NORWALK, OH. — Bo Butner is no stranger to success on the dragstrip.

The 43-year-old Pro Stock driver from Indiana won the 2006 Lucas Oil Comp world championship and is a four-time Division 3 champion. But going into this weekend’s Summit Racing NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, OH, Butner finds himself in unchartered territory. He currently sits a top the Pro Stock standings in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

It’s been a pretty impressive rise considering 2016 was Butner’s first full season competing in the “factory hot rod” class. We did what the rest of the Pro Stock class is trying to do when we caught up with the current Pro Stock points leader before Friday qualifying at Summit Motorsports Park. He gave us his thoughts on his first victory, his working relationship with Team Summit racers and KB Racing teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line, and more.

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OnAllCylinders: You’ve earned your first two Pro Stock wins and currently sit on top of Pro Stock this year.
What was it like to get your first professional win?

Bo Butner: First of all, it was a relief. I think that was my seventh final, and I’ve always been fortunate to win fairly fast in anything I’ve hopped in. Of course I’m with the best team—the Summit Racing/KB team—and they give me the best stuff, so I was starting to think: “Why can’t I close the deal?”

I knew it just had to happen eventually.

OAC: Have you done anything differently this year as opposed to your first two seasons?

Butner: I don’t know that it’s much of a difference—it probably has been—but I stepped the Sportsman stuff back this year. I used to race two cars at every race. I’m doing one of these new Shootout cars (next year), which I’ve got the car finished but I’m waiting on the engine. So I’ll be back in that strong.

But right now I feel like I can just concentrate on one car. Sometimes, when you’ve got two and you lose in the one, you feel like: “You know what—I can still win in the other.” So driving just the one car has helped me really concentrate.

OAC: How is driving a Pro Stock car different from your Sportsman entries?

Butner: These cars are less forgiving. You really have to pay attention so the guys can help you and they can tune the car. It’s challenging, but now I’m to the stage where I’ve had enough runs that I know when I mess up as it’s happening.

Here’s what’s funny: When I got my license, I was in the white car in Charlotte. I was in a test round. I did my burnout straight, backed up, and hit every shift point. It was just like my Comp car, no big deal! And then the next round, it gets out of the groove a little bit to the left. Usually my cars stay in it. So I stay in it and cross the finish line in the middle of the track. The guys were like: “You need to maybe get it back in the groove by the third gear or lift!” I’m like oh, okay—now I understand. So it is a big learning curve. And I feel like I’m learning something at every step, and I’m sure Jason and Greg will tell you the same thing.

OAC: How did you get hooked up with the Summit Racing/KB Racing team? Did you know them beforehand?

Butner: I didn’t. I watched them of course.

Here’s the story: My father passed away in 2010, and right before that he told me if something happens to him, don’t ever have a Pro Stock team. Don’t do it because I know what it costs, and I don’t want to see you waste that much money to do so. Later, after he passed away, Greg and Jason started doing my Comp motors. I had had a falling out with my previous builder, and I saw Greg driving past me at Indy at the U.S. Nationals. I said, “Hey, have you ever done a Comp motor?” I had never spoken to Greg other than to say hi. He said no one had ever asked and he’d talk to Jason. A few weeks later he said, “Yeah, we’ll look at it.”

So they started doing my Comp motors.

I called Jason one day—I live about 100 miles south of the Indy and the U.S. Nationals were coming—and I said to Jason: “Hey dude, what would it cost for me to rent one Pro Stock car for one race?”  I asked for just a ballpark figure and he said very expensive. Later that year, we’re at Vegas at the end of the year, and I’m running my Cobra Jet stuff and he says: “You ever think about running Pro Stock any more?” I said no, because I’m not going to spend that much money. He said he’d try to make something work for me. So they ironed it out and I was just going to do eight races the first year. I did the first one and I called them up and said maybe I’ll finish the year out!

It was just right time, right place. And they won’t let just anybody in their circle because they’re still the only professional, sponsor-funded team that does this for a living. Every other team out here spends some of their own money if they want to run Pro Stock. (Greg and Jason) have to win to keep going and keep racing. That’s what’s different about them. And I’m all about people who hustle and work hard. That’s what I like.

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OAC: What is your working relationship like with Greg and Jason?

Butner: I’m fortunate. I text Jason two or three times a week and it has nothing to do with racing. So it’s a buddy-buddy relationship. Greg and I will text if he’s looking for a car for (Greg’s son) Cody or something like that. But they do their deal at the shop and I go back to work between races. But between rounds, they pump you up. They can even lose their round, and if I’m still in, they’re over there first thing with the valve covers off ready to work.

One of us needs to win—that’s their mindset. We’d like to be first, second, third if possible. But one of us has to win the race. They’ve been at the top forever. They are the team to beat, and they really push me to be better. You can see they give me the best stuff or as good of stuff as what they race.

OAC: How was the transition to EFI after just your first season?

Butner: We’re in Denver and they hold one of these great meetings to announce the changes to EFI. Greg and Jason (weren’t happy), but I was hoopin’ and hollering inside because I’ve been doing EFI since I was 6 with my friend (EFI guru) John Meaney.

I was like: “Dude, we’re in! Don’t worry about it.” But I don’t think they had even thought about it before. I knew we were going to be okay. I told them there are going to be so many people that are going to be behind that you can be just good and dominate. I told them in the off-season that one team will come out and just dominate. That’s just the way it’s going to be. It’s gonna be the guy that understands that laptop and what to do with the motor.

OAC: Do you like that the class is more balanced this year?

Butner: I think fans are really getting into Pro Stock because what I’m hearing people say is: “You can’t tell me who’s going to win this race.” But at this time last year it was one of the KB cars.

OAC: Any extra pressure to win at Summit Motorsports Park because of the tie to Summit Racing?

Butner: It’s huge for them. Summit has been great to these guys, along with (KB Racing owners) Ken and Judy (Black). I think a lot of (Summit Racing) and what they invest in these guys. No, I don’t have Summit on the side of my car, but I do support them. It would be huge to win. I drove over to Summit on Wednesday for the first time, and I was amazed that, on a Wednesday at noon, there were like 12 people in line. It’s good to know there are still that many car people out there.

OAC: Do you plan to continue in Pro Stock?

Butner: I’ll stick with this through this year. Everything depends on what’s going on with drag racing, of course. But I have fun with these guys and the Summit people have treated me like family even though they don’t owe me a thing. They treat us very well. If KB allows me to come back, I’ll be back.

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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.