Butner Back To Give Fits To Rest of Pro Stock Class

Did an 80-year-old woman from Floyds Knobs, Ind., who loves to go to lunch with her girlfriends when she isn’t overseeing a car dealership or jetting off to Acapulco save the NHRA Pro Stock class?

Dottie Butner just might have done that – or did she?

She certainly gave the Pro Stock class a public-relations boost by encouraging her son, 2017 series champion Bo Butner, to reverse his decision last October to step away from it.

Photo by Chris Sears

Her urging came at a time when the longsuffering drivers had gone through a spate of expensive technical changes, resisted the sanction body’s attempt to cut the field from 16 cars to eight at nine events, and finally no longer could stop the NHRA from cutting the class out of several 2019 races altogether. Teenage sensation Tanner Gray, who was locking up the Pro Stock championship, already had announced he was bolting for greener pastures with NASCAR’s K&N East Series. Then Bo Butner, the previous year’s champion, said he would take a break from Pro Stock, too, to concentrate on his family and family business while continuing to race at the sportsman level.

“She shocked me and said that maybe we should keep doing this, and I told her I thought it was time to move on,” Bo Butner said. “We’d already been successful with the best team out there. But I did say I’d think about it.”

He also ran the idea past son JB Butner, general sales manager of Jim Butner Auto Group in Clarksville, Ind. “JB runs the dealership, so it was important to make sure he was on board with it,” Butner said.

Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster

The Jim Butner Auto Group Nitro Fish Chevy Camaro driver decided it’s not nice to mess with Mother Butner. And only a few days later, he discussed with KB Racing team owners Ken and Judy Black at the fall Pomona race that he would like to return fulltime. Of course, the Blacks told him he was family and welcomed him back, never thought he really had left to begin with. Not insignificant was the news that the Pro Stock class would be on the schedule for only 18 of the Mello Yello Series’ 24 events.

“It tore at my heart to think about something happening to this class or it going away, and that’s another reason I wanted to come back,” Butner said.

What Dottie Butner championed, she also made more difficult for the rest of the class. Her son is running over the rest of the class. So far he has won four of the five Pro Stock races, including last weekend’s Virginia Nationals, near Richmond.

It definitely brought me back with the shorter schedule,” Butner said of the policy that at first appeared to be a sign of disrespect from the sanction body. I think some of the guys that retired that I’m kind of close to, they’re missing it.

“This is absolutely an amazing season and a good call to come back. What a season already. The lucky streak we’ve had in Pro Stock this year is just crazy. I feel like we just have to show up, but the truth is that we still have to do our job. The guys can’t make any mistakes in the pits, but with the guys I have, I never worry about that. It sets my mind at ease, so all I have to do is go out there and be a bracket racer,” he said after extending his eliminations record to 16-1 and his lead over No. 2 Alex Laughlin from 140 points to 187.

Greg Anderson, runner-up to Butner at Virginia, said, “Bo is being a little hoggish with the wins, but you have to get them while you can. That’s what you’re supposed to do, and more power to him.”

Butner said, “We want to continue this roll we’ve been on.” He’ll get his next chance at Joliet, Ill., at the May 30-June 2 Route 66 Nationals.

Calling himself “a glutton for punishment,” he said he still wanted to compete in the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown in his Cobra Jet Mustang. And he’s on a roll in that category, as well. He’s third in those standings, behind fellow Hoosiers Drew and dad Bill Skillman. Butner also has competed this year in the Super Stock class.

Photo by Chris Sears

His son, JB, and his wife, Elizabeth, made Bo Butner a grandfather for the first time in April. Even before little James Earl Butner V – “J5” to Grandpa – was born, he had inherited a winner’s hat collection. Butner saved the yellow ones he received at Pomona, Las Vegas, and Gainesville, and the green ones he earned as No. 1 qualifier at Phoenix and Las Vegas. And Butner’s fiancée, Randi Lyn Shipp kicked in the one she earned for winning the same weekend as Butner, in Stock Eliminator at the Gatornationals.

Even more changes have marked the 2019 season. Butner’s team added 26-time Pro Stock winner Dave Connolly to help tune the car, as well as clutch specialist Jep Trammell (also formerly from Gray Motorsports), to take some of the workload off crew chief Darrel Herron. “They all have helped me to become less of a hands-on guy,” Butner said. “I hop in and drive, and I’ve enjoyed that part so far.”

