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Sportsmanship Played Big Part In Butner’s 2017 Success

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 9 2018

Bo Butner says that his Pro Stock championship in 2017 was a victory for Sportsman drivers everywhere. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Before Bo Butner knew drag racing, Bo knew selling cars as a family business. It’s a juxtaposition of values and commitment that carried Butner _ a self-described rent-a-racer _ to his first NHRA Pro Stock world championship in 2017.

“I’m a Sportsman racer and always will be,” said Butner, the 2006 NHRA Lucas Oil Comp world champion and paying customer at Pro Stock powerhouse Ken Black Racing. “I’m still a Stocker racer, I run Super Stock and Comp. I had the whole world of Sportsman and Bracket racers behind me for this deal, and I feel like that brought new life to Pro Stock.

“I think this (title) could make a big impact, that you’ll see more fans following Pro Stock because a Sportsman racer could come in here and win this deal. I felt like I had the whole nation behind me, and I want to thank each and every one of those guys and girls. It was a great year, and having so much support from the Sportsman racers was something I felt all year long.” 

Butner secured his championship with a sweep during the 2017 season-ending 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 12, winning the race and clinching the title as the sun set on a surreal afternoon. Three months later, Butner will begin defense of his championship during Friday’s opening two rounds of qualifications for the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

“It’s going to be an emotional feeling,” said Butner, driver of the Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro SS. “You still ask yourself how that happened. It doesn’t hit me as much until you go out and a stranger comes up and congratulates you. It’s pretty cool. It’s just amazing the amount of people that follow the sport and what we do, and when they come up to you it’s really cool and just makes you feel good about what you accomplished.”

Butner once again is teamed at Ken Black Racing with four-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson, three-time champ Jason Line along with newcomer Deric Kramer.

“I don’t feel like I have a target on my back,” said Butner, who finished seven points (2,731-2,724) ahead of Anderson in the final standings. “The target is always on Greg and Jason, so I think I can just slide in and do well. I’m not feeling any pressure. With our guys, they’re the best at what they do. I’m very confident in our car and it’s just good to get back in it. It’s been a couple months, and I can tell you that it really hits you good when it’s been awhile. I’m excited.”

Butner began the 2017 campaign with a 0-41 win/loss record after two seasons in the “Factory Hot Rod” ranks. That streak of frustration was ended five races into the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule with a victory in the 30th annual NHRA Springnationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas, near Houston, on April 23.

“When I finally won the national event in Houston, I got out of the car and was like, ‘Give me that! Give me that (Wally) trophy!’ ” Butner said. “It had been right there dangling for so long, and you think to yourself _ it’s just four rounds on Sunday. When you race Stock, you have to go seven rounds in three days. But for some reason we just couldn’t get it done. But that day in Houston, we did, and then we just kept clicking them off. We won the main season by quite a few points and we had to give them up going into the Countdown, but I thought we could do this from Day One. It worked our way.”

Butner finished 2017 with five victories in 11 final-round appearances and five No. 1 qualifiers during a season featuring only one first-round loss, at the eighth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., near Charlotte. Coincidentally, that early exit came one week after his victory in Texas. Butner also piled up points by advancing into the semifinals or better in 19 national events, as he began the six-race Countdown to the Championship as the No. 1 seed in a field of 10.

“I know for a fact we were blessed beyond belief, but the whole season we were consistent,” said Butner, a 43-year-old native and resident of Floyds Knobs, Ind. “We went a lot of rounds just being consistent and doing our job. That’s what is cool and what this team is all about. I’m a big believer in the small stuff, and it was those small changes and having the confidence of going up there with the best stuff in the country. You go up there and you try to do your job, and do it well.

“If I can match rounds in 2018 like 2017, we’ll be in great, great shape. I’ve learned that it’s important to do good all year, but like Jason says, you don’t win the championship the first five-to-10 races. You have to get in the Countdown, get a good spot and take it from there. We have a new KB teammate (Kramer) this year, and I’m sure he’ll be good. He is a very good driver. Now there are four of us to deal with, and I think that’s awesome.”

The KBR juggernaut belatedly went testing last weekend at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix.

“We didn’t get out of the (Mooresville, N.C. shop) doors at all during the offseason; we were focused on working on our engines and making pulls on the dyno, just trying to find more power,” said Anderson, driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Camaro SS. “We’ve never had a winter that we didn’t go down to Florida and test, but we did get to Phoenix a lot earlier than we normally would and we feel like it was productive. Time will tell, though. It was a different plan for us, but we feel like it was still a good plan that gave us some extra shop time that we needed.”

Butner staged opposite Anderson 10 times during 2017 and posted a 6-4 record. Bo recalled that Anderson _whom he defeated in the semifinals at Pomona last fall _was one of the first to greet him after his title-clinching pass against rookie sensation Tanner Gray of arch-rival Gray Motorsports.

“He (Anderson) is the most competitive guy, and he’s like a big brother to me,” Butner said. “He actually told me, ‘You deserve it this year.’ That’s big coming from Greg. He’s an animal, and he is so tough to beat. I wish people could see this team from the inside. It’s a different group of people than you could ever imagine. They took me in like family, and I would do anything for Ken Black and those guys.

