By Richie Murray
Ocala, Florida (February 5 & 6, 2021)………Buddy Kofoid held the race lead of the 2021 USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget season opening event throughout the night and throughout day over a span of time totaling nearly 17 hours at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park.
Granted, that was due to rain halting the proceedings 13 laps into Friday’s 30-lap event under the lights, pushing the final 17 laps to Saturday afternoon during the daylight hours. But even rain and more threatening skies couldn’t stop Kofoid as he fended off a relentless Tanner Thorson down the stretch to snag the victory in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/Mobil 1 – Toyota – TRD – IWX/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota.
For Kofoid, the 2020 series Rookie of the Year, it marked a grand opening of his sophomore season with a fourth career series win, and aided his hopes of continuing a trend of Winter Dirt Games Midget wins translating to series championships, something that has occurred in each of the past two years with Tyler Courtney (2019) and Chris Windom (2020).
“They give me a really good car during those last 17 laps,” Kofoid said of his team. “I felt like my first six to eight (laps) were really good and, in those last 10, I felt like I needed to move around, or at least I was told to kind of move around. I saw them making ground on me off (turn) four and I struggled off four, but I felt like I started hitting it a little bit better. I know Tanner and Chris (Windom) are really good, and I got to race with them a little bit. I’m glad to hold them off and get the first win of the year.”
On Friday night, Kofoid jumped out to the lead from his outside front row starting position, surpassing teammate and pole sitter Daison Pursley for the position on the opening lap. A handful of cautions early on from Cannon McIntosh, Chase Randall, Max McLaughlin and Sam Johnson stopped the action. A light, nagging drizzle of precipitation fell throughout the event, and during the caution periods, drivers were asked by race control to help aid the racetrack from the clutch of Mother Nature by buzzing the corners with their tires.
The valiant effort came to an abrupt end after the final caution on lap 14 involving McLaughlin and Johnson in turn one. Cars were subsequently ordered back to the pit area where the race was pushed to Saturday afternoon for a lap 14 restart around a quarter after 3:15pm ET.
Under an overcast sky on Saturday afternoon, and faced with an entirely new set of track conditions under the daylight, the feature resumed with 17 laps remaining. Thorson was the first to move forward, getting to second by Pursley, but was forced back to third following a caution flag after Steve Buckwalter (11th) slipped over the cushion in turn four, and McIntosh (16th) contacting Buckwalter’s left rear wheel, causing him to spin to a stop.
The second try at the lap 14 restart was successful for Thorson – last year’s opening night Ocala winner – as he ripped around the outside of Pursley for second, then began closing on Kofoid as the two made their break from the rest of the field. Thorson then chased down and slid by Kofoid for the lead on lap 18 in turn two. Kofoid immediately raced back to the lead underneath Thorson in turn three. Immediately thereafter, the yellow flag flew for McIntosh who stopped in turn four with a flat left rear.
Windom then found his way to second, rolling the bottom, as Thorson swung wide while trying to reel in Kofoid for the lead. Thorson clung right to the bumper of Windom, ultimately sliding back by Windom on the bottom of turn one with eight circuits remaining. Windom attempted to get a run underneath Thorson off turn two, but midway down the back straightaway, Windom clipped the inside berm with his left front tire, getting him a tad sideways, and even more sideways when Pursley tagged his rear bumper before both continued on.
With four laps remaining, Thorson fired his shot for the top spot, attempting to slide Kofoid in turn one. Kofoid didn’t flinch and motored around the outside to maintain the lead while Thorson lost his momentum in the middle, allowing Kofoid to find a 10-car length separation.
On the final lap, Kofoid slid himself into turn one, then tried to stick the bottom in turns three and four. Kofoid found himself just outside the moisture while Thorson stuck it, propelling him to within a foot of Kofoid’s rear bumper exiting turn four.
Buddy Kofoid’s first four career USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget wins have come in four different states and four different time zones: Central, Mountain, Pacific and Eastern, plus the tracks of Sweet Springs Motorsports Complex (Missouri), Arizona Speedway (Arizona), Bakersfield Speedway (California) and Bubba Raceway Park (Florida).
