Pro Stock standout Skillman suitcases from Elite to Gray
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock sophomore driver Drew Skillman is making a move. He’s changing his affiliation – just this week – heading into the NHRA New England Nationals at Epping, N.H. with Gray Racing.
Skillman, who earned his first Pro Stock victory in his Auto Club Road to the Future rookie-of-the-year season with Elite Motorsports and who currently lies fourth in the standings (best of the former four-car Elite Pro Stock squad that includes reigning two-time champ Erica Enders-Stevens, five-time PS titleholder Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Vincent Nobile), believed his momentum had been quelled with two straight first-round losses in the previous two races. He felt it was time for a change.
With sponsorship from his family group of dealerships, Skillman hopes a new Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, with Tomi Lane as crew chief, will give the youngster the opportunity to catch category leaders Jason Line and Greg Anderson, both of whom drive for Summit Racing. Line has five wins on the year, been in every final round held to date and leads the point standings while second-placed Anderson holds three victories in five final rounds.
“We just need to go out there and start having fun,” Skillman said. “We started off (the season) way better and hopefully we can be better this weekend.” After racing to his first career victory in St. Louis last fall and going to his first final round in his very first NHRA Mello Yello race at Pomona in February of 2015, along with taking three No. 1 qualifiers as a rookie, the 28-year-old from Bargersville, Ind. hoped to take his Ray Skillman Chevy Camaro farther in 2016. New rules have kind of scotched that progress.
Shortly after Skillman’s exit from Elite Motorsports was announced, owner Richard Freeman got his two-cents in on the changes in his organization. “We recognize the team hasn’t performed up to the championship standards we’re used-to here,” Freeman acknowledged. “We knew it would be a challenge to switch over to fuel injection, and it certainly has been, but we’re working harder than ever to get our performance back to where it needs to be. We will get there.”
Unfortunately, the work being performed in the team’s Wynnewood, Okla. shops wasn’t quick enough for the Skillman family; they started looking at options and, as Freeman noted, the family was “shopping around for another team. I asked Ray (Skillman’s grandfather and sponsor) point-blank if he was looking to make a move and he said they were, so I wished them luck.”
The NHRA season is only one-third complete and Freeman believes, “Despite our struggles, all four of our cars are in the Countdown to the Championship field. Now they (the Skillman family) are going to a team with two cars outside the top 10. I can’t explain that thinking or what their level of loyalty is, but these things happen, so we’ll move on.”
With their fleet down to three cars, two of them Dodge Darts and a single Camaro for Nobile, it would be intriguing to hear that the Elite Motorsports team has decided to run Mopar cars only. In his first two years of NHRA competition, Nobile had success with that manufacturer’s package and, with a win drought that has the driver, his father John and the entire team looking for answers, perhaps a return to the package that brought them success might be in order?
The NHRA New England Nationals begin with two rounds of qualifying on Friday, two more on Saturday and eliminations on Sunday. The event includes three professional categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock with Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors on hiatus. At this writing, only Funny Car has the opportunity to bump with 17 entries for a 16-car field. There are 13 Top Fuel cars on the entry list and 14 Pro Stock competitors expected for the three-day race meeting.
A 60-percent chance of rain greets competitors at Epping for Friday, but that’s down to 10% on Saturday. A full Sunday’s worth of rain is forecast, reduced to 40% for Monday. The only issue is that teams have another race to contest in Englishtown, NJ next weekend, followed by Bristol, TN and a fourth consecutive contest at Norwalk, Ohio to end the month of June.
By Anne Proffit