VENTURA, Calif.—Buddy Kofoid hopes his California homecoming ends with the USAC Midget Championship.
The Penngrove native kicked off his return with a victory at Bakersfield Speedway on Nov. 16.
Kofoid, who turns 20 on Wednesday, has scored seven top-five finishes in the last eight races—including Wednesday night’s win at Merced Speedway—to amass a 47-point lead over second-place and defending series champion Chris Windom.
“I feel more confident because of the speed that we’ve had,” Kofoid said. “I know last year we were fast out here. I knew that we could do it again, and so far, we have. Winning the second-to-the-last race certainly helps your confidence going into the last one.”
By qualifying for the 80th running of the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway, Kofoid locked down the title. Following Friday’s practice sessions on the one-fifth-mile dirt oval, he landed second on the speed chart behind Cannon McIntosh (11.827-sec) with a time of 11.842-seconds.
“My only other Turkey Night start was 2019—and I probably only had two to three starts in a midget and ran sixth here,” Kofoid said. “I feel like I’m a way better driver in a midget now than I was two years ago. Hopefully, we can be even better.
“Having that points cushion is a little comforting, too, just because, when we came to Arizona for the West Coast Swing, we were 13 back. To jump back and forth, then to build that cushion is comforting.”
Since signing on as Toyota Racing Development driver with Keith Kunz Motorsports two years ago, Kofoid scored 10 midget wins between USAC and POWRi as a rookie. He reinforced his resume with 15 victories in 2021—six in USAC and nine in POWRi—to become the winningest national midget driver over the past two seasons.
“Racing a lot makes you better,” Kofoid said. “And I like to drive a lot of different race cars when I can when my schedule allows. I think that helps a lot, too. The more tracks you see—and that’s the nice thing about being in the Midwest and traveling with a national series—you see a new track or a different track every weekend. That helps in terms of your adaptability or your versatility.
“The older I get and the more I race, I feel like the more knowledge I gain to where I can have some sort of say or know what I’m talking about when I’m delivering information for my crew chief or anyone who works on my car to help me get better. I think all of that goes a long way.”
Ultimately, Kofoid hopes his trail leads to NASCAR. While he has forged his own path, comparisons have been made to Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, two Cup drivers who preceded him through the KKM system. Kofoid even paired with Larson’s crew chief Paul Silva in selected sprint car races last month.
During the spring and summer, Kofoid expanded his craft by incorporating late models into his schedule. A broken wrist during a crash on pavement stunted his progress, but he finished the season on the podium at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway in a Pro Late Model during All American 400 weekend on Nov. 1.
“The more knowledge you can gain, the better off you’ll be,” Kofoid said. “I’ve run a handful of pavement races through Toyota driver development and getting to work with Bond Suss, who is really savvy in the late model world and really the pavement world in general. He’s helped me a lot.
“And getting to do that race with Donnie Wilson (Nashville), he’s got crazy-nice equipment, probably the best late model I ran. That one race we ran together, we were really strong. To run against 40-43 cars and to run third was pretty good for my first time there.
“But all the different stuff you learn from that aspect—because it’s night-and-day difference on how they practice, the dynamic of the racing, the different schedules—it really helps a lot. No matter what discipline you go to, you can carry things over from dirt to pavement, pavement to dirt—maybe not so much—but running sprint cars has made me a much better midget racer. And when I get to run a sprint car, it makes me better at that.”
After two full seasons in midgets, Kofoid’s expectations are high for the 2022 Chili Bowl Nationals. Beyond January, however, his schedule is not set in stone. For now, Kofoid is focused on the immediate prize--winning the Turkey Night Grand Prix and the USAC National Midget title.
“It would be huge to win Turkey Night—another crown jewel to put in my scrapbook—but it would also mean that I won that championship,” Kofoid said. “And that would be a dream come true.”