Drew Skillman can now make a huge check off his bucket list.

The driver of the Ray Skillman Chevy Camaro won the prestigious U.S. Nationals Monday.

Thanks to a holeshot, Skillman beat Greg Anderson in the finals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“There’s a very small list of things I really want to do in life and this (winning Indy) was one of them,” said Skillman, who lives in Greenwood, Ind. “That’s huge, huge, huge. This is something I really wanted to do.”

Skillman clocked a 6.676-second elapsed time at 206.61 mph to defeat Anderson’s quicker 6.660-second lap at 208.01 mph.

The difference was at the starting line. Skillman had a .022 reaction time compared to Anderson’s .050 reaction time.

“I had nothing to lose,” said Skillman about facing Anderson. “I had the slower car, I had the worst reaction times and I had everything against me and my plan was to let him go in first and I was going to dive in there and let the clutch go and see what happens and that’s what I did and it worked out this time.”

Skillman’s journey to the winner’s circle consisted of wins over Jeg Coughlin, Chris McGaha, Tanner Gray and Anderson. Prior to this weekend, Skillman’s best finish at Indy was a runner-up finish to Erica Enders in 2015.

“We had a great car in qualifying and the last round of qualifying the motor started fading,” Skillman said. “We thought we just kind of missed it. The first round we knew we were in trouble. Due to all the people who were racing under Gray power this weekend, we were limited to a motor that never had been run. So, we stuck in the car and threw in ‘this should work tune-up,’ in it and we barely had time to start it. We went down the track and I had no Racepak data and that’s where we get all our information from. It corrupted the file. The next round we went up and luck is huge in this sport and Tanner does not make mistakes like he did there. I don’t think he has ever been .060 (reaction time) like he did there, and that was our lucky round and we marched forward. I had never beat Greg before and I finally got that off my back.”

This was Skillman’s fourth win of the season as he also has victories at Chicago, Denver and Seattle. Skillman runs Gray Motorsports engines and this was the eighth win for a Gray Motorsports-powered car as Tanner Gray also has four wins at Las Vegas, Topeka, Kan., Sonoma, Calif., and Brainerd. Skillman and Gray have combined to win four of the last five national events.

“I can’t speak highly enough of everyone at Gray Motorsports, my team has been killing it,” Skillman said. “Consistency is super hard in this sport and we have a car that for some reason keeps repeating.”

With his win, Skillman is fourth in the points standings as he heads into the six race Countdown to the Championship, which begins Sept. 15-17 in Charlotte, N.C.

“Championship, that’s it,” Skillman said about his mindset for the Countdown. “We’re going to just keep moving forward in the same direction we have been going. We are not always the fastest car, but it’s very, very consistent. We’re going to run a test before Charlotte starts and we’re going to come out swinging.” Tracy Renck



CONNOLLY ENJOYS BEING PART OF GRAY MOTORSPORTS – Dave Connolly has proven himself as an NHRA driver in Pro Stock and Top Fuel and as a crew chief for the Gray Motorsports Pro Stock car team, specifically Tanner Gray.

Gray has had an outstanding rookie season, winning four races and becoming a viable contender to win a world championship.

Connolly has plenty on his plate this weekend as Johnny, Shane and Tanner Gray are all racing in the Pro Stock class at the U.S. Nationals.

“For me, obviously, Indy has always been a prestigious race and to have all three generations is just special,” Connolly said. “Granted it’s a lot of work. We’re going to be spinning our heads into the ground this weekend trying to keep everything straight between running three cars but we’re up for the challenge. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I know Johnny’s really enjoyed it. Even going testing at Zmax Monday and Tuesday, Johnny had a lot of fun driving the car again. That’s what it’s all about. He’s spent a lot of money, time, blood, sweat and tears into this sport so he’s in a position in his life to where he can do this with his family and go out there and have fun. I think it’s great.”

Connolly said he’s getting some help from others to help make this three-car operation run smoothly.

“It’s Craig Hankinson who actually takes care of Johnny’s cars down in Florida with him now,” said Connolly. “I brought him back out of retirement. He was the crew chief of Alex Laughlin’s car last year. Me and Craig work well together. It’s one of those deals, obviously I’m going to have my hands full with Tanner’s and Shane’s cars, so I pretty much trust Craig’s opinion on whatever he says. But we’ll discuss what we’re going to put in Johnny’s car. It’s a full team effort on that one.”
The team was strong as Tanner qualified No. 2 (6.566 seconds), Johnny No. 7 at (6.596) and Shane No. 12 (6.607).

Connolly drove a Pro Stock car for Gray Motorsports in 2014, finishing third in the points chase on the strength of three wins. He joined the Gray Motorsports Pro Stock team again as a crew chief for driver Shane at the Southern Nationals in May of 2016 in Atlanta.

“What I love about the class is you never stop learning,” Connolly said. “It’s an ongoing science project with these cars. You can be zero to hero pretty fast. I’m not going to dwell too much on some of the success we’ve had recently, we’re going to just keep digging. The ultimate goal is the championship. I think Tanner has what it takes. It takes everyone. It takes a lot of the right personnel and Gray Motorsports finally has that. It just takes a lot of years to finally have the group of people that they have established right now, from the engine shop to everything. It’s a well-oiled machine. So, for now we’re just going to keep digging and that’s all we can do is just take it one pass at a time.”