(Rich Forman Photo)
Kofoid finished off the victory by a two-car length margin, 0.231 sec., ahead of Thorson at the stripe with Chris Windom, Daison Pursley and Emerson Axsom rounding out the top-five.
With the win, Kofoid has earned his first four career USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget wins in four different states and four different time zones: Central, Mountain, Pacific and Eastern, plus the tracks of Sweet Springs Motorsports Complex (Missouri), Arizona Speedway (Arizona), Bakersfield Speedway (California) and Bubba Raceway Park (Florida).
After winning in his most recent USAC outing of 2020, Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) earned a solid second-place finish in his series debut aboard the Dave Mac Motorsports/The Healing Tree – A.L. Drivelines – FK Shocks/Spike/Speedway Toyota.
“A lot of the credit goes to the teams that I’m with,” Thorson stated. “I’ve got a great group of people around me. This car’s really, really fast, and I felt like we probably had the fastest car. It was single lane a little bit, but I love this track; this place is awesome.”
Reigning series champion Windom’s most recent midget appearance at Ocala one year ago resulted in a victory. On this day, it was a third place run for the Canton, Ill. driver who had to fight through a slippery situation in order to round out the podium in his CB Industries/NOS Energy Drink – PristineAuction.com – K & C Drywall/Spike/Speedway Toyota.
“Once I got to second there, we broke a fuel line off,” Windom revealed. “It was blowing so much fuel out that it was about spinning me out down in turns three and four. So, I had to just try and salvage a third there.”
In Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying, Kevin Thomas Jr. became the first driver ever to record the fastest qualifying time during the USAC National Midget season opener in three consecutive years. Only four other drivers had previously accomplished the feat in two-straight years: Bobby Grim (1965-66), Tom Bigelow (1990-91), Tony Stewart (1997-98) and Dave Steele (2006-07).
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: February 5 & 6, 2021 – Bubba Raceway Park – Ocala, Florida – Winter Dirt Games XII – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING RESULTS: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 5, Petry-14.037; 2. Jason McDougal, 4, Dalby-14.089; 3. Tanner Thorson, 88, Dave Mac-14.133; 4. Chris Windom, 89, CB-14.157; 5. Thomas Meseraull, 7x, RMS-14.234; 6. Justin Grant, 2J, RMS-14.250; 7. Emerson Axsom, 15, Petry-14.259; 8. Logan Seavey, 25, Malloy-14.263; 9. Buddy Kofoid, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.271; 10. Daison Pursley, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.321; 11. Brenham Crouch, 97, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.400; 12. Kaylee Bryson, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.446; 13. Tanner Carrick, 98K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.457; 14. Jake Neuman, 3N, Neuman-14.497; 15. Steve Buckwalter, 25B, Buckwalter-14.508; 16. Chase Elliott, 84, CB-14.534; 17. Bryant Wiedeman, 01, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.582; 18. Chase Randall, 19A, Reinbold/Underwood-14.629; 19. Cannon McIntosh, 08, Dave Mac-14.645; 20. Ethan Mitchell, 19m, Bundy Built-14.696; 21. Sam Johnson, 72J, SJR-14.702; 22. Noah Gass, 20G, Gass-14.722; 23. Max McLaughlin, z8, Bundy Built-14.735; 24. Kade Morton, 8m, Morton-14.773; 25. Andrew Felker, 57A, RAB-14.811; 26. Hayden Reinbold, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-14.945; 27. Taylor Reimer, 25K, Dave Mac-15.044; 28. Emilio Hoover, 21K, Ripper-15.126; 29. Daniel Robinson, 57K, RAB-15.198; 30. Michael Magic, 4m, Magic-15.642; 31. Oliver Akard, 41, OMR-15.742; 32. Austin Barnhill, 17B, SJR-16.168; 33. Trey Gropp, 21KS, Ripper-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Sam Johnson, 2. Bryant Wiedeman, 3. Buddy Kofoid, 4. Thomas Meseraull, 5. Kevin Thomas Jr., 6. Tanner Carrick, 7. Andrew Felker, 8. Daniel Robinson. 2:00.09
