BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Coming up through the ranks in the earliest years of his racing career, Buddy Kofoid idolized Kyle Larson.
In recent years, Kofoid has gotten the opportunity to compete head-to-head with Larson on occasion in midgets and sprint cars.
However, during Tuesday night’s NOS Energy Drink November Classic at California’s Bakersfield Speedway, the two competed as teammates for the first time on the venerable Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team.
The fact that Larson was someone he looked up to and was also his teammate was no deterrent in Kofoid’s desire to go toe-to-toe with Larson and defeat him.
That Kofoid did, ultimately prevailing in a spirited duel that lasted the duration of the second half of the 30-lap event, with the winning move made just four laps from the finish.
“I can’t believe we just beat Kyle,” Kofoid exclaimed. “Kyle is one of the best in the world and really good in midgets. As a younger kid coming out of California and racing outlaw karts, I always looked up to him. Everyone already knows how good he is, and racing with the best helps you become better.”
For Kofoid, it was his second consecutive NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget feature victory, and the third of his career, after reigning victorious in Saturday’s Western World Championships at Arizona Speedway.
Kofoid lined up fifth in the 24-car field while Larson was slotted outside the front row, making it a fairly tall task for the Penngrove, Calif., rookie to win. But Kofoid was game for the challenge.
Larson withstood a pair of uppercuts served his way via polesitter Chase Johnson, who slid his way to the lead briefly on the opening two laps in turn one before Larson cut back under to grab the lead each time off turn two.
Kofoid raced to third by the second circuit, then traveled high and low around the third-mile dirt oval to reach his way to the second position past Johnson on the 15th lap.
In the thick of the race through traffic, Larson held the upper hand over Kofoid by a two-plus second margin when KKM teammate Daison Pursley flipped in turn two on the 19th lap. Pursley was uninjured.
The tide began to turn when racing resumed and Kofoid went on the offensive, slide jobbing Larson right off the bat in turn one. Larson answered by crossing over and trekking back under Kofoid as the two headed side-by-side into turn three.
Larson muscled Kofoid off the low line, but Kofoid returned to the front with a cutback underneath Larson exiting turn four.
The slider swapping continued between the two on the ensuing lap, with Larson able to get back by with a down and under maneuver past Kofoid in turns one and two, then closed the door at the entry on the bottom of turn three.
However, with the red flag displayed for a Kaylee Bryson turn two flip on the 21st lap before the lap was scored, Kofoid reassumed his position at the head of the field with Larson just behind.
Twelfth-running Thomas Meseraull found trouble on the first lap-21 restart when his mount received heavy front-end damage, forcing him to a stop near the outside wall in turn three, out of the race.
Back and forth they went from there, with Larson able to find an answer for every strike Kofoid delivered.
But with four laps to go, leading man Larson beelined to the bottom of turn three where he made a rare error, which scooched him up to the middle of no man’s land and losing momentum, while Kofoid raced around the outside to put his name atop the leaderboard.
Larson made one final run at Kofoid on the final lap in turn four, but Kofoid was undeterred in closing out a .552-second victory over Larson.
“We’ve been really strong as of late and the team gave me a hell of a car,” Kofoid noted of his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian/Mobil 1/JBL Audio/TRD-backed Bullet/Speedway Toyota. “I had an issue with that last restart when he got the lead back and I kind of stumbled.
“I figured out what I needed to do and, man, that was a lot of fun.”
Third through fifth were Tyler Courtney, Chase Johnson and Spencer Bayston.
Behind the race for the win was the race for the NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series point lead.
Sixth-finishing Chris Windom emerged ahead of Courtney in the standings by a single point at the checkered flag after charging forward from 20th following a wild final lap.
With Courtney running third at the white flag and Windom sitting seventh, Windom needed to move up one more spot to take the point lead, and contact between he and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. that spun Stenhouse around allowed Windom to do just that.
Though there are two more races on the calendar at Merced (Calif.) Speedway, they pay appearance points only, meaning Windom is – in effect – the champion elect and simply needs to turn a competitive lap on Friday and Saturday nights to lock up the title.
1. Buddy Kofoid (5), 2. Kyle Larson (2), 3. Tyler Courtney (3), 4. Chase Johnson (1), 5. Spencer Bayston (4), 6. Chris Windom (20), 7. Tanner Thorson (6), 8. Cannon McIntosh (16), 9. Justin Grant (14), 10. Carson Macedo (21), 11. Jonathan Beason (8), 12. Emerson Axsom (12), 13. Clinton Boyles (10), 14. Ethan Mitchell (11), 15. Kaylee Bryson (7), 16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (9), 17. Andrew Layser* (24), 18. Michael Faccinto (13), 19. Tanner Carrick (15), 20. Cole Bodine* (23), 21. Bryant Wiedeman (19), 22. Frankie Guerrini (22), 23. Thomas Meseraull (18), 24. Daison Pursley (17). NT
Lap Leaders: Kyle Larson 1-18, Buddy Kofoid 19-20, Kyle Larson 21-26, Buddy Kofoid 27-30.
Hard Charger: Chris Windom (+14)