As a driver, Connolly has won 26 NHRA national events. He also ran Bob Vandergriff Jr.’s Top Fuel dragster for 28 races.

Connolly finished 10th in the Top Fuel point standings in 2015, highlighted by his three runner-up finishes at Sonoma, Calif., Indianapolis and St. Louis. He also made it to two semifinal rounds last season and two in 2016 before the team disbanded.

Although Connolly is an ultra-talented driver, he’s not in any hurry to be in the cockpit again.

“You know, I don’t have my senior citizen card or anything like that,” Connolly said. “I was holding a steering wheel from the time I was 15 so I’ve got 18 or 19 years behind the wheel. I’ve got my fix in and I was very fortunate to get to race with the folks that I have and there’s no regrets there. I guess it’s because I spent so much more time on the crew chief role, but it’s more gratifying to go out there and watch the kid (Tanner) do good.”

ANDERSON TALKS ABOUT BURNOUT CHALLENGE – Greg Anderson turned some heads in the third qualifying session as he raced up to the No. 1 qualifying position Saturday night with 6.561-second time at 210.11 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro.

That run left him in the No. 1 qualifying spot heading into Monday.

But, during his runs, he didn’t participate in the “Pro Stock Battle Of The Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” initiative that was introduced by NHRA at the U.S. Nationals.

Inspired by Shane Gray's nearly 600-foot burnouts during the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., last month, NHRA will stage a burnout competition amongst all Pro Stock cars during the five qualifying sessions.

Vincent Nobile won the “Pro Stock Battle Of The Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” challenge after the first qualifying session Friday. Shane Gray won the burnout challenge in Q2. As for Q3, no one participated in the burnout challenge, thus no winner was tabbed. Deric Kramer wowed the crowd with his burnout in Q4 and won the session.

“I would feel obligated if they (NHRA) would have come to us and ask us,” Anderson said. “Nobody asked anything, it was kind of dropped on us. I feel a little bad because obviously the fans love it and want to see it. I would love to do it. Unfortunately, there’s so much on the line here as far as trying to make great runs. The class is so close that thousandths mean everything. Unfortunately, when you do a longer burnout like that, the engine gets warmer and the tires get more feathered up and they are just a fraction off and that’s the downside of it.

I wish that each run out here didn’t mean so much, but unfortunately it does. There’s just too much on the line in our position anyway we are fighting for every point to get seeded as high as we can in the Countdown. Maybe if this (burnout challenge) was a little earlier in the season and not the U.S. Nationals it would be a little easier on us. I feel bad, I honestly do, because fans are asking for something like that and we want to give them what they want, but it has to come at a time when maybe that last couple thousandth doesn’t mean anything.”

KRAMER TURNS HEADS IN BURNOUT CHALLENGE – Deric Kramer isn’t a top name in NHRA’s Pro Stock class.

The driver, who is from Sterling, Colo., competes on a part-time national event schedule.

Well, Kramer definitely got some new fans Sunday during the Q4 session as he did a stellar burnout to win the session’s Pro Stock Battle Of The Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” challenge. Kramer was back for more in Q5 and won the session and the competition, which earned him $5,000.

“I was told I would get a good response from the fans if I stood there in the water and just let the smoke roll,” Kramer said. “So, I figured I would give it a shot. In my opinion, you can ask my clutch guy and he’d probably give you a different answer but, in my opinion if the tires are spinning, the clutch is locked up. So as long as I’m not touching the clutch pedal I shouldn’t be hurting anything. It shouldn’t be as hard on parts as people say it is.”

The burnout challenge victory earned Kramer new Goodyear tires. Kramer burned the rubber again Q5 and won another set of Goodyear slicks.

Kramer ended up tied with Shane Gray after the five qualifying sessions with 400 points. Kramer, however, was determined the champion because he won two sessions to Gray’s one. Thus, Kramer was awarded a $5,000 check from Denso Spark Plugs.

“I feel great,” Kramer said. “The fans responded to it really well and I’m just happy to please everybody out there. It was a good feeling, getting a nice RPM feel of the motor, feel of the car and letting them roast. Everybody loves it."

Although Kramer had some fun in the burnout challenge, he tries not to get lost in the spectacle that is the U.S. Nationals. He qualified No. 2 with a 6.628-second time at 207.21 mph.

“I know there’s a lot of hype around Indy and it’s really easy to get caught up in it so I try and think of it as just another race,” Kramer said. “You’ve got to lock into it, going out there and doing what you need to do like any normal weekend. So, I try not to think about it to be perfectly honest with you.”

Kramer arrived at Indy 17th in the point standings in his American Ethanol Dodge.

“The has been fair to average,” Kramer said. “We were hoping to do a little bit better than we are but we’ve been doing a lot more of our own stuff right now. We’re working with a new platform from Mopar. We think we found the power. But then every time we come to the track it just doesn’t seem like the engines are doing nearly as well as they were on the dyno. So, I guess there’s dyno power and there’s racetrack power and I think we’re finding a lot more dyno power than we are racetrack power for sure. That’s frustrating and that’s the biggest stigma. If you walk around my pit in particular, that’s the feeling that everyone seems to have, like “we should be doing better than this and we don’t really know why we’re not.”

Kramer acknowledged he plans on running a limited schedule next year and he took a moment to give his thoughts on the state of the class.

