Clash of the Titans: Fowler-Buttrick Sportsmen Duel One Highlight on Whataburger Night of Champs
It might be an uncharacteristic weekend race, but business will be bustling for the Whataburger Night of Champions on Saturday at Five Flags Speedway.
For all four divisions that will compete at Pensacola’s high banks Saturday, but especially for the West Florida Coatings Sportsmen Division.
Brannon Fowler is eyeing a second straight track championship. He’s a qualifying time and 30 feature laps away from destiny’s doorstep.
“It would mean a lot to win another,” said Fowler, who also boasts a Bombers track crown from a few years ago. “I take a lotta pride in what we do out here and in our racing. To be a track champion, and to try to repeat in the Sportsman division, it’s quite a feat with the level of competition.”
But Fowler knows the famed half-mile, asphalt oval isn’t paved with yellow bricks.
The Molino driver, who owns two feature wins this year, is clinging to a 14-point lead over Steve Buttrick — a seven-time feature winner this season, the 2010 Sportsmen track title winner and the two-time reigning Sportsmen Snowball Derby champ — coming into Saturday.
In other words, this intriguing matchup didn’t need any more flavoring.
But it certainly got a few sprinkles this week when Buttrick took exception to the way Fowler drove him at last week’s Double Points Night race. Buttrick feels Fowler’s careless driving caused him to wreck and nearly cost him his season.
“He drove through a lapped car, and in my opinion that was very stupid,” said the Cantonment driver of the blue No. 33. “I could go all year and drive along lapped cars, and not touch ’em. I’ve been pretty upset about it. He knew I was outside of him. I knew it was gonna happen.”
The incident happened halfway through the 25-lap feature when Fowler, on the inside, and Buttrick, on the outside, came upon the lapped car of Thomas Faddis.
As the cars came out of Turn 4, they were three-wide. Fowler tried to maneuver under Faddis, but instead bumped Faddis. The No. 12 subsequently got into Buttrick’s left side and sent him spiraling into the outside wall.
The wrecker came out for Buttrick, but the grizzled veteran — understanding the points at stake — was desperate to continue and waved away the help. Miraculously, Buttrick somehow fired it up, got it going and rallied home to finish as the runner-up.
Fowler, who finished three spots behind in fifth, emphasized that there was no malice in his driving. Just your typical Friday night edition of beatin’ and bangin’.
“Certainly, it was nothing intentional,” Fowler said. “(Buttrick) was behind me, trying to make a move on the outside. The 12 car was in the racing groove and from what I was told, (race winner) Randy (Thompson) already had to move him out of way.
“When we got to (Faddis), he wasn’t on the bottom, but he was not on the top either. It works both ways. Steve has a brake pedal just as I do. There was nothing planned out to put Steve in the wall. He can think what he wants to. If it adds spice to (Saturday’s) race, so be it.”
That it certainly has.
But the much-anticipated Fowler-Buttrick clash won’t be the only showdown to close out the regular season Saturday at Five Flags.
Mike Garvey, one of the most dominant late model drivers in the nation this season, looks to polish off his Allen Turner Pro Late Model crown with a solid running.
Donnie Hamrac hopes to hold off a hard-charging Chris Cotto in the Modifieds while Gary Goodwin is focused in on his second championship in a row with Brandon Burks hoping to somehow spoil the party.
The gates open at 5 p.m. Saturday and admission to the grandstands is as follows: $15 Adults; $14 Seniors; $12 Military/Students (12-17); $5 Children (6-11); Under 6 is Free. Passes to get into the pits are $25.
Buttrick has had a courageous climb back to the top after some early troubles this season. He won the second race of the year back in March, but ultimately had to forfeit his winner’s purse and points when he was disqualified in technical inspection.
Since then, all he has done in 10 subsequent races is either win, finish second twice and fourth just once.
“I pretty much wrote off the championship at that point,” Buttrick said of his DQ. “Of 90 points available that night, I got 88 of ’em. I thought it took me outta contention. The only way I can win now, is if Brannon has some bad luck.”
Fowler, who has only one finish outside the top-five in 12 races this year, hopes all the racing gris gris stays outside the oval come Saturday.
“No question what Steve has done in his racing program; he has well made his mark,” Fowler said. “But it means a lot to us to come to racetrack and bring a fast car, and more than anything else bring a legal car.
“We haven’t failed ‘tech’ one time when leading the points. I can’t say the same for others, especially that blue No. 33 (Buttrick).”
Oh, the pot is certainly getting stirred this week.
Racing fans that are craving some Derby, swing by Five Flags this Saturday and fill your bellies on the Whataburger Night of Champions.