There was a time when the mere idea of allowing a teenager behind the wheel of a sprint car or midget was universally scorned. Times have decidedly changed. Today a plethora of young drivers have made their mark on the sport, and by the time many of them are eligible for a driver’s license they have been racing competitively for over a decade. As absurd as it sounds, in today’s USAC midget ranks, to be 30 years old is to be viewed by some as nearly ancient.
No matter how much the curmudgeons among us may grumble, the simple truth is that many of these kids show real promise. Sure, there are times when these same drivers exhibit youthful judgement and if they aren’t required to pay for their errors through their billfold, or uncompensated hours in the shop, bad habits can develop. In spite of this, to stay in the game for the long haul, these budding hopefuls still have to produce.
Racing is not a pure meritocracy. That we know. But consistent results are almost always rewarded. Make no mistake about it, Michael “Buddy” Kofoid is talented. Very talented. Among a flood of promising young racers who have emerged from the California outlaw kart scene, Buddy may well be the most precocious of them all.
Buddy was born into a family that enjoyed sprint car racing and, while he says his father “won’t admit it,” Mike Kofoid tried his hand at 250 micro racing at places like Plaza Park Speedway. Nearly by the time little Michael could walk, Mike referred to his son as his “little buddy.” It stuck. With a laugh Buddy adds, “As long as I have been alive, I have never heard my dad call me Michael. My sister is the same way. Here and there my mom will call me Michael, but that predominately depends on the mood.”
Well before he began school, Buddy was following his father around on a little dirt bike, and from there he was introduced to karting. Family friend John Rossi had secured a kart for his son Tony and he eventually let Buddy give it a try. Before long Buddy had a kart to call his own. That was really all it took, because it was clear that he was a natural.
What makes this story appealing is that, as he looks back, Kofoid consistently reflects on the fun he had. This isn’t a story of an overbearing family hoping that racing was the pathway to riches and fame. Instead, the process has naturally played itself out. He made all the hotspots like Cycleland, Red Bluff and Lakeport, and went from the truly novice class to the lightening-quick outlaw karts.
What made this period in his life even more significant is that he was routinely matching wits with others who would move up the open-wheel ranks, as well. “I grew up racing with Logan Seavey and Tanner Thorson,” he says. “They are older than me, but I was always the younger kid in the class. Usually, if I won the championship I moved up. That happened pretty quickly to where I was in the higher division of outlaw karts and I would race with Rico (Abreu) quite a bit and Logan Seavey’s brother Tyler, who is really good. It was a good time. There were a lot of good guys I moved on with.”
He made the most of his period in karts, capturing nine championships, and he also added seven perpetual trophies to his racing resume.
In his early days both he and his father were fans of Steve Kinser and, as he recalls, “My kart always had a white body with a silver wing. It was number 11. It was kind of a retro Steve car.” His appreciation of Kinser went even deeper, and it led to an interaction with “The King” that causes Buddy to openly laugh to this day.
“Here’s a funny story,” he begins. “I met Steve a few times and had my picture taken with him. We would go to the Gold Cup as a family and stay at a hotel near the track. I would take off school, have fun swimming in the pool, and then we would go to the races. When I was racing go-karts I had a few of my own shirts. So, when I was six or seven we went to Steve’s T-shirt stand, waited in line and I gave him one of my shirts. I also got him to sign one of my helmets.”
Given that the entire extended family was interested in sprint cars, it was only natural that Buddy would set his sights in that direction. To that end, Mike Kofoid decided to piece a 360 sprint car together to allow his son to get his feet wet. It was a big commitment.
Mike, who is a union plumber, makes the often nerve-racking commute from his Penngrove, California home to San Francisco. Buddy notes that the alarm always goes off at 4 a.m. but, given his hours, his dad could often be home by the afternoon.