At first glance, the inaugural Southern Sportsman Showdown might appear to be another independent drag racing event in an already splintered motorsports scene. But this three-day racing extravaganza planned for March 19-21 at South Georgia Motorsports Park near Valdosta, Ga., is significant—thanks to organizers Dave Connolly, Jason Line and Bo Butner.
All three have left a mark in the NHRA Pro Stock ranks, and this race is the quick fulfillment of their promise to grassroots racers with an emphasis on customer service, a sort of declaration of dedication to an “of the racers, by the racers, for the racers” principle. Moreover, it offers a hefty purse that far exceeds what Stock and Super Stock sportsman racers could earn in an NHRA weekend.
The purpose, they say, is as substantial as the payout ($20,000 to win in each of the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday shows, along with a $50,000 to win 64-Car Shootout). That’s more than the $15,000 NHRA paid Pro Stock event winners in 2020.
Co-promoter Bo Butner, the 2017 NHRA Pro Stock champion, said, “All three of us—Dave Connolly, Jason Line, and myself—we have roots in sportsman racing, so this means a lot to us. We want to put on the most awesome race for these Stock and Super Stock guys. They deserve it, and we’re going to treat them right, feed them right, and make sure they have a good time.
“We’re so excited about this. It is truly an event made for racers by racers,” he said.
Connolly and Line had kicked around the idea of this Southern Sportsman Showdown for quite a while, and Butner joined the conversation toward the end of this past season.
“The best part is that we get to give something back to the racers who are out here investing their time and money into the sport that we all love,” Connolly, a 26-time Pro Stock winner and respected tuner, said.
Line, who retired from Pro Stock driving at the end of the 2020 season, vowed that he wasn’t leaving racing entirely and is plunging into event promotion for the first time.
“Our goal,” Line said, “is for this to be a positive experience for the racers and to give them a chance to win some real money. We also want this to be a good experience for the vendors who are supporting the racers. If one is successful, the other will be, too.”
Title sponsor of the Southern Sportsman Showdown is Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage, a Middle Tennessee establishment housing more than 100 show-quality vehicles, from classic hot rods to exotic automobiles. Owner Jason Johnson, son of Copart Salvage Auto Auctions founder Willis Johnson, has a deep, lifelong appreciation of all things automotive.
“Drag racing is one of the last sports that I watch anymore,” Johnson said. He got an up-close view of the sport when Copart sponsored Top Fuel driver Brandon Bernstein in the mid-2000s. “I’m looking forward to being part of this race,” he said. “This is getting back to the grass roots of drag racing, where the sport came from, and I think everyone is going to have a good time.”
That includes the Saturday night Nitro Fish Nacho Night/Racer Appreciation Party.
Each of the three promoters brings something unique to the table.
Line is a three-time Pro Stock champion and the 1993 Stock Eliminator titlist. Line still has many ties in the Stock and Super Stock community, and as a mechanical wizard at KB Racing and former dyno operator at Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR understands the technical aspect of racing.
Connolly has a variety of racing experience, including NHRA Top Fuel and the early days of the Factory Stock Showdown class, and he has behind-the-scenes experience in event planning. His fiancée, Jennifer Folk, is an integral part of Folk Promotions, the company that puts on the annual Million Dollar Race that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
“I’ve watched (Folk Promotions) succeed in putting on one of the most prestigious bracket races there is, and I’ve also been behind the scenes to witness problems that can arise,” Connolly said. “That experience should help us prevent a lot of issues that we might not otherwise know to look for. It will help us make sure the event goes as smoothly as possible, especially for the racers.”
Butner, the 2006 NHRA Comp Eliminator champion who also has earned four NHRA division crowns in sportsman classes, has an expertise in customer service from his primary job as CEO of his family’s Jim Butner Auto, Inc. at Clarksville, Ind.
“You have to know your customer as a fan or a racer, and you need to treat your customer great, Butner said.
Back at the NHRA Finals at Las Vegas, he said, “We’re going to put a huge Stock/Super Stock race together and pay these guys like these big bracket races you see, because that’s our people. Look how many are out here racing for $1,500, and they’re just not treated right. But we want them to have a good time, know that we respect them. Hell, we are them. We’re not doing it to make a penny. We’re not going to compete against (the NHRA), but we want to show that these old-school Stock and Super Stock guys that there are other options, maybe.”
And within two months, they’re making good on that promise.
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