After recent hot streak, Skillman confident he can win prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals
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 Biggest 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.”
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 NHRA 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 NHRA 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 noon 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.