NHRA PHOTO Southsider Drew Skillman, a three-time runner-up this season on the NHRA circuit, raises his first Wally trophy after capturing the Pro Stock title Sunday at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill. Skillman’s elapsed time was 6.529 seconds, and his speed was 211.63 mph. He defeated teammate and U.S. Nationals winner Erica Enders.
One racer’s tribute to Jeff Gordon
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Two different worlds of high-speed racing came together last weekend during the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway across from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
NHRA legend 16-time Funny Car champion John Force had his Chevrolet SS Funny Car repainted to honor four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon fittingly on the first weekend of each group’s version of a playoff.
“I put as many flames as my designer (Brandon Baker) could fit on my hot rod in Jeff’s honor,” Force said last week before the Funny Car was transported from Brownsburg to Charlotte. “I got the idea for the flames from Jeff telling me years ago he was a fan because I was always on fire.”
It was also Force’s way of acknowledging the various events they have shared together as motor racing champions.
They first met several years ago at a racing banquet where the younger Gordon was nervous about speaking so Force relaxed the young driver with some humorous stories.
Years later at the Auto Club Speedway in California, Force insisted that he would make a hamburger run for Gordon and NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace. Force wound up driving a limo to the track for the NASCAR event and also to the drive-through. The limo ran out of gas with Force driving it.
Gordon, who retires from fulltime competition at the end of the season, was stunned by Force’s use of the famed rainbow paint scheme with flames that the NASCAR champion made popular on the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet.
He also understood that the tribute crossed many lines in motor racing.
“It is one thing to see a track or a fan or somebody here within this garage does something to pay tribute,” Gordon said at a press conference last week at Chicagoland Speedway. “But when it starts going outside of NASCAR and our sport, that certainly humbles you and makes you extremely appreciative of not only what I have done, but people that recognize it, especially when it is someone like John Force.”
Force reached the semifinals of the Carolina Nationals before being eliminated Sunday and Gordon finished 14th in the first race of NASCAR’s Chase. Gordon is 12th in points as NASCAR races Sunday in New Hampshire where he was won three times. The Chase field will be cut to 12 after the Challenger Round ends in two weeks at Dover.
When Gordon lines up at New Hampshire, he will break Ricky Rudd’s record of 788 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts.
“Something I’ve put a lot of effort into over the years is to stay healthy and competitive and to be as committed to the team, from a driver’s standpoint, as they have been to me,” Gordon said. “It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in that car every single race since 1992.”
Gordon admitted that drivers of Rudd’s era, including former Hendrick teammate Terry Labonte, were far tougher than today’s NASCAR drivers particularly with the types of stock cars they drove.
“They dealt with some major injuries and fought through, just like Terry,” Gordon remarked. “I’ve seen him race with a broken hand or wrist, it was pretty amazing. I’ve had some injuries along the way that I’ve had to fight through, but certainly nothing like those guys. They were way tougher.”
Schatz scores 200th WoO win
Donny Schatz became only the third driver in World of Outlaws winged sprint car history to win 200 races in earlier in September at Elma, Washington.
Schatz, who races for team co-owner Tony Stewart, joins legends Steve Kinser of Bloomington and Sammy Swindell as the only drivers to reach that plateau.
Schatz is having a record season for the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team with 28 wins this season and a huge 400-plus point lead over his nearest rival. His 200th win came almost 17 years to the date of his first-ever series win at Cottage Grove (Ore.) Speedway, Aug. 24, 1988.
Brownsburg’s Joey Saldana shared in the honors of the night by breaking a 12-year track record with a lap of 11.750 seconds.
New Castle’s Hines ‘ last ride
New Castle’s Tracy Hines, winner of 91 United States Auto Club (USAC) national wins in three major divisions, is stepping away from fulltime open-wheel racing at the end of this season.
The USAC Sliver Crown and National Sprint Car Series champion will serve as competition director for ThorSport Racing next year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. ThorSport has captured the last two NASCAR truck championships with veteran driver Matt Crafton.
Hines raced in the NASCAR Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series for four seasons (2003-2006) with a pair of top-five finishes in the truck series.
Hines currently leads the USAC National Midget Series.
