Photos courtesy NHRA

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

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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.”

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Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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