“Everyone says there’s a big problem,” Kramer said. “I don’t think there is. After a major rule change, it’s always going to be harder. I’m one of the few guys out here running the parts I am because we have some of the funding to do it because our sponsors are very generous with us. I think a lot of smaller part time teams can’t afford a rule change like that without having some used parts on the market. Well the parts are all brand new still, there are hardly any used parts out there anyone can buy to go out and go race. So, you’re not going to see a lot of those part-time teams nearly as much as you would if we were still running carburetors. The longer we stick with a set of rules the more we’re going to have used parts out there that people can get and come back and start racing again.”

Some people believe Pro Stock is in very poor health, but Kramer doesn’t see things that way.

“Yeah, I’m not going to say it’s all rainbows and butterflies over here but I don’t think we have a class that…there’s very few guys running fuel-injection motor in comp so they can’t just be like ‘you know I think we’re close. We’re spending a lot of money. We have a decent engine program. Let’s spend a little bit more and take it up to the next level and jump in that class and start running professionally.’ There’s going to be no one out there doing that. I don’t think there’s a big enough draw in comp anymore.”

Kramer thinks a shorter schedule might help the Pro Stock class.

“To me the whole circuit seems too long,” Kramer said. “I mean there’s 52 weekends in a year, if we’re racing for 24, then three or four weekends for a particular event testing, you’re looking at 30 weekends out of the year where you’re already gone. That seems like a lot. To me the whole schedule is really long.”

MCGAHA, JOHNSON IN COUNTDOWN – Chris McGaha and Allen Johnson by qualifying sixth and 10th clinched spots in the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

McGaha is the defending champion at the U.S. Nationals and Johnson, the 2012 world champ, announced his retirement from full-time driving effective at the end of the season.

GAYDOSH CONTINUES TO CHASE INDY DREAM – John Gaydosh loves competing in NHRA’s Pro Stock class, and especially at the prestigious U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park.

The only problem for Gaydosh is he’s never qualified for the U.S. Nationals.

“This has been my mistress here I guess,” Gaydosh said. “I’ve never qualified here yet. Our best chance was last year. This year we should have a good chance too, we’ll see. We’ve got a tough field here, there’s a lot of good cars and nobody is a pushover car here. Everyone’s got a good fighting chance to get into the top sixteen. We’ll see what happens. We’ve got good horsepower we just can’t make any mistakes.”

Through five qualifying sessions, Gaydosh was still on the outside looking in at the Indy field. His best elapsed time was 6.681 seconds at 207.24 mph, which left him No. 18 on the qualifying ladder. The No. 16 qualifier was Kenny Delco at 6.661 seconds.

Next for Gaydosh is Charlotte, N.C. (Sept. 15-17), Reading, Pa. (Sept. 21-24), and he’s working on funding to go to Las Vegas (Oct. 26-29) and Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 9-12).

Although Gaydosh came up short at Indy, it’s not going to stop him from continuing to race in the class.

“I’m hoping we run 12 to 14 races again next year but we’ll see what happens with NHRA and what they do with the scheduling and what the Grays do next year,” Gaydosh said. “Right now, I’m very dependent on the Grays because I don’t have any engine power on my own because I’ve hurt everything I own. So right now, I’m leasing from the Grays and they’ve been very good to me with helping me out. But if it weren’t for Johnny Gray and Shane Gray I wouldn’t be here. It’s that plain and simple. I would not be out here racing Pro Stock this year if it weren’t for the Grays. I’m very thankful and appreciative to them.”

Gaydosh did say NHRA reducing the number of Pro Stock races next season isn’t a solution to make the class healthier.

“Shortening it to 18 races is going to hurt the class because you’ve got little guys like me and if they take races out of certain areas then that’s one less car or two less cars that are going to go there,” Gaydosh said. “It’s hard to justify. They’re thinking at 18 races it’s going to be less expense for the teams, it is less expense for the teams but what’s going to happen is the little guys like us, it’s going to take a regional race away from us that we go to. That’s the biggest part.”

Gaydosh also isn’t in favor of the letting Mountain Motor Pro Stock cars compete in NHRA’s Pro Stock class next season.

“It’s just going to bring more cars into the field but here again, we get guys that are running this Pro Stock Mountain Motor that have been doing it for a while that have big dollars,” Gaydosh said. “They come in and they’ve already got this setup in their system. Here a little guy like me, Kenny Delco, (Alan) Prusiensky, guys like us, we don’t have that funding to be able to go out and compete against that. To change the whole program again. When we went over to fuel injection that hurt me a lot, I’m surprised. And if it weren’t for Johnny Gray and the Grays I wouldn’t be out here racing. I just couldn’t run. Mike Smith has been the biggest help for me on the engine program when I had my own motor. So, if it weren’t for Mike Smith and the Grays I would have quit two years ago. Without the help form the Gray to the little guys like us we wouldn’t be out here.”

TUCKER JUST MISSES MAKING INDY – Australian Shane Tucker competes in a limited NHRA schedule, and unfortunately, he came up short in making the 16-car field at Indy. Tucker’s best time in the five qualifying sessions was a 6.668-second lap at 206.89 mph, leaving him in the No. 17 spot.

“After this one we’ll do Charlotte, Dallas, and hopefully Vegas and Pomona as well,” Tucker said. “The plan is to do 10 or 12 races next year just depending on my work and family commitments.”

