When it comes to auto manufacturer â€œhorsepower warsâ€, Ray Skillman has seen it all. More than a half-century ago, he was a soldier in the original battles between automakers at dragstrips near his Owensboro, Kentucky, home.
â€œIn the 1950s, we traveled to any racetrack within a hundred miles,” said Skillman, â€œand that was before interstate highways when a hundred miles was an all-day drive.”
â€œMost of those tracks were dirt quarter-mile strips and we drove our street cars to the track and changed them into race cars, raced them and then put them back to street trim for the long drive home. Racing is a bit different than that today.”
In fact, almost everything is different about Ray Skillmanâ€™s life. Now 70 years old,Skillman is acknowledged as one of the giants in the automotive industry. As the head of a massive Indianapolis area conglomerate of 14 auto dealerships which offer products of every major marque, he is involved in every aspect of automotive sales, repair, restoration and performance.
The only thing which hasnâ€™t changed since the 1950s is Ray Skillmanâ€™s desire to race. Beginning with the American Drag Racing Leagueâ€™s Spring Drags III at Bristol (TN) Dragway on April 20-21, Ray Skillman will be back behind the wheel racing a new production car all-out in the ADRL SuperCar Showdown.
â€œThis new SuperCar class is exactly what drag racing should be,â€ said Skillman from his Ray Skillman Performance Ford shop in Greenwood, Indiana. â€œWhen I first heard about it, I knew the family had to get involved.”
When Ray mentions family, heâ€™s not referring a handful of relatives. A father of three, grandfather of 13 and great-grandfather of two, Skillmanâ€™s clan accounts for a sizeable portion of the Indianapolis population. It is his son, Bill, and grandson, Drew, who will be joining him in competition at ADRL events in the radical new SuperCar Showdown in a fleet of three new supercharged Ford Cobra Jet Mustangs.
While Bill and Drew only recently began their drag racing careers, Ray also resurrected his love of the hobby in the last few seasons.
â€œI was out of the seat of a drag racing car for 48 years while I built my business and raised a family,â€ said Ray, â€œbut I always kept up on what was going on because many of our customers raced. The chance to run these new cars all-out with no handicap is what weâ€™ve waited for. Thatâ€™s real racing.”
Bill wonâ€™t be attending the Bristol event due to an already-scheduled African safari.
â€œI have to spend the next week getting all my shots and preparing for the trip,â€ said Bill, â€œbut Iâ€™ll be attending the SuperCar Showdown races after the trip presuming I come back alive.”
It will be Billâ€™s 24 year-old son, Drew, already a rising star in production car drag racing, who will be competing alongside â€œPaw Pawâ€ in Bristol.
â€œIâ€™m really looking forward to this,â€ noted Drew. â€œIâ€™ve only raced on a Pro Start system once so this will be a whole new type of racing but itâ€™s what I really want to do.”
In a brief two-year driving career, Drew has already earned tremendous recognition with numerous low qualifier awards, class championships, a semi-final finish at the NHRA U.S. Nationals and a runner-up in national competition in Norwalk, Ohio. The team has also set multiple national elapsed time and speed records with their Mustang Cobra Jets.
Ray is known as a man who understands his customers and his market. Therefore, he sees the ADRLâ€™s SuperCar Showdown as a viable promotional tool for his dealerships. Upon hearing a brand new Cobra Jet Mustang was sold from a pit area display of Craig Chaudoinâ€™s Baytown (Texas) Ford dealership at the ADRLâ€™s very first SuperCar Showdown event only weeks ago, Ray explained, â€œThis is the kind of interaction weâ€™ve needed for a long time in drag racing. The factories want this kind of racing and so do the fans. More importantly, the dealers can become involved right at the track and really work with the customers. I fully plan to use the ADRL events to make our dealerships more visible and accessible to the fans and the racers.”
While obviously a racer to the core, Ray Skillman has earned accolades for his philanthropy, as well. In the past two years, Skillman has donated almost $2 million to Indianapolis area school districts to pay for everything from participation for student athletes to band, choir and drama programs. When Skillman found out financial woes would force his local school district to charge a fee to each student to compete in scholastic sports, he called the superintendent of the eight-school system and said, â€œJust add it up and weâ€™ll pay for it.”
The bill for one year of activities for the 7,800 students in the districtâ€™s eight schools came to $210,000. Not only did he cut the check but he committed the same for the next five years. In doing so, Skillmanâ€™s philosophy was clear.
â€œThose are my current and future customers in those schools,â€ he told local media. â€œI employ over 700 hundred people so those are my employees and their families, too. Theyâ€™re also my future employees. This is our community. More businesses need to get involved with their community for those same reasons.”
The Ray Skillman drag racing team, with father, son and grandson competing in three Ford Mustangs, (of which one is red, one is white and one is blue), may seem like the ultimate family hobby but, in fact, itâ€™s merely the tip of the Skillman dynasty iceberg. While Ray, Bill and Drew will be enjoying the thrill of heads-up production car drag racing, the American Drag Racing League will have the honor of their involvement.
A documentary of the Skillman Family Racing Team can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVIUAvlpmpQ
A video tour of Ray Skillmanâ€™s astonishing Auto Museum can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3khEcqxpqE
An example of Skillmanâ€™s performance-driven auto sales can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pc1Ww0irW_Y