NEWTON, N.C. – Sixteen-year-old Sam Butler has recently made a statement in late model stock car competition, battling among the best in NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series competition as he looks to advance his young career.
Butler picked up a marquee victory over Labor Day weekend, driving to victory in the 44th running of the Paramount Auto Group Bobby Isaac Memorial at Hickory Motor Speedway for his first win at this historic short track.
The Delphi, Ind., native waged a fierce battle with NASCAR Weekly Series title contenders Josh Berry and Ryan Millington during the second half of the 100-lapper before pulling away down the stretch, with Berry eventually finishing second and Millington completing the podium.
It was a big moment for Butler, considering that Berry and Millington currently sit first and second in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division I national standings and are the frontrunners to contend for the championship as the season winds down for NASCAR short tracks across the country.
Though Butler believed he had the speed to contend for the Isaac Memorial win going into the night, getting the job done over the two heaviest hitters in NASCAR late model action this year was a surprise.
“All weekend I had a good feeling about it, but I still wasn’t expecting it,” Butler admitted in a recent interview with SPEED SPORT. “We barely touched the car from Friday all the way through Saturday’s race. I think we put wedge in it and that was about it. It was crazy. When we qualified, I was fourth, and the top four were within .05 (of a second) of one another. I laid back at the start of the race and let everybody do their thing and waste their tires the way they wanted to, and I just held my line right behind Millington and waited on Josh … because I wasn’t going to go until he got there.
“I knew I had a car that was capable, but to seal the deal … I wasn’t expecting it against those guys.”
When Butler finally turned up the wick in the closing stages, he quickly realized he had a chance to accomplish something special.
“I started going around lap 75, and Millington and I were side by side for a good while,” Butler noted. “I was just really trying to keep up with him and not use up my tires because I was on the inside, but I finally edged out ahead of him and drove away. I was pretty surprised, but then I was also like, ‘Finally, it’s here,’ because we’d been waiting for so long (to win).
“It was amazing to pick up the win, especially in that race, because of what it means to the track and the sport. Bobby (Isaac) was a legendary figure in short track racing, and to honor him by winning against two of the best in the business right now is pretty cool, I think.”
Butler’s roll didn’t stop there, either. He returned to Hickory the following week for twin 40-lap features, finishing third behind Berry and Millington in the first race before coming in ahead of the pair (and third overall) in the second main.
It’s a level of performance that the teenager admitted he hadn’t expected but is equally excited about.
“If you told me that I’d be right with Berry and Millington last year, I don’t know if I would’ve completely agreed with you, but we’ve been running with them this whole season and I’ve been knocking on their doors before now,” Butler said. “It has definitely been a lot to take in, though. I’m still not over it. The team puts so much hard work into that car every weekend and they deserve this kind of success, for sure. It’s just crazy and I can’t thank them enough for everything that they’ve done for me this year.
“Finally sitting on the front stretch with a trophy, and then realizing that those two were second and third and I was first, I was happy with myself,” he added. “I was very, very excited after that one.”
Knowing that his ultimate goal – a shot in one of NASCAR’s three national divisions – is still ahead of him, Butler recognized that performances like the ones that he’s put in over the last two weeks could go a long way toward potentially catching the eye of a team owner down the road.
“I would say these last few races, and particularly the Isaac, were a very big statement,” Butler said. “Josh and Ryan are one and two in the nation right now, and beating them has really helped me out, figuring out how they drive and studying what they’re doing to learn and improve. Every time I get off the track, if one of them are out there, I go right up and watch. I’ve been really learning from them both.
“Winning has certainly boosted my confidence a little bit, but I really have tried to stay humble through all of this so I don’t get ahead of myself,” he added. “Every weekend, I just go in with the same attitude and see what we can do from there. That’s the mindset we’re going to finish out the season with at Hickory, and then see where that takes us.
“It’s been an adventure so far, but we’re smiling and I’m having the time of my life right now.”