The Chili Bowl Nationals is the largest stage for aspiring racers looking to advance to the top motorsports tours in the country.
The 34th running for the Golden Driller features 70 rookies in the 350-car field—including household names such as Ryan Newman, Santino Ferrucci and James Davison.
But there’s an impressive list of up-and-comers, including Michael “Buddy” Kofoid, who finished third in his first Preliminary Night Feature on Thursday night—behind winner Christopher Bell. Kofoid trailed runner-up Thomas Messeraull by a mere .050-seconds.
“I knew if everything fell right, we’d be able to do it,” said Kofoid, who is driving for Keith Kunz Motorsports. “It’s not quite a lock-in spot, but for my first Chili Bowl, it’s something to be proud of. I’m proud of it. As a driver, I feel a lot more comfortable than I did at the beginning of the day, and as a team, I feel like we’ve come a long way and we’ve got the car really good.
“Close to second and all over T-Mez, so, yeah, I’ll take a third in the heat, start from the B-Main and hopefully transfer out of that and make the Saturday night Chili Bowl."
Kofoid, 18, came through the outlaw kart ranks—similar to fellow NorCal racers Kyle Larson and Rico Abreu. By 11, Kofoid was already testing his talent in a winged-sprint car. Over the last few years, he’s been balancing school with a full-time 70-plus race schedule.
“This past year, I actually moved out to the Midwest and raced sprint cars full-time for Ed Neumeister and (Mike and Stephanie) Linder,” Kofoid said. “Being in the Midwest, there are a lot more exposure and a lot more people looking at you out there. That’s where Keith Kunz and Toyota Racing were looking at me, so I got to do a few races for them at the end of the year.
“Now, we’re going full-time USAC racing. I’m very proud of that. I can’t thank Keith Kunz, Pete Willoughby and the whole team, Toyota and Mobil 1 for this great opportunity."
Kofoid drove from seventh to third in his heat. He wasn’t totally comfortable after the eight-lap run so he relied on the coaching of Kunz and Abreu before returning to the track and winning his qualifier. Kofoid lined up alongside Shane Golobic. By Lap 12, Bell took the lead and checked out.
Still, Kofoid out-performed the Chili Bowl Nationals debuts of his sophomore teammates, Monday night’s prelim winner Canon McIntosh and BC39 victor Zeb Wise, who finished fifth and eighth, respectively, on their preliminary nights last year.
“When I look at him, I see me—like right here,” Bell said as he pointed to Kofoid on the press conference dais. “When I started with Keith, I was 18, and I sure wasn’t third in my first Chili Bowl preliminary."
Kofoid was humbled by Bell’s post-race comments—and also the defending Chili Bowl winner’s recommendation to Kunz.
“This is my life and really all I’ve done about 14 years now,” Kofoid said. “It means a lot for him to play a role in where I am right now in the midgets. It definitely means a lot coming from now a NASCAR Cup driver.
"To hear that is awesome. I appreciate that. Hopefully, we can hit on what we did in the Main and make the A-Main on Saturday.”