Competing in the NHRA circuit is hard for anybody, but even more so for a driver whose base is in Gold Coast, a city in Australia, but Tucker enjoys the challenge.
“I grew up around this my whole life,” said Tucker, who had to take a 17-hour flight from his homeland to get to Indy. “My dad has been involved with drag racing, particularly Pro Stock for 40 years. This is the pinnacle of racing more than anywhere in the world so I enjoy the competition. I think it’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re running well so we’re starting to turn a corner now so hopefully that will give us a bit more enthusiasm.”

The biggest obstacle Tucker’s team battles in Pro Stock is it runs its own engine program.

“That’s a massive challenge,” Tucker said. “We do our own engine program and Terry from down at Performance in Australia comes over and tunes it too. The only person on the team who is American is Tommy Lee so that’s the way we’re probably going to keep it.”

Tucker is proud of his roots of competing in drag racing in Australia, and he gave high praise for his competitors down under.

“These guys (in NHRA) do it week in and week out which is what you have to compete against,” Tucker said. “I’ve been driving a Pro Stock car since I was 19, about 13 years now. Competition-wise when we go to a national event, I think the guys in Australia would be just as good if not a better job than the guys here too. I think it’s extremely competitive. Nothing has surprised me coming here, I think they just race a lot more often. So, for us to come out here on a limited schedule we need to make really good runs and learn as we go because we’re basically we’re testing during qualifying as well.”

In Australia, drivers compete in a 400-cubic-inch small-block motor.

“So, they’ve gone 6.80s and 200 mph,” Tucker said. “It’s a little bit different. The fundamentals are the same, leave on time and hit your shift points. They run the exact same transmission and the same clutch. The only difference is they’re still running carburetors.”

Since the start of the 2016 season, NHRA Pro Stock cars have been running fuel-injection.

“I think it was a move that had to happen that probably should have happened years ago,” Tucker said. “I think it’s definitely evened out the competition. It has leveled the playing field to part-timers as well. Part-timers can come out here and be competitive with some of their own engine programs because EFI has certainly leveled it out.”

TWO OTHERS ON OUTSIDE LOOKING IN – Joining Shane Tucker and John Gaydosh on the dreaded DNQ list was Larry Morgan (6.684) and Alan Prusiensky (6.724).





GREG ANDERSON GOES TO TOP – Greg Anderson is a world championship driver, and he made a clutch run Saturday evening in Q3. Anderson clocked a 6.561-second run to claim the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot.

His teammate Jason Line, however, is having trouble with his Camaro as he is No. 12 in the field with a best ET of (6.601 seconds).

JOHNNY GRAY TALKS RETURN TO CLASS – Johnny Gray had not raced in NHRA’s Pro Stock class since 2010, but here he is competing in the category at the 2017 U.S. Nationals and making history while competing against his son, Shane and grandson, Tanner.

This is the first time in NHRA history, three generations of drag racers will compete in the same racing class in a national event.

“It got mentioned earlier in the year and at one point we said ‘hey, let’s run all three cars at Charlotte because it’s never been done,’” Johnny said. “When it came down to go to Charlotte we weren’t ready equipment-wise and everything else. We were struggling a little bit right then. So, everybody said we still want to do it but let’s just do it at Indy. So, I said ‘let me check my schedule and if I’m not busy I’ll come to Indy and I’ll do it.’” That’s it. It’s just a one-time deal. I kind of thought about if it was more trouble than what it was worth for us and the teams. Then my wife told me ‘you’ve got to look at it like this, when you and I are gone the kids and the grandkids can look back and see the pictures and say, ‘that was cool.’” So, I said Ok, I’ll do it one time.”

Johnny, who retired from NHRA after the 2013 season when he was driving a nitro Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing, didn’t look too rusty in his first Pro Stock lap Friday. He clocked a 6.596-second time at 210.11 mph, which left him No. 7 on the qualifying ladder. His second pass in Q2 Saturday was (6.60 seconds) and then in Q3 he slowed to 7.366 seconds.

“It was spinning and stood up on the front end and slobbered around a little bit, but it is a good starting spot and we will go from there,” Gray said. “It takes a little bit to get back on the bike. I’m a lot older. I’m sitting there trying to talk my left foot into turning the clutch loose even though I know I need to. I’m going to be slow. I know I haven’t practiced. We’re doing it for fun. Keep it in perspective.”

The week prior to Indy, Johnny made some test laps.

“We made some hits (Aug. 21) and (Aug. 22) over in Charlotte (N.C.),” Johnny said. “We got the car dialed in for my body weight. These things are so sensitive to weight and then when you put an old fat guy in there you have to reset the whole chassis. But they think they’ve got a pretty good handle on it. We’ll see what happens here.”

Not only is Gray returning to Pro Stock, he came back to a different class, one that’s now running fuel-injection.

“It’s a considerable difference in the burnout,” Gray said. “The motors are pretty sluggish. They’re not responsive and then they come to life. You’ve got to just learn to catch them. Different mentality.”

LARRY MORGAN BATTLING ADVERSITY – Back in the middle of July it was announced Larry Morgan was returning to NHRA’s Pro Stock class, beginning at the U.S. Nationals and running the remainder of the season.

Morgan’s program is sponsored by RacerDirect.net, RJS Safety Products, Seatbelt Solutions and Performance 2-Way.

