From there a ritual began. Mike would pick up his son from school on Monday afternoon and the pair would travel to Marysville Raceway for an open practice session. It began with a spec sprint car when he was nine, and he eventually started turning laps in a winged 360. On one occasion, two interested onlookers were Mike Thurman and Jason Debo, two men deeply involved in sprint car racing. They couldn’t take their eyes off of Kofoid.
Another who also was impressed was Danielle Simpson, who was trying to move her career forward as well. Things escalated quickly from there.
In this time frame, former racer Dan Simpson, as usual, had a lot on his plate. He was heading up the King of the West sprint car series and also owned Nevada’s Fernley 95A Speedway. One of Simpson’s main concerns was the overall health of 410 sprint car racing in the west. He was trying everything he could to restore the brand and also bring new talent into the fold.
Simpson firmly supported these test and tune sessions, and also provided some drivers with a chance to get additional seat time on a track he had scratched out on his own property. “We were doing everything we could do to get 410 racing back to where it was functional,” he says, “because basically it was dying. We thought we were within a season of completely losing it on the west coast. So it was working. People were coming up to test, working on their cars and getting comfortable.”
It was in that spirit that Thurman and Debo wandered into Marysville just to see if there were new faces prepared to take the next step in their career. What they didn’t expect was to be wowed by a kid in elementary school. Picking up the tale, Dan Simpson says, “So they came back from this test day and told me that there’s this little kid that you have just got to see, and we should do something to help him. So I invited Buddy to my place. His dad brought his car and he ran some laps around the track. Mike Thurman just looked at me and said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘I think I am thinking the same thing you are. This kid is just incredibly talented.’
“I was just blown away. Plus, he was such a nice young man. He was beyond his years in being able to talk to people pleasantly and presented himself like a much older kid. So, right there we decided to start working with him.”
How they could most effectively work with him became the issue. Buddy was still dabbling in outlaw karts, but he was hungry to take the next step forward. However, the dilemma faced by all was obvious. “I couldn’t get anyone to let him run,” Simpson says. “And for good reason. I understood why the other promoters were not very happy with me, and it made me a bit of an outlaw in the promoter world. I don’t feel bad about that, but I think they were right. It put them in a real bad situation. Every dad who had a kid who they thought was the next Mario Andretti was going to show up on their doorstep. It would be very hard to pick and choose who could race and who couldn’t.
“In fact, one of the things I tried to get started was a committee of ex- and present racers to watch these kids and then going through a vetting process to get them in a car. That never really came about, which is unfortunate.”
Without any ready solution, Simpson took matters into his own hands by starting the King of the West Lites Series, with his track in Fernley serving as the base of operations. Thus, when Buddy Kofoid offers the startling suggestion that a new series was started in order to help him, he isn’t straying far from the facts. “No that is the actual truth,” Dan says. “Now, I thought there was a need for it anyway. Yes, I could bring Buddy along that way, but there were a lot of young outlaw kart kids we could have brought along that way too.”
Continuing his winning ways, Buddy would score four wins and eight podium finishes on his way to the King of the West Lites championship. Suffice it to say, few 11-year-olds have won a sprint car title. It would prove to be the only year for the Lites series, so for the 2014 season Kofoid again concentrated on outlaw karts.
It was fun, as always, but a taste of sprint car racing had whetted his appetite for more. His father had been superb working with the outlaw karts and did everything he could to improve his skills when it came to setting up a sprint car. In 2015 father and son were able to compete in 20 to 30 winged 360 races in Washington and Oregon, and Dan Simpson made his car available for dates that featured limited sprints. Once again he rose to the challenge, and scored his first 360 sprint car win at Oregon’s Cottage Grove Speedway.
In 2016 Buddy raced fulltime for Dan Simpson and, with a mix of 360 and 410 events on his schedule, estimates that he raced somewhere between 60 and 70 times. “Dan, obviously, did a lot for me,” Buddy says. “One thing he did was set up an account that helped with fuel and tires. That got us to two or three races right away, but we had to do well and put money back into the account to keep going. It worked out well. We made it to every single race and we were able to race once or twice every weekend. I was proud of how we did it.”
He did more than just well. In 2016 he was the Rookie of the Year at Ocean Speedway and at Placerville, and along the way became the youngest-ever winner at each track. As noteworthy as that was, he got even more attention when he scored a preliminary win at the Trophy Cup at Tulare, holding off some of the very best in the business.
By 2017 rancher Gary Silva came on board as a sponsor, and Kofoid had a strong overall team behind him. Silva helped by providing Buddy with new equipment, while Bryan Schaffner came on board as the crew chief. Also there to lend a hand were Roy Van Conett (the late son of Hall of Famer LeRoy Van Conett) and Bill Cannon. He scored his first King of the West Series win at the Howard Kaeding Classic at Ocean Speedway, and would later take the Johnny Key Classic at the same track. In September he added to his resume by banking a preliminary win at the Gold Cup at Silver Dollar Speedway. Overall, Kofoid deems his 2017 season as his best in California – it was punctuated by seven wins.