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Daison Pursley, 2. Chase Randall, 3. Jake Neuman, 4. Justin Grant, 5. Jason McDougal, 6. Noah Gass, 7. Michael Magic, 8. Hayden Reinbold. 1:56.296
INDY METAL FINISHING THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Max McLaughlin, 2. Tanner Thorson, 3. Cannon McIntosh, 4. Steve Buckwalter, 5. Emerson Axsom, 6. Brenham Crouch, 7. Taylor Reimer, 8. Oliver Akard. 1:58.603
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Chris Windom, 2. Kade Morton, 3. Ethan Mitchell, 4. Kaylee Bryson, 5. Logan Seavey, 6. Chase Elliott, 7. Austin Barnhill, 8. Emilio Hoover. 2:00.647
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Jason McDougal, 2. Emerson Axsom, 3. Logan Seavey, 4. Tanner Carrick, 5. Chase Elliott, 6. Brenham Crouch, 7. Andrew Felker, 8. Hayden Reinbold, 9. Trey Gropp, 10. Taylor Reimer, 11. Emilio Hoover, 12. Austin Barnhill, 13. Daniel Robinson, 14. Oliver Akard, 15. Kevin Thomas Jr., 16. Michael Magic, 17. Noah Gass. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, final 17 laps completed on Feb. 6, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Buddy Kofoid (2), 2. Tanner Thorson (6), 3. Chris Windom (5), 4. Daison Pursley (1), 5. Emerson Axsom (10), 6. Thomas Meseraull (4), 7. Justin Grant (3), 8. Tanner Carrick (14), 9. Jake Neuman (15), 10. Jason McDougal (9), 11. Steve Buckwalter (16), 12. Logan Seavey (11), 13. Bryant Wiedeman (18), 14. Cannon McIntosh (20), 15. Brenham Crouch (12), 16. Kaylee Bryson (13), 17. Max McLaughlin (8), 18. Chase Elliott (17), 19. Ethan Mitchell (21), 20. Sam Johnson (7), 21. Kade Morton (22), 22. Chase Randall (19). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Buddy Kofoid.
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Tanner Thorson-78, 2-Buddy Kofoid-76, 3-Chris Windom-75, 4-Daison Pursley-69, 5-Emerson Axsom-63, 6-Thomas Meseraull-62, 7-Justin Grant-58, 8-Tanner Carrick-52, 9-Jake Neuman-52, 10-Logan Seavey-44.
OVERALL PROSOURCE MIDGET PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Tanner Carrick-6, 2-Jake Neuman-6, 3-Cannon McIntosh-6, 4-Emerson Axsom-5, 5-Steve Buckwalter-5, 6-Bryant Wiedeman-5, 7-Tanner Thorson-4, 8-Chris Windom-2, 9-Ethan Mitchell-2, 10-Buddy Kofoid-1.
WINTER DIRT GAMES PROSOURCE MIDGET PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Tanner Thorson-8, 2-Tanner Carrick-8, 3-Trey Gropp-8, 4-Chris Windom-7, 5-Emerson Axsom-6, 6-Jake Neuman-6, 7-Cannon McIntosh-6, 8-Steve Buckwalter-5, 9-Bryant Wiedeman-5, 10-Austin Barnhill-5.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: February 6, 2021 – Bubba Raceway Park – Ocala, Florida – Winter Dirt Games XII – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Kevin Thomas Jr.
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Sam Johnson
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Daison Pursley
Indy Metal Finishing Third Heat Winner: Max McLaughlin
Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner: Chris Windom
KSE Racing Products Hard Charger: Tanner Carrick (14th to 8th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Bryant Wiedeman
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Andrew Felker
ProSource Hard Work Award: Kade Morton