Senior staff writer
Ray Skillman said he feels blessed to be able to race again after recovering from multiple injuries in a horrendous drag racing accident last year.
Skillman, a veteran NHRA Sportsman drag racer, was injured last October in Las Vegas, where he suffered a fractured vertebra, a broken rib and a concussion and numerous cuts and bruises.
Skillman’s E/Altered Automatic Mustang veered at the end of a Comp Eliminator run, struck a wall, shot across the track to the other concrete wall, flipped and skidded to a stop at the end of the raceway.
“It knocked me plumb out,” Skillman said in an interview last week at Ray Skillman Classic Cars in Greenwood. “My concussion was really of more concern to the doctors. My back (concern) was fine because I knew it would take time to heal. I wasn’t the best patient in the world.”
While recovering and undergoing rehab, Skillman kept up with his nine automobile dealerships.
A family vacation in Hawaii delayed his return to racing, which was scheduled for mid-April at the Ray Skillman Summer Shootout at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg. Monsoonlike rains postponed the meet until earlier this month.
He has raced in four events this summer, reaching the championship run in Competition Eliminator in the shootout before red-lighting.
Skillman, son Bill Skillman, and grandson Pro Stock competitor Drew Skillman are looking forward to the U.S. Nationals, which begin today at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“I’m a very blessed man,” Ray Skillman said. “I have a wonderful wife, a whole bunch of grandkids, and to be able to race with your son and grandson, three generations racing together, is pretty cool.
“We’re blessed financially that we can do this. The 1,100 people who work for us put us in the position that we can go play every once in a while, even on a national stage. Any time Drew wins a Pro Stock event, he thanks the hundreds of people who work for us.”
The Skillmans compete in several races each season. Drew is the only family member competing in a professional class. He won two events last year and three this season.
The elder Skillman enjoys drag racing because of friendships and competition. He hosts a barbecue for competitors on the opening night of the Nationals.
“If it weren’t for the camaraderie, I would find something else to do,” he said. But it is a competition, so when it’s time to win your class or your elimination round, that’s exactly what you want to do.”
Ray has won several class events. The Owensboro, Ky., native returned to drag racing 11 years ago.
In an All Pro race at Kentucky Speedway, Skillman’s Chevrolet collided with a spinning car, flipped and landed upside down. Skillman was not injured, but it was his last stock car race as he continued to oversee the opening of Ray Skillman Classic Cars.
“I never told myself that I would quit racing,” said Skillman who was 66 at the time of his accident. “I was getting into collector cars; I still have six of my late model cars that I raced that are worthless. “
He ordered a new 2010 Ford Cobra Jet for Drew, who was racing in Sportsman races and later bought a second one.
Several years later, the Skillmans are accomplished drag racers. Drew has climbed into Pro Stock and is a challenger for the Wally Trophy at the Nationals.
Pro series events run Friday through Sunday with final eliminations Monday at 11 a.m.
Injured in an early season Pro Mod crash in Florida, Bill Glidden of Whiteland returns to the Nationals. Glidden, son of Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, drives the Ray Skillman Auto Group 2010 Ford 903 in Pro Mod.
He suffered several broken ribs and a bruised lung in a crash on an Orlando drag strip and had to be cut from the car.
In last year’s Pro Mod finals, he reached the semifinals. Glidden’s wife, Shannon, of Greenwood serves as crew chief.
Comp Eliminator: R. Skillman; Super Stock: R. Skillman, B. Skillman, Joey Shipp; Stock Eliminator: B. Skillman, Randi L. Shipp; Super Comp: Ronald Finney; Super Gas: Bob Locke, Robert Goodrich, R. and J. Shipp.