NHRA: How Bo Butner went from party animal to rehab and on to world champion

Photos courtesy NHRA
1 Comment

Bo Butner admits he used to love a good drink – or two or even three – especially after a win or good finish at a drag race.

It’s not unusual for racers to do that; it’s practically part of the culture to have a beer or two after a long day of battling opponents on the quarter-mile.

But as the Floyds Knobs, Indiana native got more successful as a sportsman racer in NHRA competition, the more he partied. He began to sense he had a problem but always felt he could handle it.

Bo Butner

That is, until a DUI arrest prompted him to go into a 16-week, in-house rehab session at Talbott Recovery in Atlanta in 2007, the year after Butner captured the 2006 NHRA Competition Eliminator championship.

“I’m not a lot different than a lot of people,” Butner told MotorSportsTalk. “I was fortunate to know I had an issue and a problem.

“I’ve had a great life and have been blessed. I’ve been racing for 22 years, and probably half of that, I was a party guy. I’d drink a lot and dabbled in other stuff. Luckily, I got some help. Talbott saved my life.

“I mean, I’m a father of four. I didn’t act like it, but I was. I decided at that point I had to change my life, something needs to happen because this isn’t right. You’ll end up an old man alone. Your friends will die off or run off and this was the only road.

“Luckily, I only had (one stint in rehab) and I picked up one life chip. I’m going on 11 years sober now. I can’t have a drop. I won’t take morphine or anything over an Advil. I won’t do it. There’s probably a possibility I could have a drink today, but why chance it? Life’s good.

“I like to say it a lot, but I’ve been at the right place at the right time in my life and that includes drag racing and getting sober.”

When he emerged from the four-month stint in Atlanta, Butner was sober for the first time in over a decade. Interestingly, it was his love of drag racing that helped get him through – and continues to keep him through – recovery.

“As soon as I got out of rehab, I wanted to go test a race car,” Butner said. “So I went off in this really fast car and I shut off at half-track. I made another run and shut off at half-track again. My crew guys asked what was wrong, and I told them, ‘Man, this thing is all over the place.’ They said it was as straight as it’s ever been.

“Then I got to thinking, I never drove this car sober. Not literally drunk, but more in a sober state of mind because you think totally different, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Getting sober was the best thing Butner could do for himself personally, but also professionally as a drag racer. It helped lead him to move to the Pro Stock class in 2015, joining with legendary KB Racing drivers Greg Anderson and Jason Line, who have seven Pro Stock championships between them.

2017 Springnationals winners, from left, Leah Pritchett, Ron Capps and Bo Butner, who celebrated his first career NHRA Pro Stock win.

Butner couldn’t have picked a stronger or more successful team to align himself with. He would earn nine runner-up finishes before breaking through with his first Pro Stock win in April 2017.

Seven months and four more wins later, Butner had climbed the Pro Stock mountain to the top, winning last season’s championship.

“I beat the boss man (Anderson) in the semifinal,” Butner said of last year’s season-ending race at Pomona. “A little guy from Floyds Knobs, Indiana was second in the world at that point after that round.

“Greg still looked like he’d have enough points to win the championship, but I had lane choice in the final round against young Tanner Grey. I told myself I can outrun him and win this race.

“So, going back to that right place, right time thing, Tanner has a blowout in his tire at half-track and it slowed him down and I rolled on (to win). It was unbelievable. I still get chills up my back talking about it.”

But just as important to Butner is how he’s been able to serve as an inspiration and role model for others who are struggling with alcohol or substance abuse.

He treasures and values his white “life chip” (given to those who successfully complete abuse programs) as much as he does the world championship trophy he won last November.

“I’ve just been very fortunate to have a lot of support, especially from the fans,” Butner said. “I’m open with everybody. I’ll have people come up and give me their (life) chips. It’s so awesome. It’s a big community but it isn’t talked about a lot.”

Butner on his way to his first win of 2018 in the season-opening race at Pomona, California.

Butner takes pride in his achievements both on and off the racetrack. In addition to his Comp Eliminator and Pro Stock championships, he’s also a successful businessman. He owns two car dealerships in southern Indiana, just north of Louisville, that were started by his grandfather in 1955.

But as proud as he is of his racing and business achievements, he’s equally proud of being an inspiration to others.

“Anybody who knows anything about AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) knows you don’t broadcast it, you don’t advertise it,” Butner said. “A crew chief of mine went through the same thing years before. He saw me during those times. I asked him if he thought I had a problem. He said, ‘You’ll know when you have a problem.’ Because nobody can tell you anything. They can take you away, put you in jail, lock you up and it doesn’t matter.

“(Going through treatment) has been a blessing to me. I had a good life before, raised four kids, was married – actually went through a divorce while I was in rehab – but I still had four great kids in my life and my family support. I can’t complain about that. It taught me a lot. But I love when people come up to me and tell me their story because we’re all the same.”

Butner comes into this weekend’s Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway fifth in the Pro Stock standings, 110 points behind boss and points leader Anderson.

In the first 10 races of 2018 Butner has one win (season-opening race at Pomona), one runner-up (Gainesville, Florida) and one third-place finish (Las Vegas 4-Wide Nationals).

Success in Pro Stock hasn’t changed Butner, who turned 44 on Sunday.

“I’m still the same guy at every race, you can ask any of the racers,” he said.

But there’s more to that, Butner said after being interviewed two weeks ago during the race weekend at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago.

“I just want people to know that when I look at that mirror every morning, I’m happy with that guy I see,” he said. “And I’m still able to turn this finger around and point back at me and have some blame every day. If I can do that every day, I’ll be on the right track.

“I can have a reason to drink right now, I qualified ninth (that evening at Route 66), I didn’t even qualify in the top half (of the 16-car field). That used to be a reason to drink, but now it’s not an option. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and I’m proud to tell my story about it.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
0 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”


Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.


Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500