When Buddy Kofoid takes the wheel, he makes winning appear almost easy.
At the Wild Wing Shootout last weekend, in a field filled with such former champions as Donny Schatz, Sammy Swindell, Tony Stewart, Aaron Reutzel and Rico Abreu, the 19-year-old standout swept the first two nights of the inaugural event in the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports No.19AZ at Arizona Speedway.
During his post-race interview on Friday, Kofoid was self-deprecating in describing his ability to hold off Schatz, the 10-time World of Outlaws champion, en route to the checkers.
Perhaps that is what’s most refreshing about the Penngrove, Calif., teenager—his humility equals his talent.
“Having a good car goes a long way nowadays, because you almost have to be perfect,” Kofoid told RacinBoys.com. “It’s hard to really carry a car, because everyone has their equipment as close to perfect as it can be.
“I was just really comfortable driving their cars. We’re always able to put ourselves in a really good position and we’re always able to race really good. So it was pretty good—until the last night (Sunday). But I guess that has to happen every now and then.”
Kofoid had a mechanical issue on the final night and finished 17th in the 22-car field. Yet with the success he achieved in the first two days, Kofoid was extremely complimentary of his Andy Reinbold-owned team, as well as the support of Indy Race Parts’ Bernie Steuben.
Abreu, Kofoid’s fellow NorCal competitor and Keith Kunz Motorsports teammate, has certainly taken notice.
“I think he’s good,” Abreu said. “He’s winning. That’s what it takes.”
Abreu joked that Stewart might have a different response—after the former NASCAR and INDYCAR champ got crossed up with Kofoid during Saturday night’s heat race.
“He wasn’t too happy about it,” Kofoid said hesitantly. “I will say, at the time, part of that place, it’s kind of hard to judge when you’re trying to slide someone how much you’ll clear them or not. And to be honest with you, I expected him to cross me over, because I thought I got in front of him. It wasn’t until later that night that I realized how much closer I was.
“I feel bad about that. I never really want to do that. That’s not something that I really ever want to do. I didn’t realize how close we were. We had a quick little talk—and I apologized. That’s not how I race. At the same time, that was for a heat race win and that helps you get in the re-draw and the chance to start in the first few rows. It’s important. It ended up working out. But it’s in the past now.”
If the teenager appears extremely competent wheeling a sprint car, it’s because that’s where Kofoid’s path began. He did not take the traditional approach through the midget ranks. When Kofoid rolled into the Chili Bowl Nationals earlier this month, it was just his second appearance in the Super Bowl of midget racing. He finished seventh in his 2020 debut.
Still, no one would have been surprised if the KKM driver had walked away with the Golden Driller coming off of his first full season in midgets. Kofoid won USAC Midget Rookie-of-the-Year honors and claimed three victories before finishing fourth in the standings behind three champions—Chris Windom, Tyler Courtney and Tanner Thorson. In the 16 POWRi features Kofoid competed in last year, he posted a series-best seven wins along with 12 top 10s.
“Even going back to my first Chili Bowl, I don’t know if I had 10-15 races in a midget ever before going there,” Kofoid said. “I guess that sounds like a lot, but those races all were over the span of three years or something. Of course, the majority were more recent, but with my second Chili Bowl—and the year that we had (in midgets) this last year and how we finished pretty strong and how I finished in my prelim night in 2020—I figured I could come in as--I don’t want to say favorite--but maybe as an upper, top pick and obviously, we have the cars to do it.
“But (Christopher) Bell, he obviously is really good. That’s his home turf. To run second to him on Thursday was good—and to lock in is nothing to hang our heads about. Locking in was part of the bigger picture. That was pretty huge. And we were less than a second off of his pace—fairly close—compared to how dominating he was in the Race of Champions. I knew our cars were pretty good, but obviously, Saturday (in the feature) was going to be a tall task.”
In Saturday's 55-lap championship race, Kofoid encountered a treacherous track with a car that was “too laid over on the right rear and too tight on the cushion.” Ultimately, he biked up on the cushion in the feature. When he landed, Kofoid’s midget wasn’t nearly as competitive. Still, to finish 19th out of 309 entries wasn’t brutal for just his second CBN start.
While the coronavirus pandemic could have been a roadblock for Kofoid’s development last season, he still raced in New Zealand and Australia at the end of 2019, and in the beginning of 2020, he raced in Florida and then at DuQuoin. After about a month at home, Kofoid’s racing was back to full swing by April with midgets, sprints and non-winged sprint cars.
Compared to his home state of California, racing in the Midwest seemed fairly normal as fans continued to pack the stands.
Kofoid returns to competition next week as the NOS Energy National Midget Series kicks off at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., for a two-night show. Once again, he’ll wheel a midget for KKM in USAC along with selected POWRi events.
“That’s the main focus right now,” Kofoid said of the midgets. “I feel a lot better about (Bubba), now that it’s the second time I’m seeing it. It’s unique, obviously. It’s very weird. It has a unique shape to it. I don’t feel like I’m great at it, but I got more comfortable as we did those couple of races. I ran podium the first time—and I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can run better than last year.
“I’d also like to fill in with some winged sprint cars when I can, but we'll see when that all comes up. Then I’ll get thrown into a Silver Crown.”
Chris Dyson Racing announced last week that Kofoid will pilot the Maxim/Kistler No. 9 for the 2021 USAC Silver Crown National Championship. Although he’s never raced a Silver Crown car, Kofoid feels up to the challenge.
“I’m looking forward to getting into a Silver Crown car for the first time,” Kofoid said. “I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now, and I’m excited to do it for Chris Dyson and Sean Michael.
“They have great equipment, and the cars had a ton of speed last year. It will be fun getting into something new.”
Kofoid remains grateful for the opportunity afforded to him by Toyota Racing and Kunz. His primary objective is the USAC midget title, but like any racer, Kofoid wants to win every time he climbs into a car.
“Getting in with the Toyota program and being able to race with Keith and Pete (Willoughby) has changed my life,” Kofoid said. “Now, I live in Indiana and I get to race full-time—professionally, if you will. It exposes you to so many opportunities out here with Toyota and being in the Midwest in general.
“They’ve definitely done a lot for me so far. I’d love to win the championship for them and put my name up there with some of the USAC greats—or some of the racing greats in general—and keep moving up more and more.”
Still, Kofoid’s ultimate goal is competing in NASCAR. The self-proclaimed Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan has already spent time in the Toyota Racing Development simulator and could be in some form of stock car as early as this year.
“My dream has been Cup as long as I can remember,” Kofoid says without hesitation. “I do enjoy running sprint cars, very much, but since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be like Dale Jr. and race in NASCAR.
“I was always a Dale Jr. fan growing up—and I’m still a fan. I’ve always been a Steve Kinser fan. My go-karts were always white and silver with a red No. 11. And I’m an Ayrton Senna fan. So I’m a fan of a few different guys in different aspects of racing, for sure. But we’re definitely working on that (stock cars). It would definitely be awesome to make it there.”