Space Race—Holley puts the NMRA World Finals over the moon with the Intergalactic Ford Festival

A huge crowd filled the stands and surrounded the edge of the track. The sound engines revving and tires smoking filled the air. The excitement was electric at Beech Bend Raceway, but it this year it wasn’t all about the drag strip. In 2019 the final race on the NMRA calendar expanded into a wonderland for Ford fans thanks to the addition a wide variety of new events and activities brought about with the addition of the Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival.

Holley definitely leaned into the name of its Intergalactic Ford Festival with an invasion of inflatable little green men appearing all over Beech Bend Raceway. From Bigfoot to the drag strip, they were everywhere, and made us smile every time we saw them.

Yes, the 21st Annual Nitto Tire NMRA All-Ford World Finals Featuring the Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival took a huge event and made it massive. The performance parts giant wanted to expand its event offerings with one for Blue Oval fans, as the company is pushing even harder in the Ford market.

“We wanted to show Ford owners that we love Fords like they do and we’ve learned that there’s no better way than to throw a party for them.  We are also launching more new Ford parts like the Hi-Ram intake, Terminator X EFI system, exhaust kits, etc., so the timing is perfect,” Bill Tichenor, Director of Marketing at Holley Performance Products, said.

As you may know, Holley is based in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the World Finals takes place, so it was only natural for the company to partner with NMRA to create a must-attend event for any Ford fanatic.

“We wanted the event to be in our hometown, so partnering with the NMRA was a natural fit as they already had a great event that Ford guys know about,” Tichenor explained. “When we put on an event the most important thing is to treat people right.  We have worked with the NMRA crew for 20-plus years and knew the NMRA team treats people like we want them to be treated so that would also work out perfectly as well.”

Similar to the successful formula of its LS Fest events in Bowling Green and on the West Coast, the Intergalactic Ford Festival brought even more excitement to the Beech Bend Raceway oval track with the addition of 3S Challenge, Autocross, Grand Champion, Dyno Challenge, and Burnout Contest competitions. Between the competitions, amateur and professional drifters, including Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea Denofa, performed  tire-frying exhibitions.

“If I could have dreamed what it would be like, it would be what went down. We couldn’t be happier with first year. Excitement was in the air and people had a blast,” Tichenor enthused. “That will catch on and they will bring more of their friends next year. I am not sure what Ford fans can expect next year at this point, but you can bet there’s a good chance we add something fun and continue to tweak it so it is a great experience for everyone!“

Everywhere you looked in 2019 there were awesome high-performance Fords on display and in action, which took the excitement of the NMRA series finale to a new level, and the good news is it will return next year, so start your planning now because you don’t want to miss it. Until then, let’s relieve the excitement of the inaugural event.

A definite highlight the festival action inside the circle track was a drifting exhibition by several vehicles. The clear headliners of the event, however, were Formula Drift Stars Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea Denofa, who slayed tires and gave rides during the event. “Had an absolute blast this weekend at the inaugural at the Holley Ford Fest!” Vaughn said after the event. “What an incredible event doing drift demos, giving rides and putting smiles on faces of my fellow Ford fans! I can’t wait to be back next year and I am already brainstorming ways to bring even more fun!”

On Saturday Vaughn and Chelsea hosted an meet ’n greet session in the RTR Vehicles display on the manufacturer’s midway. Throngs of fans waited in line to say hello, snap photos, and get autographs from the Formula Drift stars.

Sadly Ford is out of the hot hatch business in the States, but Michael P. Gallagher showed just how capable the 2016 Focus RS is in a competitive environment. A frequent competitor in Goodguys and Optima competitions, Gallagher drove away with wins in three categories — Grand Champion, Autocross, and 3S Challenge. His RS puts down 520 horsepower to its four, huge 315 tires planted by suspension upgrades from Cobb, Eibach, and Steeda. It also benefits from a built transmission. Those upgrades helped him defeat the V8 competition in the Autocross competition (with a 35.099-second lap), and the Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords 3S Challenge (with a combined time of 22.56 seconds), which tested steering, slalom, and stopping prowess. Those wins contributed in his claim to the Grand Champion Late-Model winner with 296 points. He drove away from Bowling Green with a lot of prizes including plaques, gift certificates, a jacket, a trophy, and a $1,000 check.

Modern trucks are solid performers and take to mods just like the passenger-car cousins. Ryan Harris showed just how well the new pickups perform, as his 2013 Ford F150 won the Grand Champion Truck class with 249 points earned in the Autocross, Drag Strip, and 3S Challenge. For his trouble he hauled away a $1,000 check, a jacket, and a trophy.

A regular competitor on the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge circuit, John McKissack and his 1966 Ford Fairlane put their experience to good use in the Grand Champion competition. He earned top honors in the Vintage class with 275 points. With that effort he eared a $1,000 check, a jacket, and a trophy.

A definite contender in the Grand Champion class, Jonathan Blevins’ 2008 Shelby GT500. He clocked a third-place finish in the Autocross competition thanks to a 35.257-second lap, but it was on the drag strip where his combination truly shone. There he topped the sheet with a first-place pass of 10.92 seconds.

Chris Franks (pictured) won the Power Adder class in the Car Craft Dyno Challenge with 955 rear-wheel horsepower from his 2017 Mustang GT. He won a $400 Holley gift certificate and a plaque. Meanwhile, Robert Raymu won the Naturally Aspirated class in his 2018 Mustang GT, which put down 465 horsepower to the wheels. He too scored $400 Holley gift certificate and a plaque for his effort.

There are burnout contests and then there is the TorqStorm Superchargers/Cleetus and Cars Burnout Challenge, which brought wild, Aussie-style burnouts to the Beech Bend oval. No standing burnouts are allowed in this showdown, as competitors are charged with keeping the tires smoking as they slide around the asphalt. Host and YouTube sensation Cleetus McFarland kicked things off by showing the crowd and competitors how it’s done in his GT500 5.4-powered Crown Vic, which burned so much rubber it popped the right rear tire in the process.

Dave Leffel’s turbocharged 1964 F-100 dominated during the burnout contest. Powered by a 363-cube small-block boosted by two Garrett 30/76 turbos to the tune of 1,000 horsepower thanks to a Holley EFI setup, its potent engine is backed by a G-Force T101A manual trans that feed power to a 2015 Mustang GT IRS setup bolstered by Ford Performance halfshafts. It definitely laid waste to some tires with ease.

Fans packed the stands to watch the burnout contest and pick the winner with the loudest response.

It was great seeing a strong representation of Fox Mustangs competing in the burnout contest, including one budget drift machine.

Limited Street competitor Kevin McCotter has won a few burnout contests in the past, and he’s obviously been itching to get back in the smoke show game as he brought out his specially designed exhaust and tires for this event, in addition to running heads-up on track.

As fun as this year’s event was, the better news is that the Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival will return next year in conjunction with the 22nd Annual Nitto Tire NMRA All-Ford World Finals.