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.