Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – DINWIDDIE, VA – Seeing eight different winners through the first nine Pro Stock races of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season is enough to convince Drew Skillman about the impressive parity in the class.
It’s also motivation for Skillman to try to become the next in the winner’s circle at this weekend’s Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park.
The seven-time event winner is one of a handful of standouts who are looking for their first win of the 2018 season, and Skillman knows he has a car and team capable of grabbing a victory at Virginia Motorsports Park, which is hosting its first NHRA event since 2009. It hasn’t happened yet in his Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro, but Skillman believes his time is coming soon.
“It’s time for us to get our stuff together,” said Skillman, who is currently seventh in points. “I know darn well we’re too good not to win. This team has some of the best guys in the country and these guys have all worked together for years. If you look at our car at the beginning of the season, it was fantastic and the driver did not do his job. We had a car that could have won several races and we just didn’t do it. But we typically get hot this time of year, so I expect us to get on track.”
The stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will try to pick up wins at a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage beginning at 6 p.m. on Sunday. It is the 10th of 24 races during the 2018 season and also the second of four consecutive races. After a first-round loss in Chicago last weekend, Skillman is ready to make amends.
Skillman has been close, advancing to three semifinals, but he also knows that the competition level has been incredible in 2018. Vincent Nobile is the only two-time winner this season, while standouts like Erica Enders, Tanner Gray, Chris McGaha, Jeg Coughlin Jr., who won in Chicago, Matt Hartford, reigning world champion Bo Butner and Deric Kramer all have one win. Skillman is part of a talented group that includes points leader Greg Anderson, Jason Line and Alex Laughlin who have yet to win a race this season, but Skillman predicts that winner’s list will grow.
“I’ll tell you right now, there’s going to be 12-13 different winners,” Skillman said. “I guarantee it. There’s too many good people with too much good power and any of them could win any weekend. If you’re not fast and consistent, you’re not going to do anything. There’s no lucky rounds out there. You see people losing with great reaction times, so you better have it together. You already have to start thinking about (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship) positioning.”
The best way for Skillman, who won four events a year ago, to move up is to start winning races, and a victory in his first race at Virginia Motorsports Park would do that. With a new track surface and plenty of anticipation regarding the NHRA’s return to Virginia, Skillman is excited to make his own debut at the facility and hopefully make a sizeable impression in the process.
“I’m definitely looking forward to this weekend,” Skillman said. “They redid the entire track and I’m excited to see it. It’s nice to mix it up and go to some new places. I’ve talked to the guys who have raced there and they said it’s a beautiful area, so I’m pumped and expecting this to be a pretty good weekend. This deal is supposed to be fun and we’ve talked a lot about that, not banging our heads against the wall. We’re going to keep working hard and still have fun.”
Top Fuel standouts Tony Schumacher and Doug Kalitta both have wins at VMP, but everyone is hunting points leader Steve Torrence, who has three wins in 2018. Others to watch include Clay Millican, who has back-to-back wins, Leah Pritchett and defending world champ Brittany Force.
John Force has four Funny Car wins at the facility, while Cruz Pedregon, who won in Charlotte this year, also has a Virginia victory. But both are chasing Courtney Force, the current points leader who has two wins in 2018. Others to watch include Jack Beckman, Robert Hight and Matt Hagan.
Pro Stock Motorcycle will race at the track for the first time since 1998, with the event marking the fifth of 16 for the two-wheeled class in 2018. Everyone is chasing points leader Andrew Hines and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec, who has two wins this season.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the fifth of 12 stops in 2018 at Virginia Motorsports Park. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will 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. Legends scheduled to attend the Virginia NHRA Nationals include Joe Amato, Jim and Allison Lee, and Jim Yates.
As always, fans can 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 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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, June 8, and the final two rounds of qualifying at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 9. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, June 10.