Morgan, who is continuing to drive Brad Anderson's Pro Mod entry, is racing a Camaro in Pro Stock.

Morgan is at Lucas Oil Raceway, but he’s not very happy with his Camaro as of Saturday afternoon.

“I have not been able to make a run,” Morgan said. “We have some wiring or some gremlin going on with this car. I’ve knocked the rings out of two motors on the engine stand so we’re just trying to figure it out. Other than that, it feels good to be back out here.”

Morgan also didn’t make the call to qualify in the first session Saturday. Morgan did make a lap in Q3, but he could only manage a 6.772-second run and is out of the 16-car field.

Morgan comes back to a class which has undergone wholesale changes. As of Jan. 1, 2016, NHRA required all Pro Stock teams to equip their cars with electronically-controlled throttle body fuel injection systems, making engines more relevant from a technology standpoint. In order to reduce and control costs for the race teams, an NHRA-controlled 10,500 Rev Limiter will be added to the fuel injection systems.

The change to EFI is something Morgan doesn’t agree with – at all.

“It’s the stupidest thing they have ever done,” Morgan said. “I don’t know what marketing strategy they thought they were going to have to fix it, but the whole problem with these engines is the fuel-injection is ridiculous. Whoever made those decisions shouldn’t have that job, that’s all I can tell you. It is the dumbest (expletive) I’ve ever heard. You don’t put a 1980 Ford fuel-injection in a 2017 car, and that’s all I have to say about it. It so stupid what we do. What was wrong with two throttle bodies up there? I know they thought we need to do wheel stands, well you know what if a fuel car does a wheel stand it ruins the (expletive car), so how many cars are they going to have out there, the way I look at it, and they need to do something else. There would be 25 guys who would run Pro Stock if it was a little simpler, but my God they have it so screwed up now they can’t do anything about it.”

Graham Light

DRIVERS, LIGHT DICUSS STATE OF PRO STOCK – There’s been plenty of talk this season about the state of Pro Stock because of the low car count numbers.

Graham Light, NHRA’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations spoke Saturday exclusively with Competition Plus.com about the health of the class.

“At this point we don’t any solid plans,” Light said. “We’ve talked to a lot or racers, manufacturers, different individuals getting ideas. We do have concerns for the category, the car counts are dropping and that’s a concern. It’s a professional category, Pro Stock has been here a long time and we want to do everything we can to revive it. There’s been ideas of car counts and engine packages, just a number of things, but it has to be a category that has fan interest, and that will result in more television coverage, which then results sponsor interest, participant interest. That’s our goal. There’s nothing, at this point, that is set in tone for 2018.”

Some Pro Stock drivers talked about the importance of having more manufacturers in the class, which Light addressed.

“It’s a combination of many things, it’s a big jig-saw puzzle,” Light said. “Certainly, Ford, Dodge, Toyota if they were in and played the game it would add some variety and a reason to cheer for one car over another, but also the excitement and entertainment value for the fans is what is there. It’s a number of things. It’s not just brand identification. It is male versus female racer. It is good guy versus bad guy racer. The performances are spectacular for the engine combinations for gasoline-powered cars to run over 200 mph. That is faster than almost any other form of motorsports, but they are competing with 330 mph nitro burning Funny Cars and dragsters, so it is a challenge, and we certainly want to do whatever we can to have this category become healthy. We’ve talked to a lot of team owners, drivers, crew chiefs, manufacturers and nobody has the one answer that’s going to fix it all otherwise we would be going down that path, but there will be some changes.”

Part-time racer Kenny Delco likes the possible idea of shortening the Pro Stock schedule.

“It makes it more affordable,” Delco said. “It’s expensive to go to these races.”

Matt Hartford believes more money paid out at national events is the answer to Pro Stock’s woes.

“The solution really is more money,” Hartford said. “What it cost to run one of these cars for a weekend, even if you win the race you don’t even cover a third of what it cost to run for the weekend. So, with qualifying money being $5,000 is not enough. We can’t even get airplane tickets, get the truck and trailer here and hotel rooms for $5,000 just by qualifying and losing in the first round. The money needs to come up first and foremost, but at the end of the day you have to look at it, this is Indy and there are 21 cars here, so there are Pro Stockers out there we just all need to come out and support the class.”

Johnny Gray

Johnny Gray, who is driving this weekend in the Pro Stock, and has his son, Shane and grandson, Tanner in the class with the Gray Motorsports team, offered his assessment of the class.

“I don’t think anything will happen with it at this point,” Johnny said. “If you’re running full-time and you’re running a team to go for a championship, it’s not much cheaper to run 18 than it is to run all of them. You’ve still got to have all the people, you’ve got to do the same R and D. It’s a little cheaper but not much. People like Greg (Anderson) and Jason (Line) with Summit, if Summit cut their sponsorship it would hurt them bad. If we lose one big team out here we’re going to be in big trouble with the Pro Stock class. The whole key is to try to keep some cars out here. See if we can get some enthusiasm back in the sport. It’s not just Pro Stock, the fuel classes are hurting too.”

Jason Line, the reigning Pro Stock world champion, offered the plight of his class.