He will compete in a midget and sprint car this weekend in the famed USAC Four Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway.
Hines said he will race part time in 2016 in the midget series and 410-winged sprint car.
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Second-generation figure-8 driver Ben Tunny dominated the final 162 laps of the 465-lap 39th World Figure-8 Championship Three-hour Endurance Race Saturday at the Indianapolis Speedrome.
Tunny, who previously won in 2009 and ’12, passed Artie Ware, a Jeffersonville Sportsdrome veteran, on the inside of the first turn on Lap 304 and foiled any attempt for an out-of-town driver to win the track’s signature race for the second time. Ware finished second on the lead lap and led twice for 65 laps.
Jeffersonville’s Leonard Basham was third, two laps behind the winner. Corey Turner of Wanamaker finished fourth, followed by Danny Smith, Beech Grove’s Doug Greig, rookie Donnie Garrigus IV, Michigan’s Mike Hadley Jr. and Franklin Township’s Charlie Hargraves.
Tunny’s brother Jesse Tunny led five times for 198 laps and was in command when his car lost power in the fourth turn on Lap 259.
Two-time winner Greig completed 455 laps and raised his all-time laps completed record to 8,576 in 26 races.
Southsiders Curtis McMurtrey and Larry Hahn and out-of-area drivers Jeremy Vanderhoof and Derick Bradshaw won qualifying races.
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Southsider and Pro Stock rookie Drew Skillman sounded like a veteran while facing his first NHRA U.S. Nationals in a professional class last weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg.
“We have a really competitive car – a top three car is sitting right here,” Skillman said after qualifying third-fastest for his first Pro Stock finals. “With the consistent heat for three days we were trying to get the right setup for race day.”
Skillman, who eventually finished second, had planned to continue his drag racing career in Stock Eliminator Competition, where he was a two-time national runner-up, but has aligned with one of the top Pro Stock teams, Elite Motorsports, this season.
The partnership came about due to a professional friendship with team owner Richard Freeman. The Skillmans, including grandfather Ray Skillman and father Bill Skillman, had leased engines from Elite Motorsports.
“We had planned on running Comp with him, but he had an offer to put us in Pro Stock,” Drew Skillman said. “Now we’re running with some great people. This is a great team with plenty of talent.”
Skillman, a car salesman at Ray Skillman Ford, raced Ford Cobras to five Stock Eliminator and one Super Stock win in four years. He was ready for Pro Stock although driving a stick shift was his biggest challenge.
“It took me a long time to learn how to drive a stick car correctly,” Skillman said. “My first qualifying run is always a refresher. Staging is much more difficult in Pro Stock. In stock I could rough in the brake; can’t do that in Pro Stock.”
At Lucas Oil Raceway Monday, Skillman won the first round against Aaron Laughlin, 6.605 to 6.632 seconds; took the second round against 2014 U.S. Nationals champion Shane Gray with a quicker hole shot by eleven-thousandths of a second; and the semifinal round against New York’s Vincent Nobile.
Meanwhile, Skillman’s teammate, last year’s Pro Stock champion Erica Enders-Stevens, bettered three opponents in the upper bracket to set up an all-Elite Motorsports championship duel.
Skillman was five-thousandths of a second quicker down the strip, but Enders-Stevens’ reaction time was twelve-hundredths of a second quicker for her first title.
Skillman, a third-time runner-up in 15 finals this season, was subdued after helping to roll the red Ford Cobra into their pit area, but grandfather Ray Skillman was talkative.
“We did everything we could do to win,” the elder sportsman said. “We had a great weekend and had a great run. There aren’t many first-year drivers who reached three finals in their first 15 professional races – that’s one out of five and I’ll take that any day.”
Enders, Morgan Lucas in Top Fuel, Jack Beckman in Funny Car and Jerry Savoie in Pro Stock Motorcycle were crowned champions.
Skillman reached the Pro Stock finals earlier in Las Vegas and Norwalk, Ohio.
Teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. lost in Monday’s first round.
Ray Skillman reached the second round (final 30 drivers) in Comp Eliminator before bowing out of Sportman events. He came into the Nationals after winning an NHRA class championship one week earlier in Bowling Green, Ky.
