Drew’s Turn: The Third Generation of Skillman Drag Racing
It might just be that Drew Skillman was destined to be a racecar driver, since he grew up running around and working in the Skillman race shop. When the factory-made 2010 Ford Cobra Jets arrived to sell, the driver within him emerged. Drew recalled that he intended to race only once, but his grandfather, Ray Skillman, joined in the fun. At 70 years old, Ray resurrected his drag racing career with his 24-year-old grandson by entering their supercars in the Bristol Showdown. In 2012, Drew’s father, Bill, also found his inner driver, and the three generations bonded around their passion for straight line racing.
It didn’t take long for Ray and his racing crew to make their supercars launch flat out off the starting line. However, Drew realized that consistency is as important as speed in their Elapsed Time sport. Absorbing knowledge in his early years at the Ray Skillman Race Shop and Dealerships, Drew had an advantage of learning from experienced teachers. Bill referred to Donnie Gardner, a former Pro Stock crew chief, when he stated, “Drew got a good mental education from him, and so I think he was way further ahead of the curve.” Drew confirmed that Donnie got him into drag racing, taught him the basic fundamentals and gave him insight into some possible racing challenges.
Drew found quick success at Atlanta in 2012 and made history by becoming the youngest driver to pull off double wins at a national event in NHRA Stock and Super Stock in the same day. He forwarded his career by taking a championship in the 2013 Division 3 Stock Elimination and came very close to winning more championships the following year.
Ready for bigger challenges in 2015, Drew joined the Elite Motorsports team of Freeman Pro Stock Racing with his bright red Chevrolet Camaro. Feeling lucky to have such a head start with great teachers and very good equipment, Drew explained, “Erica Enders taught me to drive a Pro Stock.” When coming off the starting line, he mastered how to let go of the line lock and the clutch at the same time the light flashed. As a result, he reached his fastest speed at 214.80 mph, and in St. Louis, he won his first professional level race. Drew proved to be a great student of the sport and was awarded Rookie of the Year, placing fifth in the championship.
This year began with new rule changes in the Pro Stock Class, which included switching to fuel injection engines and lowering the rpm levels. The engineers on the racing crew strategized and struggled on how to regain speed with the new limitations. Another change occurred for Drew, this time in his personal life, when he happily married Brittany Ladd. As a newlywed, his wife supports his racing and joins him at the track when her work schedule allows. In June, Drew swapped racing teams by leaving Elite Motorsports and combining the forces of Skillman Motorsport with Gray Motorsports.
Breaking down the relationship between the teams, Drew clarified that the engines are leased through Gray Motorsports in North Carolina. Along with the engines, very skilled engineers work to create more horsepower. He added that a great engine has to work with the chassis, and both must follow the rule book. However, he analyzed, “What isn’t in the book is what we are doing,” and Bill interjected, “You are always looking for the gray areas.” Working with two teammates, who have their own cars and crew chiefs, Drew disclosed that all three teams collaborate and share with each other.
In August at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Drew collected his first win of the season and also secured the sixth spot in the championship chase. Problems with the car began after his win, and he dropped to eighth with four races to go in the season. Drew stated that they would aggressively attack the upcoming races and even predicted to move back into sixth with Bill guessing fifth. At Pennsylvania, the conditions were rainy, and Drew’s issues continued as he didn’t make it out the first round after qualifying.
Winning in Texas at the AAA NHRA Fall Nationals, Drew and his race team rallied to get back on track as they head into the last two Pro Stock races of the season. In a post-race interview, Drew stated, “This was huge for us. We were down in the points. We rallied. We did not have a good racecar this weekend, but we had a great team. Our Ray Skillman Chevrolet Camaro did a great job, and everyone at Ray Skillman pitched in to make this happen. The people at Axalta, Indiana Car Exchange, I just can’t thank enough people.” Moving up in the points from eighth to sixth place in the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Championship, Drew is hoping to continue his surge at Las Vegas and Pomona, California.
Fast forward to next season, Drew will have a new 2016 Camaro to drive, and he will begin with testing in the off-season. Drew concluded, “We’re going to win the Championship. That’s our goal for next season. It all comes down to the last six races, but you have to do well during the regular season.” With his racing family behind him and sponsors secured for years to come, Drew is optimistic about his future. Possessing the resources, knowledge, skills, positivity and a laidback personality, Drew Skillman might just be destined to win many championships in his drag racing career.
Video: Drew Skillman winning the 2015 Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award