BUTNER EARNS FIRST PRO STOCK CHAMPIONSHIP WITH WALK-OFF VICTORY AT NHRA FINALS
Bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of the World Series with two outs. Lining up for a game-winning field goal with two seconds left in the Super Bowl. Hitting that perfect putt on the 18th green at the Masters.
It is a scenario that sports fans - and competitors - dream about having the opportunity to witness. To say they were there to see the improbable.
And for NHRA Pro Stock competitor Bo Butner, he will one day get to tell his children and grandchildren that he got to live that moment for himself.
Butner completed a historic comeback Sunday at the 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, erasing a 40-point deficit to class leader Greg Anderson and earning his very first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock championship with a walk-off victory over Tanner Gray.
“When you are little kids you play these games like shooting basketball with your friends. You imagine there is no time left and you have one free throw to win the game. That is what I kept telling myself going into that race,” said Butner, who earned his fifth victory of the season. “It has been a long season. A very tough season. We were all kind of bunched together, but I have to say this about my KB Racing team, they give me the best. It is amazing. I probably didn’t drive the best today, but when it is your day, God blesses you. And He did that today.”
Butner defeated Gray in a thrilling final that saw the former sportsman world champion walk away with a margin of victory of only a few hundredths thanks to a tire issue for the young rookie. Gray got away cleanly with a .022 reaction time, marginally better than Butner’s .051, but began to make a move toward the centerline allowing Butner to catch and pass Gray for the win.
Butner crossed the stripe in the Jim Butner Auto Chevrolet Camaro with a 6.554-second pass at 210.70 mph to earn the championship-clinching win. Gray had a 6.653 at 208.62 mph in the runner-up effort.
“I don’t know exactly what happened to Tanner’s car, but Tanner is tough. He is going to be a good champion. I made a joke that I hope none of my fans shot out his tire going down the track,” Butner said with a laugh. “(A blown tire) actually happened to me once. It happened to me in the finals in Stock. But today was our day. This year it is ours. This belongs to KB.”
Entering this weekend’s NHRA Finals, KB Racing teammates Butner, Greg Anderson and Jason Line all had an opportunity at the championship. Anderson entered with the lead, with Butner needing to go one additional round than his teammate to clinch the title and Line needing to go two more rounds.
Line was eliminated from contention after suffering a semifinal loss to Gray, while Butner opened the door for himself when he defeated Anderson in that same semifinal round. And did he ever.
Anderson earned a slight starting line advantage, but Butner made up the difference by the time they passed the Christmas tree and increased his lead at every increment down the track. Butner advanced with a 6.551 at 210.05 mph, just ahead of Anderson’s 6.565 at 209.92 mph.
With Anderson out of the picture, all Butner had to do was win the race and the championship was his.
“The semifinal was how it should be. You have to put your destiny in your own hands. I don’t want to watch someone else win for me,” Butner said. “It felt good today. I made a good run against Greg and, shocking to me, actually got some butterflies during that race. But then you have to get your game face back on for the final.”
Butner also added wins over Jeg Coughlin and Shane Gray en route to the win. Gray had wins over Line, Drew Skillman and Alex Laughlin.
With the win, Butner earns his very first championship in the same year he recorded his first NHRA national event win. Butner entered this season 0-for-6 in final rounds before earning his first win at Houston back in April. From there the wins seemed to snowball as he went on to win the regular season title and take home five total wins during a magical 2017 campaign.
“We are supposedly the little team, but we are not. We are a team with KB. I have the same stuff as them. Same car, same motors, same tuners. To me, it is not a surprise,” Butner said. “Today it was just who went the furthest out of us three. After the race, Greg was actually the first person to meet me down there. He gave me a big hug and said you deserve it this year. That is big coming from him.
“This has been an incredible year. When I finally won the national event in Houston, I got out of the car and couldn’t wait to get that trophy. But once we won there, we kept clicking them off. I thought we could do this after that.”
So what does it mean to add his name to the history books alongside some of the greats of the Pro Stock class?
“It hasn’t set in yet. It is the biggest honor to see the return from the fans and sportsman guys. It is awesome and we are very fortunate,” Butner said. “This is an amazing team and I am just glad to be a part of it all.”