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DI 30 Under 30 2023: Marcus Butner

When Marcus Butner was a young child, his father, Mark, sponsored North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Famer Jerry Williams and his Ford Probe. Williams ended up winning the 1998 Quick 8 Racers Association championship, which didn’t matter much to young Butner at the time. He was just fascinated by the cars themselves, a fascination that continues today. 

[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #185, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in Nov/Dec of 2023.]

“I wasn’t but five years old, but I loved going to the racetrack, loved watching the early days of Pro Mod,” says Butner, now 29. “It was just something I always dreamed to do. Business wasn’t so great later on so we had to get out of that. When I was about 15-16, Jerry was still running the white Mustang with the blue stripes. They would let me come to some races and just aggravate them. I was at the point where I thought, ‘I’ll never be able to do this,’ but I just loved it. I paid my way and did whatever I could just to sweep the pit mat, if that was all I got to do.”

Later on, business picked back up at Butner Construction, which builds jails, schools, shopping centers, and other large buildings. Meanwhile, Marcus, brother Matthew, and another partner started a rebar business, Twin City Rebar. With financial resources back at a comfortable level, the Butners decided to get back into sponsoring a Pro Mod. 

Engine builder Charlie Buck, who was building street car engines for Butner at the time, introduced him to then-customer Jay Cox. Butner worked out a deal to sponsor Cox’s PDRA Pro Nitrous entry known as the “Pumpkin” early in the 2018 season, an arrangement that continued through the end of the 2023 season. 

Cox stayed in constant communication with Butner through their partnership. Through that, Butner learned the ins and outs of fielding a competitive Pro Nitrous car. After a few years of sponsoring Cox’s car, Butner decided he was ready to drive as well. Cox worked with him to put together a Rick Jones-built ’69 Camaro with a Buck 959-cubic-inch engine between the frame rails, originally destined for Elite Top Sportsman. 

“We rented Darlington out for two weeks and were just making laps,” Butner says. “We run a 3.69 and we’re like, ‘You know what? Why don’t we just run Pro Nitrous?’ The two-car data was cool. It just evolved from there. So we started out running Pro Nitrous.”

Butner made his PDRA Pro Nitrous debut in 2021, running six of the eight races. He won first round at three of those and reached the semifinals at another. He only ran four races in 2022, reaching the semis once. Butner’s breakout season came this year, though, as he lost to eventual world champion Tommy Franklin in the finals at Norwalk and beat four-time world champ Jim Halsey in the final round at the next race in Maryland to score his first-ever Pro Nitrous victory. 

“I still don’t even have the words for it,” Butner reminisces. “To dream about it your whole life…You have the assumption you’re never going to be able to afford that. Just dream about it, and all of a sudden it’s a reality and you’re actually competitive with these guys. We give all the credit to Jay and Pat [Musi] and everybody. But to keep calm and not go red and not be late running people like Jim Halsey or Tommy Franklin, it’s just in its own world.”

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Butner sat out the last two races of the season because his father was battling some health issues. Cox made up for it, though, racing to three consecutive final rounds, including a season-ending win at the Brian Olson Memorial World Finals. It came at the perfect time, as Cox is stepping away from driving to spend more time with his young kids. He’ll continue tuning Butner’s car as the soon-to-be 30-year-old competes for the 2024 world championship. 

“We’re going in with two feet,” says Butner, who credits his dad for instilling in him a competitive spirit. “We have a third engine. We got another Liberty and a lot more parts. We’re going to take it as serious as we can. We’ve tried to free up as much testing as we can throughout the winter, pending everything with my dad. The car’s getting a few updates this winter. We’re not trying to slow down. We’re wanting to run for a championship.”

Beyond a championship or two, Butner wants to add his name to the record books with a Pro Nitrous E.T. record. He plans to make a full run at the championship for the next few seasons before likely taking a step back like Cox to focus on his own young family. 

“I respect that decision more than anything,” Butner says. “I’m close with him and his family. He’s got two great kids. You couldn’t ask for any better. My kids play with them and look up to them already. I’d love to do it as long as I can. I don’t know that I could ever step away, but as far as running a full tour, I think I got four or five good years to put to it and try to make the most of it.”

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