COLUMBUS, Ind. – In an ever-changing world, Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports has a steady hand, with a roster of six returning drivers to the driver lineup who will tackle the entire USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series schedule this year.
Entering the past several seasons, the Columbus, Ind., based team has welcomed new drivers into the fold, including last season, which saw a complete overhaul and an entire cast of characters new to USAC racing.
This year the team welcomes back Bryant Wiedeman (No. 01), Buddy Kofoid (No. 67), Kaylee Bryson (No. 71), Daison Pursley (No. 71K), Brenham Crouch (No. 97) and Tanner Carrick (No. 98), all of whom finished the 2020 campaign for the team. Cannon McIntosh, twice a winner for the team last year, is the only non-returnee, as he recently announced his intentions to race the full USAC season for his family-owned Dave Mac Motorsports.
Wiedeman and Crouch will be pursuing series Rookie of the Year honors while Kofoid returns for his sophomore season after taking fourth in the standings a year ago. Bryson had a strong rookie campaign a year ago and will be a contender to become the first woman to win a USAC National feature. Pursley was knocking on the door for his first victory at the end of 2020 while Carrick returns full-time to KKM after winning for the team in 2019 at Sweet Springs, Mo.
“Having those six regulars come back is kind of a first for us,” Kunz noted. “That’s really nice having six drivers this year that have all been with us in the past. They’re up to speed already going into this year and they all finished really, really strong at the end of the year and made a lot of progress. Last year was just a building year with all rookies.”
The team saw transition on more than just the driver side in 2020, with Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell pursuing their midget racing opportunities with other teams, while a pair of key components of the crew moved onto other ventures.
“Driver wise, we had one guy that was back, which was Daison; everybody else was new last year,” Kunz explained. “We knew that was going to be a challenge, and it was just about getting everybody laps at the beginning of the year and trying to keep improving. At the same time, losing Connor (Ridge) and Big Al (Scroggins), we had to replace them on the mechanical side.”
As the year wore on, the team found itself without a win heading into the month of September, an 0-17 stretch that was a stark contrast to what the midget racing community is accustomed to. While competitive each night, the victories had eluded them throughout year, but the team dug in, tried some new ideas and even began a crew/driver meeting session each Tuesday to enhance their communication with each other and help increase the progress along the way.
The team broke out with a bang, reeling off five wins in a nine-race stretch at the beginning of September, first with McIntosh’s come-from-behind win on the final lap at Sweet Springs, followed by Kofoid’s first score the next night at Sweet Springs, while McIntosh continued the unbeatable streak in Gas City, Ind.
Kofoid’s subsequent November wins during Arizona Speedway’s Western World Championships and outdueling Kyle Larson down the stretch at Bakersfield, Calif., put a cherry on top of the season, leading the team to an emotional boost of confidence entering the new year, which begins after a quick turnaround from the end of 2020 to the Chili Bowl two weeks ago to the start of the USAC season at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. on Feb. 5-6.
For Kunz, the Florida trip is practically an extension of the 2020 season with the team making its builds following the return home, taking the bulk of February and March to get a full refresh on the new year that lies ahead, with Kofoid and Pursley debuting new cars toward the end of 2020 while more new machinery will be constructed when the team returns to the shop, post Florida.
“We work hard getting the Chili Bowl done, and then there’s only two weeks in between that and going to Florida,” Kunz explained. “We have some of our outdoor stuff leftover late from last year that we’ll use down there. We had to build a couple cars. We have brand new ones here that are going together once we get back from Florida.”
With Jarrett Martin as the crew chief for Kofoid, Pursley and Crouch, plus Kaz Townsend as the crew chief for Bryson, Wiedeman and Carrick, along with a crew of Jay Drake, Chuck Gurney Jr., Beau Binder, Grant Penn, Dylan Burdge, the duo of Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby will begin their 25th year of racing together, a relationship which began in 1997 with Jason Leffler’s first series championship.
After picking up five victories last year, Kunz’s total of 114 USAC National Midget feature wins as an owner now stand 19 behind all-time leader Steve Lewis with 133. As he closes in on a personal record, Kunz remains excited to witness what this year’s set can produce.
“That’s definitely a goal in the back of my mind,” Kunz said of the win record. “I never thought I’d be to where I am now with the number of wins; it’s just crazy. I think, going into this year with Buddy, and also Daison, who is really close to a breakthrough, I think once he does, he’s going to get some wins. We’re bringing Tanner Carrick back with some experience, and then the other three are still relatively young. It would be cool to see Kaylee win; she’s close and, on any given night, she could break through and get a win. Then there’s the two youngsters, Crouch and Wiedeman, they’re coming along pretty fast.”