It has already been a banner NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season for Bo Butner. The Pro Stock driver has enjoyed a breakout year with three wins and the points lead heading to this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
But as the spotlight grows and the season closes in on its most important stretch, Butner has no plans of slowing down. He’s fighting off a slew of worthy challengers in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevrolet Camaro, including KB Racing teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson, but Butner believes his team is living up to the potential he saw a year ago.
“We’ve been very blessed,” Butner said. “It’s really the same routine and the same team that we had last year, I just didn’t drive as good last year. I’m not shocked by how the car is running. We still do this to have fun and I’m lucky enough to be with a team where it is they're living. That’s a good spot and the perfect storm for me.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Aug. 20. It is the 17th of 24 races in 2017 and penultimate race of the regular season before the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins.
Butner’s routine has been an impressive one to say the least this season. He has qualified well, made major improvements on the starting line and remained calm under pressure during eliminations, picking up wins in Houston, Atlanta and Norwalk. Since moving into the top spot nine races ago Butner has been remarkably consistent, continuing to thwart off major challenges from the likes of Skillman, who has three wins in the past four races, Tanner Gray, another three-time winner this season, two-time world champ Erica Enders and Chris McGaha. With even bigger races coming, Butner plans to continue to enjoy the moment.
“We just have to stick to the same routine of trying to get to the semis, and if we get lucky enough get to the finals,” said Butner, who has three No. 1 qualifiers and seven final round appearances in 2017. “We have to continue to stay on our game. We’ve had some pretty good momentum and we’re going to have some new stuff for the next two races. Anything you can find anywhere, it’s going to help. We just have to continue to go rounds.”
Butner did that on the Western Swing, advancing to two final rounds in the three-race stretch. Both losses came to Skillman, but Butner thinks his team can continue to make improvements in Brainerd. The race is a special one for teammates and Minnesota natives Line, the defending world champ, and Anderson, and Butner can sense the excitement of an event he’s always enjoyed. That adds motivation for the points leader, but solidifying his position in Pro Stock is just as important.
“This is where they’re all from, so we all need to go some rounds and one of us needs to win,” Butner said. “But we hope it’s that way every race. Of course we are coming here to win. We want to stay ahead and stay in the No. 1 spot for the Countdown. It’s a good advantage of being No.1 going into the Countdown. It almost seems like you have to be in the top 4-5 to really have a shot because it’s hard to believe those top 4-5 guys are going to mess up.”
Force will look to defend her Top Fuel crown in Brainerd against the likes of points leader and back-to-back world champ Antron Brown, and six-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence.
Worsham wants another Funny Car win at BIR to help jump into the top 10. Worsham sits 13th in points, with everyone looking to catch reigning world champ and six-time 2017 winner Ron Capps.
Hines won for the third time in Brainerd in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but is after his first win in 2017. LE Tonglet has dominated in that regard, posting five victories this season.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 19, at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 218-824-RACE (7223) or 866-444-4455. Tickets also are available online at www.brainerdraceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.