CLEVELAND, Texas — Ask most of today's active short track racers, and they'll tell you they're all set with promoting races. They know the work it takes, headaches brought on and risks taken. Most are happy to maintain a race car, go after a few trophies and try to enjoy the hobby as best they can.
Yet for 41-year-old Mod Lite pilot Joe Butler Jr., balancing an active race team with the planning of a big event is rewarding. He's striving to secure his first feature win of 2022, while working to promote his impressive $10,000-to-win Mod Lite regional event at Heart O' Texas Speedway on October 14-15.
“As for my own season behind the wheel, it's been a story of ups and downs,” Butler explained. “I had an engine problem at the start of the season, but other than that, it's been good overall. I've raced 17 times so far, with four top-five and eight top-10 finishes.
“I haven't gotten that elusive first win yet, but we're still trying. We race with a bunch of competitive guys down here. I'll just keep after it and some night maybe my time will come. I enjoy the challenge.”
It's a lot to have on any man's plate, yet the easy-going Butler is pretty happy wearing a promoter's hat.
“I really like putting something together that benefits this entire division,” Butler explained. “I wanted to create a showcase event with a big purse, and we found the perfect track to host it. When we met with Selby Holder, he loved the idea and got on board. I'm getting calls from teams all over the country.
“This event has been in the works for nearly two years. I've had this big dream about a $10,000-to-win Mod Lite race since I bought my car in October of 2020. Some say they expect 70 cars to turn out; but I think the actual number will be closer to 90. They're coming from all over; and it'll be quite a show.”
There is already a ton of support behind this event, with reputable businesses jumping on board.
“We have Cody Hamm, who owns Kicking Back Refrigeration, stepped up in a big way to put up the winner's purse. We also have Eddie Craft Jr., Mark Tunnel and John Theil that are with the North Texas Mod Lites. With the help of those four guys, we made our game plan and set up a meeting with Selby.”
Butler's own driving career is only two and half years in the making, yet he's no newcomer to racing.
“I've been around short track racing all of my life,” he said. “My Dad raced for many years and had a good deal of success. He chased UMP points, and finished second in National title. So I helped him out and enjoyed it a lot. He didn't travel too far, mostly around the state of Texas. But he was really good.
“So my Dad was the biggest inspiration as far as me starting my own driving career. I'm carrying on the family tradition, but my career got started a little late. I'm just out there having a blast in these cars.”
Some fans may not know a whole lot about Mod Lites in general. The common misconception, Butler says, it that they are a stepping stone for drivers ascending the ranks.
“Our cars really aren't an entry-level, stepping stone division, the way most folks view them,” Butler said. “These cars are actually pretty advanced, and require a super-smooth driving style to ever be good at it. The chassis builders have Late Model and Modified guys helping to develop their products.
“I am trying to show people how exciting they are, and what kind of competitive racing they can produce. If I can show people what these cars can really do, I think we can expand our fan base.”
Along with his highly admirable dedication to racing and the class in which he competes, Butler also has a few key people in his corner who keep his program on-track and successful.
“First off, I have to thank my wife for all of her support,” he said. “She puts up with this racing stuff, and owns a business called Nails by Rachel. She helps me out a lot, and I'm forever grateful to her for that. My Dad, well he spends countless hours with me in the shop, working on this thing to find speed.
“I just couldn't go racing without my Dad. I also have to thank my valued sponsors, including Cannon's Remodeling, a small company here in Cleveland; Estes Performance Engines, TSM Shocks and X-treme Graphics by JayRod out of Louisiana. I'm truly thankful for the support they all provide.”
With the season quickly winding down and his special high-purse event at HOT drawing closer, Butler has a clear goal in mind to knock out before all is said and done.
“I really want to get that feature win before we're done for this year,” he concluded. “We have a Memorial race coming up at 105 Speedway here in Cleveland I'd really like to win. We'll be honoring a great guy there, so I'm excited to prepare my car for that one.
“My big thing with my own driving is the points standings. Last year was my first full season, and I actually finished third overall in Texas state points. I also finished 27th in National points, so that was big for me. This year, my expectations are higher. Those early-season struggles kind of set me back.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo by Rachel Plant