DEFECTIONS WILL HURT NHRA PRO STOCK
Tanner Gray’s departure from drag racing strikes a blow for an exciting, ultra-competitive class that has been struggling for relevance through rules changes and manufacturer indifference (except for Chevrolet). But he’s not the only one leaving after this year.
Drew Skillman, whose team is affiliated with Gray Motorsports, told Competition Plus Friday that he, too, will not return to the class after these final four races.
“I’m not running Pro Stock next year,” Skillman said. “I’m going to go back to sportsman racing” and “focus a little more on business.” Skillman’s family operates several Indianapolis-area auto dealerships.
Skillman said he will race in the Stock and Super Stock classes in 2019.
“I think NHRA should have took advantage of the younger people they have in this class. Me, Alex [Laughlin], even Vincent [Nobile] is still young. Erica [Enders] is young-er,” Gray said. “Yeah, it’s a lot of talent right there, but NHRA doesn’t know what to do with it.”
Chris McGaha has said he likely will step away from the Pro Stock class but might enter a few events. Reigning champion Bo Butner said he’s weighing his options for 2019, too.
“I have not made a final decision,” Butner said. “I’ll probably talk it over with [KB Racing owners] Ken and Judy Black within the next couple weeks. I have not made any decisions. I don’t know. I’m going to become a grandpa come April of next year. Yeah. Just had my oldest daughter get married last weekend. So I’ve got a lot of stuff that I don’t want to miss out on.
“I love this, and it’s a great team,” he said, “but it’s real time-consuming. So we’ll see. Even if I’d run a partial schedule . . .or who knows? Might do the whole thing. So whatever it is, I’ll be involved. If I run Pro Stock, we’ll definitely always be a KB team and Summit. Also, I’m building a No Prep car for the No Prep team stuff. I’ll drive it. Then we have a Factory Shootout car. So I’ll still be involved in a lot of different types of racing. I just have to decide if I want the 24-race schedule or not. You never know. A lot can change in a day.”
He could repeat his championship.
“That would definitely change something, yes,” Butner said. “Our goal was one of us to get up there and get a run at it, whatever we’ve got to do to do that. I’ll still be around. I’ll never go away.”
Enders said last week that her Elite Motorsports team isn’t going anywhere: “As far as I know, myself, Jeg Coughlin, Vincent Nobile, Alex Laughlin . . . our team will remain intact. Richard [team owner Freeman] will be a fifth car at times. Matt Hartford, I’m not sure of his plans, but I would assume that he will continue to run off of us. We’re doing our part. We’re trying our best to make it happen. I wish Drew wasn’t leaving. I hope that Bo’s not leaving. But we’ll just have to see what happens in the silly season.
“Drew Skillman’s leaving, Tanner’s leaving. So that’s like three of the young guns,” Enders said. “Bo was an awesome sportsman racer. I’ll definitely be sad if they don’t race Pro Stock next year, but I think if he doesn’t, he’ll either run Pro Mod or continue to run sportsman programs. He’ll still be around. He’s a real racer. I think the world of him and Randi Lyn [fiancée Shipp]. Hopefully they stick around. Rumor has it that Fernando Cuadra and a few of his sons are going to drive next year.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle ace Matt Smith has mentioned racing in some Pro Stock events in 2019.
“I’ve heard that, too,” Enders said. “We do motors for Matt and Angie also. So it would be cool to have him come drive a car. I don’t know if he’d do a full year, whatever. But he’s definitely got a strong personality and makes interviews fun. He’d be a good addition to our class. Of course, he’s Rickie Smith’s son – Tricky Rickie, who raced Pro Stock many years ago.”