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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Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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