Former NHRA Pro Stock champ Mike Edwards not at season opener, career uncertain

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As the season-opening NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Circle K Winternationals continue this weekend at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., one name is not on the entry list of drivers.

Make that one very big name.

Even though he won a series-high six races (plus two additional runner-up finishes), qualified No. 1 for 15 of last season’s 24 races, finished fourth in the standings and is recovering nicely from offseason shoulder surgery, 2009 Pro Stock champ Mike Edwards is back home in Coweta, Okla., instead of on the west coast.

Edwards shocked the NHRA world at the end of last season when he unexpectedly announced he was selling his entire racing operation, including his super-fast 2013 Chevrolet Camaro, to up and coming Texas Pro Stock racer Chris McGaha.

McGaha immediately becomes a force to be reckoned with by virtue of having Edwards’ equipment.

“I can’t wait to get out there, but it’s a little nerve-wracking because now it’s all going to be up to me,” McGaha recently told RacinToday.com. “I basically have the fastest Pro Stock car out there.

“Heck, I don’t know if anybody has ever had the chance to do something quite like this. But here I am, right where I’ve always wanted to be: driving a Chevrolet Camaro with a real chance of winning Pro Stock races.”

At the same time, however, the Pro Stock class is diminished without Edwards’ presence. McGaha tried everything he could to convince Edwards to become his crew chief, much like Edwards served as crew chief for Pro Stock racer David Nickens from 1989-91.

“Believe me, I asked Mike if he would be my crew chief,” McGaha told RacinToday.com. “We tried our hardest, but he wouldn’t do it. He was really nice about it and his exact words to me were, ‘If you want to go testing, just call me.’ But no, he isn’t going to be my crew chief.”

Although Edwards has repeatedly said he is not officially retired, at the age of 56 and without any equipment, it would appear that he very well may have raced his last NHRA national event – unless, perhaps, he is brought back as a driver for hire sometime in the future.

It will mark the first time in 20 years that Edwards has missed an NHRA national event as either a driver or crew chief.

“While we may not know what the future holds, we are confident in who holds our future,” Edwards said in In a released statement. “Lisa (his wife) and I are blessed to have made many great friendships and worked with some of the best sponsors in the sport and will cherish those relationships as we move forward.

“We are not certain how our drag racing family will be a part of that, but we put our faith in God that He will guide us in the direction we need to go.”

Edwards’ prolific career included two NHRA championships (one in Pro Stock, the other in Modified), 42 career wins (40 in Pro Stock, two in Modified), 56 No. 1 qualifying positions and 13 career top 10 season finishes.

He also holds the NHRA national elapsed time record in Pro Stock at 6.471 seconds.

Edwards said he is recovering nicely from Dec. 10 surgery that reconnected a torn rotator cuff and reconstructed his left bicep.

“Rehabilitation is moving forward,” Edwards said. “It is not fun, but it is what I am focusing on at the moment. I am on-track with the program my doctors and therapist have put me on, so that is encouraging. The part that has made it a bit easier to fight through the pain has been the well-wishes from other drivers and fans.

“All of you do not know how much that really does help. I would like to thank everyone for the many prayers and support over the last few months. It has not been an easy process to learn to lean on people just to do simple things. While I still have a long way to go in rehab, I’m making progress.

“Over the last 25 years, Lisa and I have lived our dream. We have been so very blessed to have had the opportunity to compete in drag racing and especially in Pro Stock. But the most important part is we have had the opportunity to share our faith, and that has always been the reason we have gone to the track to help kids and adults strengthen their faith.”

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Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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