Local auto dealership owner and Center Grove resident Ray Skillman was bruised and looked terrible, but the family was grateful his injuries weren’t worse after he was in a crash during an NHRA drag race, his son Bill Skillman said.

Ray Skillman was involved in an accident Thursday night during a qualifying session at the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series portion of the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. He suffered a broken rib, a fractured L2 vertebra and a laceration on his hand to go with a whole lot of bruising.

“He’s beat up,” Bill Skillman said of his father. “(But) he’s going to heal up and be OK.”

Ray Skillman, 75, runs Central Indiana’s largest network of car dealerships, with nine locations in Greenwood, Indianapolis, Martinsville and New Whiteland. He has put a great deal of money into the local athletics community, with facilities named for him at Center Grove, Franklin Central and Perry Meridian High Schools as well as several other youth sports facilities.

Racing against Travis Gusso of South Dakota, Ray Skillman lost control of his E/Altered Automatic Mustang after he crossed the finish line, veering hard to the left and running into a wall. The car flipped and skidded along briefly on its roof before rolling back over after reaching the gravel pit.

“I was in the left lane, and he came across into my lane ahead of me and hit the wall,” Gusso told CompetitionPlus.com over the weekend. “(He) got light in the rear end and basically took flight. More or less, I went under him and to the right, got in the right-hand lane, thought I was in the clear.

“Next thing I know, he was beside me again like a pinball, and I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t scrubbing speed, the fact that he was upside down hitting the walls, and wrecking. Come to find out the throttle was wide open on his car. That’s why I kept my speed up.”

Gusso was able to avoid contact with Skillman and bring his own car to a stop in the gravel.

What caused Skillman’s car to lose control remains a mystery. The NHRA impounds cars after incidents, so crews have not had a chance to inspect the vehicle — which was on the track for just the second time — for clues.

A download of the race pack data indicates that Ray Skillman got off of his gas pedal after crossing the finish line, and that his car’s parachute did not deploy. No further information was available as of Sunday.

“It’s all speculation right now,” Bill Skillman said. “We don’t have any idea — and we don’t know if we’ll ever know.”

Ray Skillman was released from the hospital Saturday — and determined to go back to the racetrack on Sunday to watch his grandson Drew compete in the NHRA’s Pro Stock division.

Whether the family patriarch will ever get back behind the wheel for another drag race himself remains up in the air. Bill Skillman said a decision on that matter has not been made.

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.