Glidden reaches finals
Second-generation racer Billy Glidden has the distinction of being part of the two fastest Pro Mod fields in NHRA history.
Earlier this year Glidden earned his first Pro Mod event Wally championship trophy against the fastest 16 finalists Sunday at Lucas Oil Raceway. Glidden qualified for the final 16 on his last run Sunday with a time of 5.916 seconds, 241.28 mph, in a Mickey Thompson Performance Tires Ford.
“We had five hours rest in two days,” said Greenwood native and wife Shannon Glidden. “We knew we had to get it just right for our last (qualifying) run.”
After the third round, Glidden stood 23rd among the 33-driver field, three-hundredths of a second from the top 16. His first three qualifying runs were adventurous.
His Ford sustained engine damage Friday with an intake backfire on his first run. Then he had a mechanical problem Saturday on his second run with a different engine. Bill and Shannon went back to their Whiteland shop that night, rebuilt the damaged engine, installed it and made the finals Sunday.
Glidden, son of Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, was edged by No. 3 qualifier and eventual Pro Mod champion Rick Snavely of California in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Snavely went 5.902 seconds; Glidden 5.951 seconds.
In Super Gas, Skillman-sponsored Janice Swan was eliminated in the fourth round, Bob Locke of Whiteland in the third round and Randy Shipp of Whiteland in the second round. Drew Skillman and Randi Lynn Shipp, formerly of Whiteland, were eliminated in the fourth round to Stock Eliminator.
Scenes from NHRA U.S. Nationals
Glidden's represent at NHRA Nationals
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Shannon Springer Glidden remembers growing up in Greenwood with a close-knit family.
Her dad, retired Greenwood Parks Director Evan Springer, was a hot rodder and did a little drag racing. Her mom, Nikki, was a Greenwood High School cheerleader and did some racing too. Shannon’s brothers, Shawn and Steven, and sister Stacy also understand the value of family.
They grew up on Broadway Street near the Old City Building that once served as the city’s community center and were just a few blocks from the heart of Downtown, the city pool and Greenwood United Methodist Church, where they still worship today.
Shannon fully understands her commitment to family as the wife and longtime companion of second-generation drag racer Billy Glidden of Whiteland and why the couple is a phenomenon in today’s ultra-expensive world of drag racing.
As a young teen, Shannon – a three-sport athlete in high school and a lifeguard – had no idea what drag racing was about until she saw some photos of her mom and dad holding racing trophies.
She met Billy while playing basketball at the Greenwood Community Center. Her mom told her before she met Billy’s parents, Bob and Etta Glidden, that Bob was famous but a down-to-earth person who worked hard.
Billy and Shannon form the most economical team in the National Hot Rod Association’s Pro Modified class. They are co-team owners, and they are the team. Billy does all the engine work and mechanical preparation; Shannon takes care of the parts and equipment.
“It’s in my blood because mom and dad raced before I was born,” Shannon said. “I saw them in photos with all those trophies. I didn’t know what Billy’s family was all about when I began dating him. Eventually he told me that drag racing was his life and said it had to be my life too.”
Glidden, 51, son of Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, won his first NHRA event championship in Pro Mod in June in Englishtown, N.J. – the same drag strip that his dad won his 85th and final Wally trophy during a stellar 20-year career.
Shannon and Billy will go for their second Wally in Pro Mod this weekend at the 61st annual U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg. He drives a 2010 Ford Mustang, powered by a 903-cubic inch Billett with nitro and is sponsored by Mickey Thompson Performance Tires.
Billy’s mom, Etta, taught Shannon how to pack the rear parachute of a high-speed drag racing vehicle and how to lift tires by using leg strength instead of back strength.
“Billy’s the brains, and I’m kind of the brawn,” Shannon said. “He’s an incredible man when it comes to engines.”
He preps engine parts and rebuilds engines and transmissions by hand. There is no CNC machinery at the Whiteland shop, which is heated by an economical wood pellet furnace. He admits that Shannon grumbles at times, but he also knows that there are few couples that work together 24/7 to achieve what they do.
