Buddy Kofoid celebrates his victory Wednesday at Merced Speedway. (Tom Macht Photo)
Buddy Kofoid celebrates a victory at Merced Speedway. (Tom Macht Photo)

KENNEDY: Buddy Kofoid – Budding Superstar

LOS ANGELES – Michael “Buddy” Kofoid, from Penngrove, Calif., was 19 at the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series season finale in Ventura Raceway on Nov. 27 and turned 20 on Dec. 2.

He told us he has always been called Buddy by family members as a youngster. We first spoke to him at a Ventura Turkey Night Grand Prix when he was 14 and driving a 360ci sprint car in the supporting sprint car program. He paid his dues and gained experience in that tough field.

Kofoid and his parents – who were present in the Ventura pits – said he began racing go-karts as a youngster and moved up to sprint cars at age 11. He practiced driving a sprint car on a makeshift dirt oval on a friend’s rural private property. Internet video existed of him practicing in a 360 sprint car. California did not allow anyone age 11 to race a sprint car.

Kofoid and his parents traveled to Fernley 95A Speedway, a three-eighths mile, semi-banked clay track east of Reno, Nev. At age 11 in 2013, Kofoid was a King of the West Lites rookie of the year and champion with four feature victories and nine podium finishes. At 13 he was second in Western Sprint points and rookie of the year. He also won a 360 sprint feature at the quarter-mile, high-banked clay Cottage Grove Speedway in Oregon.

In 2015 he became the youngest driver, at 14, to set the fastest qualifying time in a King of the West 410ci winged sprint car. He won rookie of the year honors at quarter-mile, banked clay speedways in Watsonville and Placerville. He was the youngest 360 sprint main event winner and youngest driver to win a Trophy Cup A-main at Thunderbowl Raceway. At 15, Kofoid won major 410 sprint series races at Watsonville and Chico. He also was a multi-time 360ci Civil War Series feature winner.

In 2018, Kofoid won 410 sprint mains in New Zealand and was the summer nationals 360 champion. He set quick time in the World of Outlaws Gold Cup Race of Champions, won his heat race and trophy dash, had a top-five feature finish and top-10 in the Trophy Cup. In 2019, Kofoid became the third American to win the New Zealand 410 sprint car championship and won six features in a row. He became the Fremont (Ohio) Speedway 410 track champion and won an All Star Circuit of Champions sprint feature in Ohio. He also won his first midget feature at Jacksonville Speedway in his first race with Keith Kunz Motorsports.

In 2020 (despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions) Kofoid won three 410 features in New Zealand and became the Tulsa (Okla.) Chili Bowl midget classic rookie of the year by finishing seventh in Saturday’s 55-lap A-main. He won 410 sprint features at Ohio third-mile banked tracks in Fremont and Attica. He also earned the USAC National Midget Series rookie of the year by finishing fourth in points. He scored three USAC National Midget victories and seven POWRi Midget main event triumphs driving the Mobil 1-sponsored No. 67 KKM Bullet by Spike chassis with a Speedway Toyota engine.

In 2021, Kofoid won six USAC National Midget mains in Ocala, Port City, Bloomington, Gas City, Bakersfield and Merced. He won the USAC Indiana Midget Week Championship. During a demanding schedule of 40 races, Kofoid and seven-time feature winner Chris Windom traded the series point lead during the stretch run. Five clay tracks in Arizona and California hosted the USAC series for eight events from Nov. 12-27. The championship came down to the final race. All Kofoid had to do was start the Ventura 98-lap main event. He did so and won his first USAC National championship by 89-points over Windom. He finished a close runner-up to Logan Seavey in the prestigious Turkey Night Grand Prix.

Kofoid’s USAC Midget driving championship in his second full season did not come easily. To expand his racing experience, he raced a late model stock car on July 25 at Elko Speedway, a three-eighths mile, high-banked asphalt track in Elko, Minn. A crash there resulted in a broken right wrist and a broken left foot. He had a cast fitted to the curvature of his arm to allow him to steer a race car. He could not close his right hand all the way. His steering wheel received extra padding and his team made cockpit adjustments.

Kofoid proved his toughness by returning to racing and did not miss a race. He did not win while wearing the cast. However, he recorded two second place finishes and 12 top 10s, including eight top fives, that enabled him to continue chasing the championship. Racing became easier for him at the Sept. 24-25 twin 25-lap mains during the Eldora Speedway 4-Crown Nationals in Rossburg, Ohio. The cast was removed in October and Kofoid became the sixth teenage national midget champion in USAC’s 75-year history.

His NorCal roots, his early start driving sprint cars, his travel out of California to race at a young age, his early teenage success at various size tracks, and his championships as a teen remind people of a pair of fellow NorCal open-wheel racing prodigies. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson followed a similar path and had similar success. Both stars won open-wheel titles and NASCAR Cup crowns.

We told the personable Kofoid on Nov. 27 he will win a TNGP (he almost did that night). We added that he is the next Larson. Kofoid replied, “I don’t want to follow Kyle, I want to beat him.”

Last week during the Chili Bowl Kofoid beat Larson twice in head-to-head competition. On Jan. 11 Kofoid won his preliminary feature while Larson finished second. In Saturday’s 55-lap finale Kofoid finished fourth while Larson was sixth.

Based on his natural racing talent, mental toughness, self-confidence, and continuing rapid rise in racing, we would not bet against Kofoid equalling or surpassing Larson’s spectacular racing accomplishments in coming years.

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