Wayne Butler came up just short of winning a rookie of the year award in the super late model division at Coos Bay Speedway last season. Despite finishing as the highest ranking rookie, he missed out on the award by just a couple of points.
And while Butler said he was a little bummed to not take home the honor, getting that close is not bad for a 58-year-old.
“I would have been the oldest rookie standing up there on the stage, believe me,” Butler said with a laugh.
Thirty-nine years ago, Butler, fresh out of high school, ran one season on an asphalt track in a hobby stock car, but the fisherman gave up on racing afterwards. It wasn’t until seven years ago when the chance to buy a car from his son-in-law provided him the opportunity to get behind the wheel again.
“One weekend they closed the track and I got to go up there and race on a dirt track, and that was the funnest thing I ever did,” he said. “And I always wanted to get back into it, and about six years ago my son-in-law had bought a car and he had run it a little bit and it was a little more than he wanted to do so he asked me if I would be interested in it so I thought, ‘You know what, if I don’t do it now I never will.’”
Butler stepped into the Division II sportsman late model series at Coos Bay Speedway, a 0.387-mile dirt oval in Coos County, Oregon, the only NASCAR-sanctioned track in the state. The first season for him was about shaking off the rust and learning the car, but in the next five years he won two track championships and finished second three times.
The biggest change Butler said he’s seen from his first season racing nearly four decades ago and his latest jump into the sport is the technology. The science has improved, and the equipment is better, while also requiring a lot more upkeep.
Racing against much younger teenagers was no problem for Butler, though. He said it proved to him and others that he could still race and be successful.
“That’s been a lot of fun because the first year out there one of the young fellas I was racing against was 15 years old. He was very fast, a very good racer,” Butler said. “Being out of it for 35 years, I was pretty rusty and it was funny because my father told me, ‘You know what the problem is? You’re old, your reflexes are slow.’ And immediately that just made me blow up. So the next year I took second and then won the championship two years in a row, so that did away with his reflexes being slow theory.”
When Butler isn’t in the car on the dirt, he’s on a boat in the ocean. He has a charter fishing business in the summer that takes him out with other fishers seven days a week. He’s on the water every morning by 6 a.m., even on Sundays after a late race on Saturday nights.
During the race season, Butler will typically have his car loaded up on Friday, fish on Saturday morning, get everything on his boat packed up, come home in the afternoon and head to the track, staying there sometimes until 10 or 11 p.m., all to wake up the next morning and get on the water again.
It’s tiring, but absolutely worth it to him.
“It can be a little bit tiring, but I have so much fun with the racing,” he said. “I fish all winter long. I commercial fish some in the winter, so I spend most of my life on the ocean, but you know what, when I get in the race car and get to get on the track I have a grin on my face it makes my face hurt. I have a ball doing it and it’s just a lot of fun.”
Last year, Butler took his sportsman car into the super late model series at Coos Bay for part of the season, running both races a night. And despite having a car that was nearly 1,000 pounds heavier than his competition, he still finished fourth in the late model division standings.
Now, he’ll run late model races with a true late model car. And not just any car, the one that won a track championship at Coos Bay last season. While Butler expects the field to be very competitive at Coos Bay this year, he’s ready for another new opportunity.
“One of the things we’re seeing this year, in the last two years the car count is starting to increase,” he said. “The competition level is going to be very, very good this year. I think part of the reason is we are the only NASCAR sanctioned track in the state, but now we have some of the champions from other tracks around the state are going to come and compete here this year. So the competition level is really going to be very, very good this year.”
The Rookie of the Year presented by Jostens at each track is presented to a first-year Division I license holder; the winner is decided by overall NASCAR points – not necessarily track points — for the driver’s best 18 finishes.
While he won’t have a chance at rookie of the year this season, his mind is set on bigger goals.
“There’s a lot to say for consistency,” he said. “I’m going to be there. I’ve got a good car. I’ll give them a run for their money this year.”
Coos Bay will open the NASCAR season on Saturday with winged sprint cars, super late models, sportsman late models, street stocks, mini outlaws, hornets and jr. stingers.