Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: July 15, 2011
The odds weren't exactly in Drew Skillman's favor when he pulled up to the starting line for the Stock final at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. The 23-year-old racer, of Greenwood, Ind., appearing in just his fourth career national event and first final round, was looking across the A-board at one of Sportsman racing's all-time greats, 44-time winner and former national champion Edmond Richardson.
Yet Richardson, now a grandpa twice over at the ripe old age of 47, was not taking the kid lightly, which is probably why he's the owner of one of the sport's all-time finalround success ratios, an astounding 77.5 percent.
"I'm not one of those people who keeps up with what everyone else is running, but he was a nice kid and won his lane flip and didn't act like he was nervous," he said. "He didn't show nothing, so you take a man like that seriously."
The drama ended early with Skillman turning on the red-light in his pursuit of Richardson's handicap start in Ken and Amy Faulk's C/SA Camaro, and Richardson had Wally No. 45 ready for the shelf and tied a nearly dead-on 10.779 on a 10.78 target just for good measure.
"About the time my car set the front end down, I saw my win light on," said Richardson. "I didn't like the way I left [.060 light], but that made it all good shortly afterwards."
Richardson's light wasn't spectacular, but it also wasn't red, which he insists is part of the reason he's stacked up such an amazing final-round record.
"[In final rounds] I play the high percentages," he said. "I just take them different. I never go up thinking I need to set the world on fire."
Richardson's final-round freebie was one of five he got in six rounds of competition and was preceded by his only green-light race in the semifinals against another young gun in 18-yearold Timothy Fletcher, son of 73-time national event champ Dan Fletcher. Richardson won a double-breakout battle, 10.809 on a 10.81 to 11.204 on an 11.21. Naturally, the run with "Timbo" was Richardson's key race (see below).
Prior to that, John McLeod, Bryan Merkle, Billy Leber, and Steve McFarland had all redlighted to Richardson, for which he was grateful.
"I was just in the right spot; I didn't do nothing," he insisted. "That's probably the poorest job I've done in a long time, reactionwise. The car on the other hand was great. Ken and Amy had just given the car its middle-ofthe- season maintenance, and it was flawless.
"They should do that before every race," he said with a laugh.
Two years ago, Richardson crossed one of the last goals, a win at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, off his to-do list, so what's left for Richardson to accomplish?
Richardson's eldest son, 16- year-old Ryan, already has shown he's got some talent, winning the Pro class May 29 at the NHRA Sportsnational Open at Beech Bend Raceway Park, and Dad already has a Stocker under construction for the kid. Blake, 15, just got his learner's permit and probably won't be far behind. Until then, Dad is still racing for the groceries.
"I'd like to win 50, and I'd like to win another championship," said Richardson, who has claimed wins in Super Comp (27), Stock (8), Super Street (7), and Super Stock (3). "This year, top 10 is probably about as realistic a goal as I can set. I'm trying to get a little sponsor deal and run 10 races a year. I'd also like to win in Super Gas and maybe get a win in a fifth class before I turn it over to my kids."
The key race: "Against little Fletcher, without question," said Richardson of his semifinal race with Timothy Fletcher, his only green-light match of eliminations. "He's doing a good job, and, obviously, his pops understands what's going on. Even though he hasn't been to many races, you knew he was going to do his job. He made a nice run, and it was a good race, and I was on the right end of the math."
The runner-up: Skillman, the grandson of veteran Super Stock campaigner Ray Skillman, was appearing in his first national event final round. He was the low qualifier earlier this year at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals with his very fast AA/SA Mustang. En route to the final, Skillman, who qualified No. 3 at this event, defeated Mike Fuller, Dave Edwards, Amanda Matusek, Joey Wilkes, and defending event champ Ben Wenzel. Skillman's race with Matusek was a heads-up all-AA/SA duel that he won, 9.59 to 9.61.
Fast facts: Richardson has won 45 of his 58 final rounds for a 77.5 percent success rate. By comparison, Dan Fletcher is 65.7 percent (73/111) and David Rampy 60.4 (78/129). ... After winning 37 of his 45 Wallys in the 1990s, Richardson dialed back his racing to spend time with his family - wife Sue and sons Ryan, Blake, and Austin - sitting out 2001 through mid-2003 and has raced only sparingly since. "We had the [racing] school, and the boys were playing high school baseball and basketball, and I wanted to be there for them," he said. "We have a big time." ... The racers with the meet's best two packages faced off in round three, where McFarland's tight .002 grouping held off Bo Butner's .015 package. ...Two rounds earlier, McFarland had beaten his cousin, Brett, in a heads-up B/S race. ... Joe Marcinowski netted the NHRA Perfectly Strange Performance Award with a dead-on 11.950 in round two.
Did you know: After losing his first final round in Super Comp in Memphis, Tenn., in 1990, Richardson won his next 13 straight before losing to younger brother Scotty in the Super Comp final in Denver in 1993. In that span, Richardson doubled twice, winning in Super Comp and Super Street in Atlanta in 1992 and Phoenix in 1993. Richardson has doubled a sports-leading five times.
Quotable: "To eat you gotta win, and our family ain't had no problem eating. I can promise you that." - Richardson
Best packages: 1. McFarland (Peebles, Ohio), .002/10.740 (10.74 dial) round three; 2. Butner (Floyds Knob, Ind.), .007/9.588 (9.58 dial) round three; 3. Matt Antrobius (Bellbrook, Ohio), .007/11.420 (11.41 dial) round one.