In no way did prosperity come easily to Bo Butner in Pro Stock. He first stepped into the class in 2015, and the delay in his success there came as a surprise to some. The diverse drag racer had socked away a remarkable number of victories in a variety of classes before entering his first race in the factory hot rod category and even had a Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championship in Comp on his scorecard.
Pro Stock, though, proved to be a very tough nut to crack – at least until the 2017 NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park. After that, Butner had a different story to tell.
On raceday in Houston that year of his first victory, Butner accumulated round wins over Allen Johnson and Greg Anderson, with a coveted bye run sandwiched between. In the final, the eighth of his Pro Stock career, he came face-to-face with Jeg Coughlin Jr., a driver who had been just as active and successful in NHRA’s Sportsman ranks.
The two left exactly in sync in the Houston money round, each with uncharacteristically delayed .061-second reaction times, but it was the driver of the Jim Butner Auto Chevrolet Camaro who increased his lead at each incremental timer on the track. At the finish-line stripe, Butner recorded a 6.550-second pass at 212.26 mph to Coughlin’s 6.562, 212.03 to win his first Pro Stock Wally, the famed NHRA trophy, by a mere hundredth of a second.
In the pressroom following the event, Butner was expectedly elated and infused with buoyant optimism.
“We finally got it off our back,” said the 65th winner in the Pro Stock category. “It’s been dangled out in front of me, and I always, always had a chance to win. Today it happened, and who knows, maybe it will start rolling like a snowball.”
The prediction so casually tossed out in a moment of pure bliss actually came true, much to the delight of Butner and – at least early on – to his KB Racing cohorts, the guys who build the engines that roar from within his Chevy.
Butner had figured out how to win, and he showed it over and again that year with triumphs over Erica Enders, Anderson, and Tanner Gray. His biggest challenger in 2017 was KB Racing’s Anderson, and it was just the two of them vying for the championship in the final moments of the season.
Anderson was in the other lane for three of Butner’s 11 finals, and the two traded the points lead through much of the year. In Pomona at the season-closer, Butner needed to go two more rounds than Anderson if he was to be crowned the champ. Fate set up a crucial semifinals meeting between the two and Butner seized the opportunity, winning over Anderson by .004 to advance to a do-or-die final. Rookie Gray slowed with tire trouble, and that was the decider. The big trophy was going home with Butner to Floyds Knobs, Indiana.
“This says so much about the KB Racing team,” said the newly crowned Pro Stock world champion. “They’ve given me everything I needed to win. It’s amazing. I got butterflies in the semis with Greg, and I really had to get my game face on for that final with Tanner. This has been a long season and a tough season, but the KB Racing guys gave me the best all year long.”
Returning to Houston Raceway Park this weekend for the 33rd annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals has Butner in a good mood. This season has been filled with challenges and heartache both on and off the track for all, and win lights have not come to Butner much over the course of the 2020 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. But Houston is something special, and this race has re-written Butner’s story before.
“You never know what can happen,” he said. “I’m excited to get back there and see if I can change my luck again. No matter what and just like always, I’m planning to win.”
The Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil will take place at Houston Raceway Park, October 23-25.