Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Returning to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, the site of this weekend’s 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, a number of memories come flooding back for Drew Skillman.
Before last year, they were about growing up less than an hour from the track and taking in the world’s biggest drag race. Now, it immediately shifts to Skillman’s Pro Stock win a year ago.
Skillman won the event every competitor longs to do, knocking off six-time Indy winner Greg Anderson in the finals to wrap up a thrilling weekend in his Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro. Coming back to the prestigious event as the defending champ, Skillman can’t help but smile at all the incredible moments he created last year as he goes for a second straight win.
“It really is exciting to come back,” said Skillman, a Greenwood, Ind. native. “Winning Indy is definitely on the bucket list for a racer. If you win Indy, that’s something you don’t forget about. It meant a lot to everyone on the team and our family. Everyone wants to win their home race. We weren’t really supposed to win. We hurt our good motor going into (the semifinals) and weren’t sure how to tune the other one. We just had a little luck on our side.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Skillman (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be broadcasted on the FOX national broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including a live broadcast of Monday’s finals on both FOX and FS1 on Monday, Sept. 3. It is the 18th of 24 races during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and Skillman hopes it can also provide a jumpstart to his year.
He clinched his spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, but sitting ninth in points Skillman is far from satisfied. After winning four times a year ago, Skillman is still looking for his first in 2018. It’s been a frustrating up and down campaign for the 2015 NHRA rookie of the year, but a solid test session leading into Indy has Skillman hopeful he can end his season on a good note.
“We’re coming in refreshed, the car is running better and we’re going to try to win Indy again,” said Skillman, who has seven career wins. “We’ve tested the past two days and things are looking a lot better. The test session was great and I think it’s going to help. We’re going to take a swing at it, but Indy’s a different beast. A lot of things can change over the course of the weekend.”
Skillman hopes it’s a change in the right direction and with the points-and-a-half system in play (150 points to the winner) at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the rising star could make a considerable jump heading into the playoffs. He’s just 27 points back of seventh-place Jason Line, but Skillman will have to deal with a loaded Pro Stock class that has featured nine different winners in 2018. Skillman will try to become the 10th against the likes of points leader Anderson, teammate Tanner Gray, who has four wins in 2018, Brainerd winner Deric Kramer, Jeg Coughlin Jr., two-time world champ Erica Enders, Vincent Nobile and 2016 Indy winner Chris McGaha.
“It’s a tough class and it’s pretty easy to get lost,” Skillman said. “We just got a little off track. The car wasn’t set up well and I wasn’t driving well, so we need to step way, way up. We need a good result at all the (remaining) races. We know we have to do the best we can. The car is not always going to be great and the driver is not always going to be great. Hopefully if one is struggling the other is shining and it all comes together.”
In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence is after a second straight Indy win to maintain the points lead against the likes of defending world champ Brittany Force and 10-time Indy winner Tony Schumacher.
Funny Car’s J.R. Todd got his first Indy win in 2017, something he’ll try to repeat against points leader Courtney Force, defending world champ Robert Hight and Brainerd winner Jack Beckman.
Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Eddie Krawiec will look for another Indy win to jumpstart his title hopes against points leader Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet and Hector Arana Jr.
Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series also will look to become winners of the prestigious event. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse during the popular NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge as well. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the El Arabe Racing “Majestic” jet car driven by Juan Cantu. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. The legends scheduled to attend the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals include Don Prudhomme, Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Al Segrini, Tom Prock, Darrell Gwynn, Jerry “The King” Ruth and Terry Vance.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers. Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk also will take place prior to final eliminations, where many of the sport’s most celebrated drivers will walk alongside fans down the historic dragstrip. Fan-favorite vintage racecars will be on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the biggest stars of the sport will be featured.
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 4:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 12:00 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 3.
FOX national broadcast and FS1 will televise coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, starting with qualifying on Sunday, Sept. 2 on FS1 at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST. The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday, Sept. 3 starting at 11 a.m. EST, continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m. EST.