Billy has raced for business owner and former Indianapolis 500 team owner Mickey Thompson since 2008, when they went together to develop a wider drag racing tire for NHRA Pro Stock competition. In less than two years Goodyear struck a deal with NHRA to be the official tire of Pro Stock.
Glidden’s car is Pro Mod and Pro Stock legal; however, he competes in Pro Mod in a Mustang that has a short 105-inch wheelbase.
“We’re running a car that was not specifically built for this class (Pro Mod),” Shannon explained.” We don’t know if it’s a handicap because Billy does so well with the car; no one else has tried to run Pro Mod with a Pro Stock legal car.”
They are eager to compete again in front of family, friends and fans in the U.S. Nationals today through Monday.
“To race at home and in front of all those spectators is awesome,” Shannon said. “I’m a social person so it is very hard to block out people when they want to talk. But this is high stress, and the turnaround between runs is so short that there’s not much time for conversation. We have a definite rhythm with our tasks between rounds.
“Billy and I know that we are allowed to do what we do in drag racing because of all the thousands of people who attend these races. I never miss my partner because I’m with him all the time. I have this bonus of being with him in this whole life.”
She understands the demands of drag racing and how emotionally painful it was to miss the funeral of her brother, Steven Springer, in April 2014. He was a retired veteran who was killed in a single-vehicle accident in southern Indiana.
“I knew that Steve loved what we did so much that he would have wanted me to stay with Billy,” said Shannon, who was at a race in Houston. “My husband was going down the track at 240 miles per hour when I got the call he had been killed. I knew I would see family when I got home.”
Billy made his drag racing mark in the 1990s by winning 15 different series championships. He raced in the World Form Challenge, World Street Nationals, Mr. Gasket Challenge, Hot Rod Magazine series, National Mustang Racing Association and National Muscle Car Association and finally NHRA. He won NMRA and NMCA championships in the same year.
“The highs are the pinnacle, but the lows are about as low as you can get,” said Shannon, 48. “It’s just the two of us, so it is crushing when things don’t work out at an event the way you want.”
Sportsman qualifications continue Thursday with Pro Mod trials beginning Friday at 1:30 p.m. They begin Saturday at 12:30 p.m. with Traxxas Top Fuel Shootout fnals at 7:45 p.m. Qualifications resume Sunday at 9:15 a.m. with eliminations rounds at 11 a.m. Info: www.lucasoilraceway.com or www.nhra.com.
Entries from Southside:
• Comp Eliminator – 390B/EA, Ray Skillman, Greenwood, 2014 Ford/Chevy 397, Ray Skillman Auto Mall.
• Super Stock – 373FSS/E, Bill Skillman, Greenwood, ’10 Ford 330, Ray Skillman Ford; 3471GT/CA, Casey McCarty, Greenwood, ’87 Pontiac 455, CNI Motorsports; 3903FSS/B, R. Skillman, ’12 Ford 330, Ray Skillman Auto Mall.
• Stock Eliminator – 2AA/SA, Drew Skillman, Bargersville, ’12 Ford 331, Ray Skillman; 373FS/A, B. Skillman, ’14 Ford 302, Ray Skillman Ford; 339LC/SA, Randi Lynn Shipp, formerly Whiteland, ’67 Pontiac 400, Jim Butner Auto, Inc.; 349JF/SA, Joey Shipp, Whiteland, ’70 Chevy 350, Shipp Family Racing.
• Super Comp – 396VSC, Ronald Finney, Greenwood, ’11 Dragster/Chev 605, Renegade Race Fuels.
• Super Gas – 316F SG, Bob Locke, Whiteland, ’57 Corvette 565, Custom Business & Tax Solutions; 337R SG, Robert Goodrich, Greenwood, ’93 Ford/Chev 434, Commercial Team Construction; 3391 SG, Randy Shipp, Whiteland, ’60 Corvette 496, Ray Skillman Chevrolet; 349J SG, Joey Shipp, Whiteland, ’68 Camaro 555, Ray Skillman Chevrolet; 3791 SG Pamela Kuehner, Greenwood, ’96 S-10 421, Greenwood RV Rentals.
Al Stilley is the senior sports writer for the Southsider Voice and has years of experience covering motorsports.