Elite Motorsports owner Richard Freeman emphatically stated Thursday that driver Drew Skillman was not fired from Freeman’s championship-winning Pro Stock team.
Skillman won the Auto Club Road to the Future Award as NHRA’s top rookie last season with Elite but chose to leave the four-car team this week.
“We recognize the team hasn’t performed up to the championship standards we’re used to here,” Freeman said. “We knew it would be a challenge to switch over to fuel injection, and it certainly has been, but we’re working harder than ever to get our performance back to where it needs to be, and we will get there.
“Evidentially, things weren’t moving fast enough for the Skillmans, even though Drew is fourth in the points right now, and they started shopping around for another team. I asked Ray (Skillman, Drew’s grandfather and sponsor) point blank if he was looking to make a move and he said they were, so I wished them luck.
“We were surprised to learn they wanted to leave our team, given the level of performance we helped Drew get to last year. He finished fifth in the world, won his first national event, and went to a bunch of finals and had a bunch of No. 1 qualifiers. We were proud of what we accomplished with Drew, and he and (Pro Stock champion) Erica (Enders) worked great together. She was a true mentor to him.”
Skillman won St. Louis for his first professional victory and raced to four final rounds in his rookie season. He had three No. 1 qualifiers and ended up fifth in the final points standings.
This season, as the Pro Stock class has dealt with NHRA-mandated fuel-injected engines, Skillman is tied for fourth in the points standings. He’s the highest of the four Elite Motorsports drivers and has qualified in the top half of the field in all eight races.
“Drew skipped a bunch of steps new drivers in this class usually go through before they enjoy anywhere near the kind of success he had as a rookie,” Freeman said. “One day, they’ll probably recognize that fact.
“We’re only a third of the way into a new era of Pro Stock, and despite our struggles all four of our cars are in the Countdown to the Championship field. Now they are going to a team with two cars that are outside the top 10. I can’t explain that thinking or what their level of loyalty is, but these things happen, so we’ll move on.”
Freeman’s Elite Motorsports team already has arrived in Epping, N.H., for this weekend’s NHRA New England Nationals with drivers Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Vincent Nobile more determined than ever to turn on win lights.
“The caliber of people we have on this team has been at a championship level for a long time,” Freeman said. “Erica has two championships, Jeg has six championships, and Vincent is so talented we all know his are coming. We will move forward, putting all of our attention on these three world-class individuals and get ourselves back on top.”