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Drag Racing Stories
Aug 9, 2012

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Although he was won five of the seven completed events in the inaugural season of the American Drag Racing League's crowd-pleasing new SuperCar Showdown category, Bo Butner always manages to find a new path to glory. In scoring the first SuperCar Showdown title ever offered at the ADRL's oldest event, the past World Champion placed the blame for his most recent conquest squarely on the shoulders of the engineers at the Ford Motor Company.

In its debut at Bruton Smith's magnificent new zMax Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina, the ADRL's DragStock event celebrated its ninth edition with the largest field of competitors in the association's history and the largest spectator attendance of any stop on the 2012 tour. Regarded as "the Bellagio of dragstrips" by nearly anyone who has competed at the lavish facility, Butner reveled in a hard-fought victory over the toughest adversary of every racer at the event, Mother Nature.

The SuperCar Showdown permits only unmodified current production automobiles in the exact trim in which they are delivered to dealerships including tires of production dimensions. For Butner's Indiana-based 2012 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet, nine-inch wide production rear tires can usually keep over eight hundred horsepower glued to the ground. At  zMax Dragway, a track surface temperature of over 130 degrees made traction an incredibly rare commodity.

With an ambient temperature of one hundred degrees, clear skies ensured the maximum amount of radiation was being absorbed by the black rubber which coated the Charlotte track during the first day of qualifying rounds. When Butner launched from the starting line on his first effort, the supercharged 5.4-liter Ford furiously spun its rear tires on the hot, slippery surface and, deftly feathering the throttle pedal to regain traction, Butner managed to complete the eighth-mile distance in a dismal 6.31 seconds with a finish line speed of 118.72 miles per hour.

"It was just way too hot out there," recalled Butner. "Our first run had such bad tire spin I wasn't even sure if it would recover. Immediately after that pass, we decided to change the rear gear ratio to something less aggressive". However, Butner's second qualifying effort was still well off his standard pace when the car lost traction approximately one hundred feet off the starting line before clocking a slightly improved 6.04/119.50.

In moderately better weather conditions but with similar track temperatures, Butner made his third and final qualifying run on the second day of competition and was disappointed with a run of 6.07 seconds despite the fact he recorded his fastest finish line speed yet in SuperCar Showdown competition at 119.74 miles per hour. To make matters worse, the Butner's Auto Sales Mustang qualified well behind his two toughest opponents. Butner's arch rival Drew Skillman and close friend Chris Holbrook, both of whom drive similar supercharged 2012 Mustang Cobra Jets, traded the top position in the field with runs under six seconds. In the final qualifying period, Holbrook's Varsity Ford dealership-sponsored ride streaked to a 5.89/119.85  before Skillman's Indianapolis Auto Exchange-backed rig blasted to a 5.84/119.04.

"It may sound strange", said Butner, "but that third run really turned us around. We weren't as quick as we needed to be but that 119.74 mph speed showed us we had the power to race with the best cars in the field. That's when we decided to just use the tools which come with the Mustang from the factory".

Butner wasn't referring to a box of wrenches in the Ford's trunk. Like most racers near his age, thirty-eight year-old Butner grew up in an era of "mechanical automotive tuning"; if something needed to be adjusted, the standard practice involved turning a wrench on a bolt or using a screwdriver to effect a fuel delivery change. "With the older cars, we would compensate for hot track conditions by adjusting the front shocks or struts to change the vehicle's weight transfer, make changes in the fuel jetting to decrease power, alter the engine timing to change the power curve or even just adjust the tire pressure. Each one of those things involves laying on the ground under a hot car, leaning over a hot engine, and generally just getting hot! With these new Mustangs, we have the ability to manipulate virtually all operating systems electronically and the ADRL SuperCar Showdown rules allow us to do anything we want without replacing the stock engine or chassis components. So that's exactly what we did!".

Prior to the final qualifying run, Bunter entered a programming "map" into the Cobra Jet's Electronic Control Unit which would alter the timing of the double overhead camshaft-equipped engine and to allow the car to get past the tricky parts of the track without tire spin. "The cool part about tuning these cars is we don't have to take power away from the tires all the way down the track just to get past a very small slippery area. We can just electronically manipulate the power in that small area and use all of our power for the rest of the run. We looked at the computer's information and it helped us determine where to make adjustments. We had an idea what to change for that last qualifying run but, afterward, the car really just told us what it wanted us to do. We came up with a program which allowed the car to launch normally for eight tenths of a second and then the ECU pulled a huge amount of timing out of the engine for 1.5 seconds before letting the car go back to its regular timing for the rest of the run."

Butner created and loaded the new "map" and, when the race started, Butner stunned even himself with a 5.80-second charge at the fastest speed ever recorded in SuperCar Showdown racing, 121.08 miles per hour! When Skillman and Holbrook both advanced with runs of 5.83/119.75 and 5.85/120.75, respectively, Butner assumed the role of the quickest car in the category. It also set the stage for a semi-final round meeting with Skillman in a rematch of the championship bout at the most recent ADRL event, (the Summer Drags VIII in Martin, Michigan), which Butner won by a scant eleven thousandths of a second, (19.56 inches).

In the latest chapter of the hottest rivalry in the division, Butner left the starting line first by a minuscule margin but thundered to a 5.83/120.62 victory over Skillman's 5.90/119.39 to put the white Butner's Auto Sales Ford in its seventh consecutive final round. Skillman, the twenty-four year-old phenomenon from Indianapolis whose Kendall Oil-backed Cobra Jet won its first SCS title earlier in the season at the Gateway Drags near St. Louis, admitted a critical error after the run. "We changed the rear gear ratio for the race and it was the wrong call", said Skillman, "We know Bo is always going to throw his best at us and we tried something a bit different and it bit us, plain and simple".

Prior to meeting Michigander Holbrook in the championship final round for the first time since the ADRL U.S. Drags near Richmond, Virginia, in June, Butner entered another new tuning "map" in the Ford's ECU and, despite a sizeable reaction time advantage of six hundredths of a second by Holbrook's silver Cobra Jet, charged to the quickest run of the event at 5.78 seconds while producing a new official SuperCar Showdown World Record Speed of 121.31 miles per hour against Holbrook's 5.95/120.29.

"Folks need to remember Chris Holbrook builds my engines so we were already both winners when we staged up for the final round", said an elated Butner as he celebrated his fifth season victory during the winners' circle celebration. "We were swamped all weekend by fans who wanted to see these cars up close in the pit area and we showed everybody the incredible technology which goes into these Mustangs. I was a very difficult race but it would've been a lot tougher without the ability to tune these cars to respond to any conditions. The Cobra Jet is just an amazing automobile!".

The next event on the 2012 American Drag Racing League tour will be the Memphis Drags III to be held at Memphis International Raceway in Millington, Tennessee, on September 7-8.


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