Skillman won three times in a four-race span and hopes that helps lead to first win at the Big Go
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – August 31, 2017 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Every racer has a reason why the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is special to them. For Pro Stock’s Drew Skillman, who grew up 40 minutes from Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, it was about watching for years and years with his family.
“We always came here as kids and watched the fuel cars on Friday,” Skillman said. “We’ve been coming here for a long time and it’s always been a special place. It’s the first place I ever went down a dragstrip. This is a race you want to win.”
After an impressive four-race stretch, Skillman is clearly among the Pro Stock favorites heading into this weekend’s 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, The World’s Largest Drag Race. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be broadcasted on FOX and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including a live broadcast of finals on both FOX and FS1 on Monday, Sept. 4.
Drag racing’s grandest event is the 18th of 24 events and the final race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season, with the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship to follow. After a string of four first-round losses in five races, Skillman turned the corner in his Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro in Chicago.
It was the first of back-to-back wins and three victories over a four-race stretch, pitting the rising star as a viable championship contender. As for what made the difference in the turnaround, Skillman pointed to a small adjustment in his car as a key reason.
“We had some issues with the way I was sitting in the car, so we got it fixed and that helped me a ton,” said Skillman, who is fifth in Pro Stock points. “When the car would come out of the groove, I was really struggling. A change like that is something you don’t even think about. I thought that’s how you sit in a Pro Stock car, but the small things you don’t think about are really important. It feels great. I’ve got confidence in the car, I feel comfortable and I know it’s all there.”
It’s been a dangerous combination for the Pro Stock competition, including points leader Bo Butner, six-time Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Greg Anderson and teammate Tanner Gray, who has four wins in his rookie campaign. But it has Skillman, who has six career wins, excited for this weekend in Indy as well as the Countdown to the Championship. Being part of a strong Gray Motorsports team, which will include Shane and Johnny Gray, as well as Tanner this weekend, has also worked remarkably well for Skillman.
“I think we’ve got as good of a chance to win the race as anyone,” Skillman said. “The Gray family and I work really well together. It’s a great feeling. They don’t get stressed out about the small things, but they all want to do really well. We have the same goal and we have no problem moving in that direction together. Tanner has had an unbelievable rookie year.”
As for doing well at the world’s biggest drag race, Skillman knows he has to be focused over a long race weekend. He’s racing in Stock Eliminator in the NHRA Lucas Oil sportsman ranks and then there’s the $5,000 to win the Pro Stock Battle of the Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em competition. But persevering through a rigorous weekend to grab his first Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals win in Pro Stock is the main priority for Skillman.
“Indy is like running a marathon,” Skillman said. “You just have to survive. It’s extremely tough on anybody. We just have to dig in.”
Top Fuel’s Schumacher etched his name in Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals history a year ago, becoming the first NHRA driver to reach 10 wins at the prestigious race. He’ll look to add to his legacy against points leader Antron Brown and six-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence.
Hagan grabbed his first career Indy win last season in Funny Car and has three wins in 2017. He’s currently chasing reigning world champ Ron Capps, who has six wins this season, and Robert Hight, who won two races during the NHRA’s Western Swing.
Hines picked up his second Indy win in 2016 and is after his first win of 2017. Former world champ and 2010 Indy winner LE Tonglet has been dominant this year, winning five races, but will have to hold off reigning world champ Jerry Savoie, Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith.
Bonus bucks are on the line for qualified drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car in the lucrative Traxxas Nitro Shootout. Top Fuel will run on Saturday evening, while the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car is contested on Sunday. Traxxas Nitro Shootout winners will earn $100,000. Schumacher is the defending winner in Top Fuel, while Courtney Force was the 2016 winner in Funny Car.
Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series also will look to become winners of the prestigious event. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse during the popular Mopar HEMI Challenge. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Muy Caliente Racing jet dragsters sponsored by Lucas Oil and the Larsen Motorsports jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech and Matrix System. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers. Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk also will take place prior to final eliminations, where many of the sport’s most celebrated drivers will walk alongside fans down the historic dragstrip. Fan-favorite vintage racecars will be on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the biggest stars of the sport will be featured.
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 2:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 3 at 11:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 4. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be contested Saturday, Sept. 2 with rounds at 3:45 p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car takes place on Sunday, Sept. 3 for the eight qualified drivers, with rounds at 12:45 p.m., 2:45 p.m. and 4:40 p.m.
FOX national broadcast and FS1 will televise coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, starting with qualifying on Sunday, Sept. 3 on FS1 at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. EST. The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday, Sept. 4 starting at 11 a.m. EST, continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m. EST.
Tickets for the world’s most prestigious drag race can be purchased by calling the NHRA Ticket Sales Center at (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
About National Hot Rod Association
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates five racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; National Trail Raceway in Ohio; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association