This is absolutely an amazing season and a good call to come back. What a season already. The lucky streak we’ve had in Pro Stock this year is just crazy.

He said he definitely thinks that has helped him focus better, especially on reaction times that are so critical to Pro Stock success.

“I think having those guys that you really trust and not have to second-guess anything is everything in this sport, especially when it comes to you having to be perfect,” Butner said. “You try to be more perfect than the guy or gal you’re racing. It is the toughest class. To have the least to think about is the way to go. I’m very happy with our team.”

He said his Pro Stock Camaro and his Factory Stock Showdown Cobra Jet clearly are two different race cars, yet they complement each other in their roles to make him a more methodical driver.

Butner’s Factory Stock Showdown entry. Photo by Rob Cossack

For instance, at Las Vegas, he said, “What’s funny is our Summit Cobra Jet, I know the potential for it and I’m struggling with it. I didn’t make a good Q1 run, so I hop in the Pro Stock car mad and I go out there and I made, in my eyes, a perfect run, shift points and all that in the Pro Stock car. So I do better with more to do. So when I hop out of one and into another one, I think it helps me in both cars. We’ll be running a little bit better in the shootout car and then we’ll make another good run in the Pro Stock car. So it’s a mindset. It’s all about discipline. They’re both totally different. We have to do good in both cars. That’s my goal.”

Actually, he wants to perform well in three cars. He said he’s planning to race his Chevy Cobalt in No Prep and Outlaw races. But for now, he has been busy on the Pro Stock front and on the Factory Stock Showdown scene, where he was runner-up in the most recent two of three races. After missing the season-opening field at the Gatornationals in March, he excelled at Charlotte and Richmond but couldn’t stop the Skillman family. At zMAXDragway, he was No. 2 qualifier behind and runner-up to Bill Skillman. At Richmond, he was No. 1 qualifier, set top speed of the meet in the quarterfinals, and was runner-up to Drew Skillman.

Butner was the winner of the first Factory Stock Showdown race, in 2012 at Indianapolis during the U.S. Nationals. At the time, he said he thought it was the start of something big. And he was right.

Photo by Chris Sears

“It’s changed a lot. It’s kind of becoming a baby Pro Stock class,” Butner said.

Meanwhile, Butner said he sees progress with the Pro Stock car counts.

“The people that are showing up are very capable of going rounds and winning rounds. We had pretty much a full field last year. Pretty much the year I won the championship we had probably the least amount. We had a couple bye runs and stuff. I don’t think you’ll see that this year,” he said.

Many grumbled about the new format of 16 cars but only 18 races. However, Butner is one of the Pro Stock regulars who is in favor of it because the new schedule is more manageable and less stressful. Most Pro Modified drivers, most of them owners of successful businesses here in the U.S. and abroad, have embraced an abbreviated schedule because it meshes well with their corporate time and dollar commitments.

Photo by Chris Sears

“It definitely brought me back with the shorter schedule,” Butner said of the policy that at first appeared to be a sign of disrespect from the sanction body.

“I think some of the guys that retired that I’m kind of close to, they’re missing it. I’ll call him out. Tanner Gray, he calls me, like, once a week. So I’d love to see him back, but he’s too good, so we’ll just leave him at home. Hopefully he does well with the circle track. [Gray recently won a race at South Boston, Va.] Drew [Skillman] is really digging this Factory Shootout stuff, and that’s kind of up Drew’s alley. Down deep, if you have a competitive Pro Stock car, you have to miss it to hop out of it.”

Bo Butner did. And although he never really left the class, he’s back – an undeniable way.

About the author

Susan Wade

Celebrating her 45th year in sports journalism, Susan Wade has emerged as one of the leading drag-racing writers with 20 seasons at the racetrack. She was the first non-NASCAR recipient of the prestigious Russ Catlin Award and has covered the sport for the Chicago Tribune, Newark Star-Ledger, St. Petersburg Times, and Seattle Times. Growing up in Indianapolis, motorsports is part of her DNA. She contributes to Power Automedia as a freelancer writer.
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