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We talk about it all the time, everybody does,” Line said when asked about how to improve Pro Stock. “We have great crowds, TV is good, participation is not. It costs a lot of money to do this, to run this sport. I try not to complain about it because I think NHRA is doing the best they know how to do. But I don’t have an answer either. I know something needs to change, not just for Pro Stock, but racing in general, but I don’t know what that answer is, but something needs to change.”

Vincent Nobile is in favor of a Mountain Motor Pro Stock class.

“I’m all for the Mountain Motor Pro Stock idea, bringing in another set of cars, weight brakes, just like Pro Mod and Pro Stock Motorcycle,” Nobile said. “You have unlimited cars coming to those races and it seems to work for them, having a weight differential, but for whatever reason seems like the teams here don’t think it will work, why? I don’t know. It works for Pro Stock Motorcycle, it works for Pro Mod and they have full fields at every race. I kind of find it silly that you would want to keep things the way they are and potentially lose you class and now you don’t race at all in few years. Or, you make a change and you have a class that’s thriving again. It worked in the past, Pro Stock used to be like that and that just kind of faded away, but it is obvious we need car count. You just make that rule change and you automatically have 10 more cars come here, so that’s a no brainer to me.”

Vincent Nobile

Nobile does have some knowledge about the Mountain Motor Pro Stock class.

“I’ve driven one once before and my dad (John) has driven them a lot,” Vincent said. “He raced IHRA and won a championship in the class over in 2004. I think it would be good all-around, it would certainly bring interest to the class. You would have big Mountain motors against 500-cubic inch engines. It would just bring a ton of interest and more so in interest it would bring car count. We wouldn’t be going to races, praying their 16 cars. This is supposed to be a professional sport and professional category and you’re going there, knowing you’re going to qualify. It’s just not as competitive as it used to be.”

John Nobile also offered his opinion about the plight of Pro Stock.

“What they are trying to do is bring excitement to the class as you know with the burnout thing (“Pro Stock Battle Of The Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” initiative taking place at Indy). (Friday) Vincent laid one out there and they (NHRA) is trying and what I think they should do is invite Mountain Motor Pro Stock to come race with us,” John said. “Put weight on them and have them come race with us. I absolutely think it can work. It worked before and it could work again. I raced both classes, NHRA, IHRA and the only difference was about 300 pounds of weight in the car. I don’t know what they wouldn’t do it. They did talk about at there was some excitement about it and for some reason they decided against it. Graham Light and (NHRA president) Peter Clifford they are really smart guys and I think they will do something to help the class.”
The creation of a Mountain Motor Pro Stock class is something Johnny Gray doesn’t believe will fix Pro Stock.

“It’s a cycle,” Gray said. “I think they’d get a whole lot of cars out there right off the bat, but then what would happen is Gray Motorsports, KB, the bigger teams would go back and start picking at the mountain motor stuff going faster, faster and faster,” Gray said. “No offense to those guys but those guys would get outspent in a short period of time. They wouldn’t be competitive anymore and they’d quit coming. Same thing that happened to Pro Stock. Pro Stock outspent itself. Greg (Anderson) and Jason (Line) are good friends of mine, I think the world of them but I guess if you want to point the finger at anybody and say, ‘you guys destroyed the class,’ it would be them. Because KB came in and spent a ton of money, went out and dominated the class so the only way to compete for those other teams was to go out and spend a bunch of money and there’s just not that much money out there. Even the guy that’s making a little money out there, not doing too bad in life, can’t afford to come to one of these things. We can’t get any TV coverage to speak of so in turn, we can’t get sponsors.”

GRAHAM LIGHT TALKS BATTLE OF BURNOUTS – At the U.S. Nationals, NHRA has introduced the “Pro Stock Battle Of The Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” initiative.

Inspired by Shane Gray's nearly 600-foot burnouts during the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., last month, NHRA will stage a burnout competition amongst all Pro Stock cars during the five qualifying sessions.

“Obviously the fan appeal that we saw at Brainerd is what was the catalyst to make this to happen here,” said Graham Light, NHRA’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations. “We’re just doing it as an experiment. If it proves out to be something the fans want to see and it brings some excitement to Pro Stock, we will look at maybe having a permanent program of some sort.”

NHRA, in cooperation with Goodyear Tires, has created the program which they believe can create a fun-filled competition for the Pro Stock class.
The winner will be determined by race fans at the event, instrumental in selecting which driver will win a set of Goodyear racing slicks after the completion of each Pro Stock qualifying session.

In addition to the set of Goodyear slicks, the winner of each round will receive 200 points toward the Grand Prize. The runner up of each round will receive 100 points toward the Grand Prize. Fans will track progress throughout each Pro Stock qualifying session as the points rack up.

After the fifth and final round of Pro Stock qualifying, all points will be tabulated, and the driver with the most points will receive the Grand Prize of $5,000.

Crowd participation and applause will determine the winner.

John Nobile, former NHRA Pro Stock racer who helps with his son Vincent’s team, is all for the burnout challenge.

“The burnout that’s just for the fans, it doesn’t help or hurt the race car,” John said. “I hope more guys participate in it because I thought it was pretty cool.”

Vincent Nobile won the “Pro Stock Battle Of The Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” challenge after the first qualifying session Friday. Shane Gray won the burnout challenge in Q2. As for Q3, no one participated in the burnout challenge, thus no winner was tabbed.

