Some would say that Bo Butner never forgot where he came from, but it’s more accurate to say he never actually left. For all his success in the Pro Stock class, including the 2017 Mello Yello championship, Butner considers himself to be a sportsman racer first and foremost and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
For a brief history lesson, Butner got his start bracket racing at local events and he quickly progressed to Stock, Super Stock, and to Comp Eliminator where he won a national championship in 2006. All told, he’s won 15 national events as a sportsman driver, including a memorable double win in Las Vegas in 2012 where he grabbed the Comp and Stock titles on the same day. He decided to try Pro Stock on a part-time basis, but has enjoyed it so much that he’s been a full-time pro for the last two seasons.
Butner’s status as one of sportsman racing’s elite became even more obvious when he clinched the Pro Stock title on the final day of the 2017 season. Moments after his thrilling final round victory over rookie of the year Tanner Gray, Butner’s phone overflowed with text messages and his Facebook account was equally inundated with thoughts of congratulations from a large number of NHRA sportsman and E.T. bracket racers. To them, Butner is not only one of their own, but he also represents the little guy racer who had the opportunity to fulfill his dream of competing in the big show.
“I guess people see it that way,” Butner said. “I spent 22 years as a sportsman racer, so I don’t really think about it. Even after winning [the championship] I’ve had people come up and congratulate me or ask for an autograph and I wonder ‘Why me?’ I certainly don’t feel any different than when I was racing my Stocker or my Comp car.
“I will also tell you this much; Sportsman racing isn’t easy. To win a national event in Stock or Super Stock or Comp or any other class takes a lot of skill, preparation and a bit of luck but Pro Stock is a whole different world. I didn’t realize just how tough that class was until I started driving in 2015. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in racing. Nothing else compares.”
Butner’s career-path in Pro Stock would seem to support his claim. During his debut season in 2015, he competed in 17 events and won just 13 elimination rounds. He reached the final round in Las Vegas where he lost when Erica Enders cut a perfect .000 light against him. In 2016, Butner raced a full season and finished a very respectable fourth. However, he still remained winless after 41-career starts. When Butner lost a round, more often than not, his reaction time came into play. Butner’s lights weren’t necessarily bad; its just that a class as competitive as Pro Stock requires near perfection for any kind of sustained success.
“That was the tricky part,” Butner says. “You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult, but it is. The level of concentration you need in one of those cars is off the charts. There were times when I thought I had it figured out and then I’d miss it again. It was just a matter of staying focused. It was frustrating, but the more frustrated I got, the more I was determined to figure it out.”
After two years, Butner finally found success in Pro Stock when he won the Houston event last year and he did it in with a final round victory over six-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., thought by many to be the most gifted driver in the history of the Pro Stock class. As many had predicted, it opened the floodgates for more success and Butner finished the season with five victories in 11 final rounds and he was crowned the Mello Yello champion, holding off a late-season charge from teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson.
During his very well-received acceptance speech at the NHRA awards banquet in Hollywood on Monday evening, Butner made a point to give a shout out to the sportsman racing community.
“I’ve spent the majority of my career as a sportsman racer and I am still a sportsman racer,” Butner said. “I was able to achieve the dream that many other sportsman racers and those who race at local tracks have and I can tell you that I understand the vision of [NHRA founder] Wally Parks. This is a fairly tale for us because Pro Stock has always been a class that sportsman racers want to compete in. I just hope I can represent NHRA as a great sportsman and Pro Stock champion.
“If I did anything last year I hope I brought some new fans to Pro Stock and by that, I mean sportsman racers who might not otherwise have paid attention,” Butner said. “I know my whole story is a bit hard to believe. On paper, it wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. I think any sportsman racer can relate to what I went through.”
True to his sportsman roots, Butner still occasionally jumps in a Stock or Super Stock car and competes at a national event or a divisional event close to his home in Southern Indiana. He’s also got a pair of new Cobra Jet Mustangs that are ready to go for 2018 so he’s likely to be a factor in the SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown that will be contested at seven events this season. He’s also toying with the idea of converting his Chevy Cobalt Comp eliminator car into a 4,000-horsepower twin turbo car for No Prep and Street Car events that have become popular in recent years. Of course, Butner is also a constant supporter of his fiancé, Randi Lyn Shipp, who races her Firebird Stocker at almost every NHRA event.
“This whole Pro Stock thing is great and I’m having the time of my life but if it ended tomorrow, and it’s possible I might not have come back if I hadn’t won the world [championship], I’d go right back to being a sportsman racer,” said Butner. “I’d probably be just as happy. Hell, I’d be just as happy, and I’d probably be a whole lot richer.”