And met with Cody Walker to chat about the event and his cars.
When Nissan asked if I would like to drive the new Z to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to put it on display at FuelFest and then hang out the next day at the car festival, I tried to act cool and not bite the PR manager's hand off. FuelFest is still a cool new roving fixture in the automotive calendar, and the Z is still rare enough that if you drive one across a city, at least two people will call out to ask about it at traffic lights. For added measure, I would get a few minutes to chat with one of the event organizers, Cody Walker. A few weeks later, the Nissan Z arrived with its sophisticated new looks shown off by dark grey paint. Then on Friday, we hit the five-hour road trip across the desert for a weekend of warm weather and tuner cars mixed in with a music festival. What could possibly go wrong? A dust storm blowing in, that's what.
It's a straight shot across the desert from California into Nevada on the 15 freeway, so we didn't get to play on winding roads. However, the Z makes for a great Grand Tourer as well as a back road brawler. The trunk space fits two pieces of luggage and a camera pack with room to spare, and it's fast. The twin-turbo V6 makes 400 horsepower and has a metric bucketload of torque to play with. I had roped my wife into playing navigator, music controller, and rental car driver, and we cruised until we hit the horrendous drivers with a complete lack of lane discipline. The good news is that the new Z car will accelerate from any speed you need with a burst of energy and then just keeps hauling. The manual transmission is work-like, which isn't a bad thing. It's got a medium throw and a solid clutch to withstand the amount of torque available, and it's a lot of fun to row through. Until you hit the level of traffic that Las Vegas can throw at you anyway.
The weather was beautiful when we dropped off the Z in the early evening while the event was being prepared. The music stage was up, the VIP area was being built, vendors were setting up their stalls, the drift course was being prepped, and we headed back to the hotel in our rental-spec Cadillac. However, when we left for the 2 PM start of festivities, a dust storm had blown in and the desert looked post-apocalyptic. Cars and trucks were veering all over the road in the wind while being sand-blasted, and we feared the festival might be called off. Thankfully, it wasn't, although it had obviously put a dent in the attendance numbers. Nothing will stop the hardcore, though, and plenty of tuners were happy to leave their cars out on display in the car show area. In the vendor's area, Shelby was out in force and enthusiastic enough to leave a Cobra out on display along with a convertible Shelby Mustang with the top down.
The day's most prominent attraction was the drift taxis, and amongst the drivers that brought their cars out in the name of charity and fun was Tanner Foust. Foust's Chevrolet LS7 V8-powered Volkswagen Passat might have been the most famous vehicle out there. Still, the level of driving was up there, with everyone competing to see who could get the most sideways for the longest stretch and the closest to the concrete barriers. Thrills came for the spectators and the camera people alike as they hurtled in to reach a cigarette paper away from smacking the barrier six feet away. It was awesome, but it was soon time to go and meet Cody Walker in the VIP area. Walking across the lot, we saw people losing hats to the wind, and someone had trailered in a giant speedboat on its side to show off the sound system. It was way too windy for an open-air sound system, and a couple of big guys were trying to hold up the wall of the VIP area against the wind. It's good that they did because of the line of cars parked in the VIP area, including AJ from BetWithAJ's McLaren and a particularly glorious WRC-liveried Subaru.
Despite the conditions, Cody Walker was fresh, relaxed, and wearing his trademark smile. His schedule was rigid, but he took a few minutes to talk about the event and how it got started. Now, it's not fair to simply describe Cody as Paul Walker's brother because he is his own man and has been part of the LA car community since he was young. FuelFest did come about as a result of events he was part of in memory of Paul, though. Those events also raised money for the actor's foundation, Reach Out Worldwide (ROW), which carries on with FuelFest. "It's fun, and it was great, and there was a time when I felt it was appropriate and good, but you've got to let the man rest. I was at a point where it was appropriate then, but I don't want to do that anymore," he explained. "How do I make it sustainable?" was the question he asked himself. "Because up until that point, it's asking favors. People are giving up all these favors, and we're giving money to charity. It was great. It was wonderful, but I wanted to create something sustainable."
Cody wanted to bring on a team full-time to do something he loved, which is being part of car culture and supporting charities. "So, we needed to come up with a name, FuelFest, and here we are. Reach Out Worldwide is our charity of choice, and with each show, we've reached over $200,000 now to donate. It's part of Paul's legacy, something that he left behind still in its infancy when he passed away, and we've been able to take that and do more helping communities after national disasters."
Cody is humble about just how big of a part he plays with ROW and its volunteers, who head into disaster areas as quickly as possible to help. But with a little prod, he opened up, saying, "Most recently, Hurricane Ian, which wiped out a lot of the coast in Florida here in the US. I was there with a bunch of volunteers, and ROW remained for another three weeks mucking and gutting homes that had been flooded that had been deemed salvageable and making supply runs."
Back on the subject of cars themselves, Cody explained that he's "not a brand loyalist. There's a lot of cool cars out there, and I wouldn't want to pigeonhole myself." Cody just sold his FK8 Civic Type R that was often seen around LA to make room for the Nissan Z he has on order, which will be a blue-on-blue performance spec. "I'm so grateful to Nissan for giving us a next-gen, or at least an evolution of the 370Z, because I feel like cars have become so numb and electronic. I feel like they've hit the sweet spot."
Cody does still have his S2000 track car. "I won't ever sell that. It's very special to me. I have a Raptor R allocated to me that I'm also waiting for."
At that point, Cody was whisked away to go and see his people, and I ended up chatting with his dad, Paul Walker III. He's another lovely person but doesn't resemble the brothers as clearly as they do each other. "The looks come from their mother," he told me with a smile.
After the respite from the sand-blasting wind, I headed back out to wander through the cars again to head towards the main crowd watching the drifters. I paused to take some photos and experienced instant regret in taking my sunglasses off while facing the wind. It was a complete shame the weather decided to blow in like that, but there was still a nice-sized crowd determined not to be put off. Thankfully, the interactive sponsor exhibits were unaffected by the wind, as was the gaming center.
I hate to admit it, but the wind and dust got me, and as the sun started to drop, nothing was happening at the stage. So, I headed back to the hotel to bathe my eyes and take a shower. When I got back around eight, the cars on show had all but left; the stage was unlit, but the drifters were still out there, and a decent crowd was still watching or waiting for rides. It was a shame the weather intruded, and the show petered out, but considering the conditions, it was a strong turnout with plenty of cool cars and an epic amount of burnt rubber.
FuelFest started in 2019 and went to the UK and then Japan, where 30,000 people showed up, before COVID interrupted the plans. FuelFest Las Vegas was supposed to be a triumphant return, and it was to a degree. The next event is on December 10 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona. As well as drifting, there will be drag racing, autocross, off-road trucks, and live music.