“When NHRA tries to promote you class when it is struggling, you should probably listen to them, that’s my opinion,” Nobile said. “The rest of these guys out here kind of forget this is for the fans. Without the fans, we’re not here. So, when NHRA ask to do something, you should probably do it. The fans seem to love it. They went crazy when I did a long burnout, so why not do it? It doesn’t effect nothing. Your tire gets a little hotter, give me a break. These guys just don’t know how to have fun.”

Bo Butner didn’t plan on participating in the burnout challenge, but likes the concept.

“Oh, I’d love to, but I’d have to enter the stock eliminator in it because with my guys, it’s too hard on parts, motors, and you’re going to throw that run out,” Butner said. “And believe it or not, these little bonus points for qualifying, they’re huge at the end of the year. It’s going to be cool, it’ll be fun to watch. I hope everyone is safe when they do it because I don’t want to be going against the guy who is (participating) because the further out you go the faster you go. So, you could be going fast and then get out of control. I hope no one smacks the wall or anything. But I don’t think you’ll see a KB car entered in it.”

As for Butner, he is hopeful the burnout challenge will lead to other tweaks that spark interest in Pro Stock.

“I think it’s awesome,” Butner said. “I wish there was a way to mandate some other stuff. It would please the crowd. It’s a no-brainer to win it. I would just go all the way to the finish line turn around and start back in the other lane. I don’t know what they would think about it but it’s going to be fun. I’m sure a few guys are going to do it. But it’s still fun to watch. The fans, when Shane did it at the last race, they loved it, it was cool. Shane told me ‘I’m going to do a long burnout’ because he was racing against me when he did it in eliminations. So, Jason and I spoke and he said ‘so just watch when he starts his burnout, then start your car to pull up. I didn’t tell my crew I was doing that. So, he’s doing a burnout and they all come running, I don’t have radio so they came running like I was broke. It was Ok, kind of funny. We should be going at the same time. It was cool and we need some more WWE kind of stuff. Maybe I can chokehold Jason or something. We’ll see what happens.”

BO’S HAVING FUN – Bo Butner is having a great season in 2017. He arrived at the U.S. Nationals on the strength of three wins and a 41-14 elimination round record.

Butner campaigning the Jim Butner Auto-sponsored Chevy is a teammate at KB Racing with Greg Anderson and Jason Line, and despite his success Butner isn’t taking anything for granted.

“If there’s five horsepower (difference) between all the teams, I’d be surprised,” Butner said. “So now it’s just I have to drive. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better, and we need to make good runs.”

Butner wants to win every race, but he acknowledged an Indy victory would be special.

“I always said if I could win the U.S. Nationals, I don’t care if it’s in a golf cart race, my career would be perfect,” Butner said. “I’ve never won here. I’ve had runner-up finish, and been to semifinals in a lot of different classes but never won the U.S. Nationals. This is just the biggest race at my home track. I live 100 miles from here (Floyd Knobs, Ind.). It would be huge to win all those points, that would be great, but we need to close the deal. It would be great to start with this win.

To go out there and make good runs, qualify well, because that shows a lot to your guy when you show up first round. Still go up and do the best you can do. I’ve got the car and the team behind me. It looks like we clinched the number one spot in the countdown. I don’t ever think about the points because in my whole life, if you go racing and you go rounds, points come. So just go rounds. You can move that day and get a couple wins, it all adds up. It’s meant to be for us already. Just can’t wait to see it.”

Being part of the strong KB team is something Butner truly appreciates.

“It’s like a perfect storm if that makes sense,” Butner said. “Two good guys, the best team. We make the best power. They want me to win. Jason Line brought to my attention that ‘you’re one of the only winners who has ever had his chance to start No. 1 in the Countdown to have a good shot to win the championship.’ That’s never happened. If it has, I can’t think of anybody that’s been in that position. It goes to show you that they don’t keep the good stuff for themselves. They want me to win it as much as I do.”

With all the talk about the possible changes in Pro Stock, Butner hopes nothing will happen – at least next season.

“I would like to see them maybe just leave it alone for a season,” Butner said. “Let’s see what happens next year. I’ve made another deal to run full time for KB again. So, we’ll have three cars out again. If you look at the last few races, races have been tough. Elite will get their stuff together. So, you really can’t tell me who’s going to win a race. It’s an eight-car race when it used to be a two and three-car race. It’s pretty cool and the fans are liking it.”

HARTFORD MAKES CHANGE – Pro Stock driver Matt Hartford arrived at the U.S. Nationals with some new equipment.

“They say the only thing constant in life is change, so we decided after the last few races where we certainly didn’t run as good as we thought and we weren’t really sure if we had a chassis problem or a set-up problem or an engine problem,” Hartford said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have a second car to put our engines in that we were running, so we elected to put a different engine in our car.”

The engine Hartford is running at Lucas Oil Raceway is from Gray Motorsports. Prior to this weekend, Hartford was running engine powered supplied by Warren Johnson and Kurt Johnson.

“We’re leasing this engine from Gray (Motorsports),” Hartford said. “Warren and Kurt have been great to me for years and years and we have been friends for years and years. Over the last three years I think we really made a lot of strides not only with our program, but with our engine development program. However, sometimes in drag racing or all forms of racing, you just simply have to make a change to see where you stand and that’s what we did.”

