS-powered Miata being the sole standout.
While it went on throughout the duration of LS Fest, I didnt sit down and watch the drifting until late Sunday afternoon. The event was held in the same track area as the autocross, but with the cones moved around to create a figure-eight of sorts for the drift cars. While there were Nissan 240SXs, other Japanese cars, and a sole late-model GTO, significantly, there were no Corvette drift cars.
For those unfamiliar with it, drifting is basically what we all would have done with our Corvettes if wed had them in our teens. Revolving almost entirely around the idea of controlling the car while skidding sideways around the track in a cloud of smoke, often in groups of three or four, drifting looks like a combination of synchronized swimming and most of the common moving violations. I have no comprehension of how its scored, and my general assessment of the sport was well-summed-up by the words some anonymous wag Sharpied on a porta-potty at Road Atlanta: Drifting isnt racingits screwing up. That said, when some dude in an LS-powered 240SX starts blasting toward you at the speed of heat, engine at full song, then yanks the hoon stick and turns that sucker sideways at a good 60 or 70 mph, pulling around the end of the track in a flawless loop, its hard not to be impressed.
After Id had enough fun admiring their driving skill, it was time to head outtime to make the long drive down to Nashville, then east, over the sinuous curves of Monteagle, through Chattanooga, and finally, home. Home to call the engine builder to check on that LS3 416 were building for Scarlett, to get out that check for the transmission, and to plot to show up again next year behind the wheel of a car built with malice aforethought.
...hurtling forward at improbable speed down the short straightaway as your mind wonders in almost disembodied fashion when youll ever start to slow down
05 Indiana-based RPM Transmissions brought a handful of fleet Corvettes to the Fest, including this nitrous-snorting C6, which ran mid 9s in the quarter.06 While it wasnt the primary focal point of the event, the Show-n-Shine area nevertheless contained a panoply of impressive, LS-powered street Vettes. This LS1-swapped C3, in particular, really gets around: We spotted it at the Mid America Motorworks Funfest in Effingham, Illinois, a week later. 07 Fest-founder Holley is one of the leaders in LS performance and conversion parts, as evidenced by this Hi-Ramtopped LS3 in display at the companys tent. Keep an eye out for an upcoming LS swap into our 72 coupe project car, a job that will feature several Holley components.08 Where theres smoke, theres tire. If youre sensitive to the smell of burning BFGoodrich, LS Fest may not be for you. While the water box at the dragstrip is the main culprit, most autocross competitors also light em up before staging, not to mention the drifters.09 Clearys wasnt the only LS-motivated midyear at the event. We spotted this LS1-powered convertible tearing it up in the autocross (shown), dragstrip, and Speed Stop events.