“Me, Jason, and Greg, we’re like three brothers. Jason and I are the ones that pick on each other. He won’t root for you, but he’s happy when you win. Greg is exactly the same way. Everyone at KB Racing has been awesome, and so have the guys at Summit Racing.

“I’ll say this about the KB Racing team _ they gave me the best. I had the same stuff as Greg and Jason _ same car, same motors, same tuners _ so to me this isn’t a surprise. It was just about who went the furthest out of us three.”

In addition to his KBR colleagues, Butner’s immediate challengers figure to include the Elite Motorsports Camaros of two-time world champion Erica Enders, five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Vincent Nobile; Gray, the NHRA’s top rookie in 2017; Drew Skillman of Ray Skillman Motorsports and Chris McGaha.

“One thing I’ve learned is you can’t be a lazy winner,” Butner said. “You won the championship, but now what do you do? Everyone here (in Pro Stock) is ultra-competitive and it’s kind of a clean slate to me. We won last year, but this year will probably be the most competitive you’ll see in the class. A lot of guys have worked hard and it won’t be a walk-away by anyone. It’s going to be tough as always and we just have to keep working.”

Bo’s weekday job includes the dual titles of manager/buyer at Jim Butner’s Auto Sales in Clarksville, Ind., where on a typical day he oversees a lot of 30 pre-owned, late model vehicles. The youngest son of the late Jim Butner, Bo grew up in the car business around his mother, Dottie, and father and learned the value of taking care of customers. The dealership has been “Strivin’ to Keep You Drivin’^” since 1955.

Looking for a deal on a 2012 Chevrolet Malibu LT? Contact Butner at bo@jimbutnerauto.com or call 812-944-4167 after this weekend. The day-to-day details of running his family’s business _ and 10 years of sobriety _ paved the way to Bo’s improbable and genuinely popular professional championship.

“Larry Morgan texted me on Sunday morning (at Pomona last fall) and said, ‘You need to do this. Pro Stock needs you to win,’^” Butner said. “That was pretty amazing coming from Larry. Billy Glidden, Bob Glidden (the late 10-time Pro Stock champion), they were all texting me. That meant a lot to me; those are the guys I grew up watching or couldn’t wait to run up there and watch them make a hit. To have the support from the old-school guys is huge.

“This is the biggest honor, and to see the return of the fans and the Sportsman guys has been great. This is amazing. Dan Fletcher was screaming for me, and that guy is the man. It’s awesome, and I feel very fortunate and blessed.” 

KBR will be looking to help Chevrolet Racing claim its second consecutive and record-extending 23rd NHRA Manufacturers Cup in 2018. Chevrolet first earned the award in 1966.

Meanwhile, Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised this weekend on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage beginning at 5 p.m. (EST) on Sunday. Professional qualifying will feature two rounds on Friday and the final two rounds of time trials on Saturday. Final eliminations are scheduled for Sunday morning.

The event also will offer competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport _ like Bo Butner _ hone their skills, and the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.


NHRA’s revised 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule with starting times for FOX and FOX Sports 1 and 2’s television broadcasts. (All times ET and subject to change):

Feb. 11 _ Lucas Oil Winternationals, Pomona, Calif. (5 p.m. live on FS1)

Feb. 25 _ NHRA Arizona Nationals, Chandler, Ariz. (6:30 p.m., FS1)

March 18 _Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Gainesville, Fla. (7 p.m., FS1)

April 8 _ DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, Las Vegas (6 p.m., FS1)

April 22 _ NHRA SpringNationals, Baytown, Texas (2 p.m., Live on FS1)

April 29 _NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, Concord, N.C. (6 p.m., FS1)

May 6 _NHRA Southern Nationals, Commerce, Ga. (6 p.m., FS1)

May 20 _Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals, Topeka, Kan. (2 p.m., Live on FS1)

June 3 _Route 66 NHRA Nationals, Joliet, Ill. (5:30 p.m., FS1)

June 8 _ NHRA Virginia Nationals, Richmond, Va., (television TBD)

June 17 _NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Bristol, Tenn. (7:30 p.m., FS1)

June 24 _Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Norwalk, Ohio (6:30 p.m., FS1)

July 8 _NHRA New England Nationals, Epping, N.H. (1 p.m., Live on FS1)

July 22 _Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, Morrison, Colo. (3 p.m., Live on FOX)

July 29 _Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Sonoma, Calif. (4 p.m. Live on FOX)

Aug. 5 _NHRA Northwest Nationals, Kent, Wash. (4 p.m., Live on FOX)

Aug. 19 _Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Brainerd, Minn. (2 p.m., Live on FS1)

Sept. 3 _Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Clermont, Ind. (11 a.m. Live on FS1)

Sept. 3 _ Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Clermont, Ind. (1 p.m., Live on FOX)

NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship

Sept. 16 _ Dodge NHRA Nationals, Reading, Pa. (7:30 p.m., FS1)

Sept. 23 _AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Madison, Ill. (8:30 p.m., FS1)

Oct. 7 _AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Ennis, Texas (12 p.m., Live on FS2)

Oct. 14 _NHRA Carolina Nationals, Concord, N.C. (2 p.m., Live on FS1)

Oct. 28_ NHRA Toyota Nationals, Las Vegas (7:30 p.m., Live on FS1)

Nov. 11 _Auto Club NHRA Nationals, Pomona, Calif. (4 p.m., Live on FS1) of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. 


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 9 2018
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