Gray Motorsports with drivers Tanner Gray (four wins) and Drew Skillman (three wins) have combined for seven victories. Hartford arrived at Indy 13th in the points standings. I would like a little bit of their luck to roll over to me for sure and there’s no doubt that they make a lot of power, they have very consistent power and they have a lot of depth in their engine shop. They have six cars out here this weekend running their engines, so that’s a feather in their cap that they are able to get so many engines so close.”



TANNER GRAY TAKES TOP SPOT – Tanner Gray is riding a tidal wave of momentum.

Gray, a rookie, has won four national events this season, his latest coming when he captured the title at the Lucas Oil Nationals Sunday at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway Aug. 20.

On Friday – Sept. 1 – no one was faster than Gray. In the day’s lone qualifying session he clocked a 6.566-second run at 209.88 mph.

Gray is competing with his father, Shane and grandfather, Johnny in the Pro Stock class for the first time in his career.

“I’ve obviously got to race against my dad, but this is my first time getting to do this against my grandpa and it is a lot of fun,” Gray said. “I know he’s having fun and that makes it even cooler.”

Johnny is the No. 7 spot on the ladder at 6.596 seconds and Shane was No. 10 (6.607 seconds).

BATTLE OF THE BURNOUTS – Earlier this week, NHRA announced that the U.S. Nationals it would unveil the “Pro Stock Battle Of The Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” initiative.

Inspired by Shane Gray's nearly 600-foot burnouts during the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, NHRA will stage a burnout competition amongst all Pro Stock cars during the five qualifying sessions.

Vincent Nobile, who drives the Mountain View Tire Chevy Camaro is excited for the “Pro Stock Battle of The Burnouts.

“I’m in and I think it will be fun,” Nobile said. “We will see who else is going to partake in it. A lot of these guys take this a little too seriously, they don’t like to have fun around here. I like to have fun. It’s all just about having fun and making the fans has fun as well. I would like to see a bunch of the guys out her partake in this. It’s not really all business, we are out here fan to and they like to watch some fun stuff.”

Nobile was true to his word as he did a long burnout in Q1 and won a new set of Goodyears for having the top burnout of the session.

“We haven’t rotated the Earth with our race car (this year), so why not have a little bit of fun,” Nobile said. “I do not know if the rest of these are guy to do it. They are all business, they don’t like to have fun, but I like to have fun.”

Although Nobile is all in for the burnout contest, three-time world champ Jason Line (2006, 2011, 2016) wasn’t as committal.

“I’m going to do a burnout before every run, absolutely,” Line said. “Sometimes I will stick the burnout and I do a really short one, but I’ve been accused of doing the engine builder burnout. That means if you change valve springs and you have to work on the engine, maybe your burnout is not as long as other people’s, so we will see. If people find it (Battle of the Burnouts) entertaining then I guess it is good.”

Drew Skillman was sure what kind of participation would get.

“I don’t think you’ll see anyone in the top 10, except for Vincent,” Skillman said. “I think everyone else will be conservative. This counts for points-and-a-half so every bit of advantage you can get you’re going to take.”

NHRA, in cooperation with Goodyear Tires, has created the program which they believe can create a fun-filled competition for the Pro Stock class.
The winner will be determined by race fans at the event, instrumental in selecting which driver will win a set of Goodyear racing slicks after the completion of each Pro Stock qualifying session.

In addition to the set of Goodyear slicks, the winner of each round will receive 200 points toward the Grand Prize. The runner up of each round will receive 100 points toward the Grand Prize. Fans will track progress throughout each Pro Stock qualifying session as the points rack up.

After the fifth and final round of Pro Stock qualifying, all points will be tabulated, and the driver with the most points will receive the Grand Prize of $5,000.
Crowd participation and applause will determine the winner.

SKILLMAN’S BEEN PACKING PUNCH – Drew Skillman has been a roll laet this season winning at Chicago, Denver, and Brainerd, Minn. He has moved up to fifth in the points and excited about the U.S. Nationals.

“It’s been really good,” Skillman said. “Driver error is definitely still there. The car is just doing really well right now. The team is working together great. Our car has been super consistent. Right off the trailer it’s been pretty darn good so that helps the confidence right off the bat. We have a car that can win this race. We have a car that can win this championship, if this stupid driver can make it happen.”

Skillman qualified third Friday with a 6.572-second time.


DRIVERS TALK ABOUT FOUR WIDE RACE AT VEGAS – On Aug. 23, Las Vegas Motor Speedway announced it would widen The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to four lanes. The first Four-Wide event at The Strip will be the NHRA DENSO Spark Plugs Nationals April 6-8, 2018.


“We saw this coming,” said Vincent Nobile, who drives the Mountain View Tire Chevy Camaro. “We knew that track was built to have that in the future. We didn’t know when it was coming. There was talks last year they were going to do it at the end of the year and now they’ve decided when to do it. I think it is cool and if the fans like it we have to like it.”

Jason Line, a three-time world champion, took a moment to address another Four-Wide event.

“I like the fact the Bruton (Smith, the owner of Las Vegas Motor Speedway) is a forward thinker and he’s trying to do stuff to promote our sport and for that I applaud him no matter what,” Line said.

Drew Skillman shared similar sentiments as Line about Vegas.

“It’s a circus, but it’s their tent,” Skillman said. “They’re going to do what they want to do. I guess if that’s what Bruton Smith wants to do I guess he has say. He owns it so we’re racing.”