The upstart attempting to make as much noise in the NHRA’s Pro Stock division as the car he operates is in a good place.
Drew Skillman is engaged to longtime girlfriend Brittany Ladd, with a wedding scheduled for December. Additionally, the 27-year-old’s introductory season in Pro Stock has him seventh in points through the first six events.
In Skillman’s line of work, there is no such thing as too fast, too soon.
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Coming off a five-year run in the NHRA’s Sportsman classes, Skillman teams with defending Pro Stock champ and current points leader Erica Enders-Stevens for Elite Motorsports.
“The difference with what I’m doing now is, in Sportsman series they’re all dial-in sports, so no matter how fast your car is, that’s really not what determines how you win,” Skillman said. “It’s consistency and accuracy.
“In Pro Stock it is a heads-up race. A completely different atmosphere from what I have been racing to what I’m racing now.”
Skillman is the grandson of longtime racer Ray Skillman and son of NHRA racer Bill Skillman. He felt the time was right to move to Pro Stock after posting five national event victories in Stock and another in Super Stock.
Drew Skillman’s next event is at the Atlanta Dragway, where he looks to put on a show for family — “My grandmother and my father’s sister, they’re all down in Atlanta”, he said — at the 35th annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals.
It’s an opportunity for Skillman to move up in the standings. With 334 points, he’s only three points behind Vincent Nobile, while Enders-Stevens continues her momentum with 510.
“My goal is to win one or two races,” Skillman said. “I would like to be in the top 10 by the end of the season. Get some laps and learn. This first year is all about learning.
“I got very lucky (with) the crew we have. Everyone gets along. There’s no fighting, no yelling. I think we’ve got the crew, and we know we’ve got the power.”
Pro Stock races last approximately 6½ seconds, two competitors enticed by potential advancement trying to cover 1,320 feet (or a quarter-mile) as fast as possible.
Skillman initially announced he would run an abbreviated Pro Stock schedule by taking part in 15 of the 24 competitions this season.
Enders-Stevens hopes it’s more.
“Drew is a very accomplished racer himself. A real natural and a good learner who never makes the same mistakes twice,” said Enders-Stevens, 31, who is from Houston but now lives in New Orleans, hometown of her husband, fellow drag racer Richie Stevens Jr.
“Going 215 miles per hour … there’s a lot going on in the car,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’re a short wheel-based car, and going as fast as we’re going, there’s not a lot of downforce, so we’re very, very loose. The more you drive, the more things seem to slow down.”
Skillman, who in March became the first Pro Stock driver in 41 years to advance to the finals in his first race — even defeating Enders-Stevens in the semifinals at Phoenix — knows he’ll eventually get to that point.
“The way these cars are now, their clutches are so sensitive. Everything is about being smooth in these cars. Getting the timing down for the shifts, it’s been a big learning curve,” Skillman said. “But I fell in love with it. It’s fun.
“Circle track takes a team of guys all week to get your car ready. This, you put back in the trailer and you have something. You’re not throwing away parts every weekend. It’s a more sustainable way to race.”
The Skillman surname is widely known throughout Indiana due to the family’s racing history as well as its 17 automobile franchises.
This is a blessing and curse for Drew Skillman, who realizes outsiders will sometimes view him as nothing more than an entitled rich kid who gets to go racing.
“It’s all family-based. Without them I could not race. Racing takes a lot of money and a lot of time, and, of course there’s always something to prove. But the same goes for everyone else there,” Skillman said. “You’re spending a large amount of money, and you’re getting a big group of people together.
“A lot of people invest their lives in this. It’s what they do for a living.”
More than a few potholes lined the path Enders-Stevens traveled to get to where she is today.
Her experiences prior to joining Elite Motorsports at the end of 2013 are ones she strongly believes Skillman will be able to avoid simply by being part of a high-quality operation led by crew chief Mark Ingersoll.
“The mental side of the game is absolutely huge. The environment you’re in and the positive reinforcement. Drew has everything right in front of him because he has that great environment to work in,” Enders-Stevens said.
“Drew is a true talent, and I’m really proud of how he’s come along. He’s a win waiting to happen.”
THE SKILLMAN FILE
Name: Drew Skillman
Family: Fiancee, Brittany Ladd
High school: Academy Plus in Carmel (2006)
Favorite TV show: “Breaking Bad”
Favorite driver: Bob Glidden
Upcoming events: May 15-17 (Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals in Atlanta), May 22-24 (Kansas Nationals in Topeka), June 4-7 (Toyota Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J.), June 12-14 (New England Nationals at Epping, N.H.).
NHRA FAMILY TREE
Below are some of the major divisions in the National Hot Rod Association, which was founded in 1951:
A form of drag racing featuring factory hot rods. Engines cannot utilize artificial power boosters such as turbocharging. Typically travel at speeds in the 210 to 215 range in the quarter-mile.
Similar to a Pro Stock car in body style, but different in that they are modified. Can use anything from a 2-speed transmission to a 5-speed transmission. The latter is used mostly on quarter-mile tracks.
TOP FUEL DRAGSTER
Among the fastest-accelerating machines in the world, the 7,000-horsepower dragsters can cover a 1,000-foot dragstrip in less than 3.8 seconds at more than 325 mph. Top Fuel cars are 25 feet long and weigh 2,320 pounds in race-ready trim.
Similar to Top Fuel cars, but with shorter wheelbases and with lightweight bodies. Can manage speeds up to and sometimes over 315 mph. Twin parachutes to help stabilize and slow the car after crossing the finish line.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Highly modified vehicles capable of getting up to more than 195 mph. Division made its NHRA debut during the 1980s.
Resemble a traditional passenger vehicle, but modified to potentially reach much higher speeds. Entries are classified using factory shipping weight and horsepower.