No individual or team has been more synonymous with winning USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget feature events in this era than Keith Kunz Motorsports.
When Tanner Carrick crossed the finish line at the conclusion of the Nov. 17 Hangtown 100 presented by Matt Wood Racing opener at California’s Placerville Speedway, he delivered an all-time record victory for the Columbus-based team.
Carrick led the final 29 laps of the 30-lap feature to give Kunz his 134th career series triumph, making him the winningest USAC National Midget entrant of all-time. The new mark broke the standard of 133 series wins, which had long been held by Steve Lewis and the venerable “Nine Cars,” which dominated the circuit throughout the 1990s and into the mid-2000s.
Three decades since his first taste of USAC success as a National Midget entrant with Page Jones at Kokomo Speedway in 1992, Kunz’s name is at the top of the list by itself.
Kunz, however, is quick to give credit to the many great drivers for him over the years who are the epitome of success.
“Steve Lewis was one of the greatest car owners ever, and I never even dreamed of being anywhere close to this,” Kunz said. “Thirty years ago was my first win, so it has been a long time. I’ve had such good guys drive for me over the years.”
On a historic night, it was one of KKM’s longest-tenured drivers who delivered the goods. Carrick has been with the team either full time or in a partial role since 2017 but had only picked off one victory in that span in 2019 at Missouri’s Sweet Springs Motorsports Complex. Thursday night produced a proud moment not only for Carrick himself but also under the watchful eye of Kunz.
“I’m just really happy for Tanner coming in and doing this at his home track,” Kunz said. “He has driven for me a lot, and when we got here tonight, he was feeling pretty good about this place. We knew right from the beginning of the night that he was going to be a factor in this.”
Carrick lives less than an hour from Placerville’s quarter-mile dirt oval and is a frequent competitor in winged sprint car competition at his self-described “home track.” In fact, his most recent start at the track came during early September’s Nor*Cal Posse Shootout, a race he won.
The success translated to the midgets on this night, where he set the tone early as the fastest qualifier in the 49-car field, then followed it up by posting his first USAC National Midget victory in more than three seasons, collecting the $5,000 top prize at the wheel of his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/TRD-Toyota-Mobil 1/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota.
For Carrick and Kunz, the bond runs deeper than just simply a driver and his boss. Carrick often goes hunting with Kunz, and the two spend time together away from the racetrack. They don’t just race. They do things together as a family, a true illustration of “the family that races together stays together.”
“Keith and (CEO) Pete (Willoughby) have always been there for me,” Carrick said. “When I wanted to come back and run for them, they had a car for me. Ever since then, whenever I ask if I can come run, they’ve got a ride for me. That means a lot, and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here and be able to do this.“
Kofoid gets win for Kunz
Buddy Kofoid makes no bones about it. He wanted to be the one to deliver Keith Kunz Motorsports its record-breaking 134th USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship entrant victory.
However, a full day later, Kofoid took solace in his performance during on the Nov. 18 Hangtown 100 presented by Matt Wood Racing at Placerville Speedway.
The Penngrove, California, native took control on Lap 4 and led the remaining 27 laps to earn his 11th series triumph of the season in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/Mobil 1-Toyota-TRD/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota.
In addition to raising the bar once more for Team KKM by garnering the outfit’s 135th series win, Kofoid set a number of personal marks in the process as he picked up his first midget win at the same venue he became the youngest ever sprint car feature winner at in 2016 at the age of 14.
“This one definitely feels really good, especially since this is where I cut my teeth in sprint cars,” Kofoid said. “It feels really good to win at what I would consider my home track.”
Furthermore, his 20th career USAC National Midget score tied him with the legendary A.J. Foyt for 34th on the all-time series win list. Additionally, Kofoid became just the second driver to win at least 20 career USAC National Midget features for KKM, joining Christopher Bell, who leads all drivers with 23.
Kofoid also moved up the charts to become only the 13th driver to win 11 races in a single USAC National Midget season. To boot, his 20th career series win came in his 100th career series start, which also cemented his status of one of the series’ all-time greats despite this being just his third full year.
Only 10 drivers in the 67-year history of the series have captured their 20th victory within their first 100 USAC National Midget starts: Kyle Larson (61st start), Christopher Bell (66th start), Sleepy Tripp (68th start), Bryan Clauson (80th start), Billy Vukovich (80th start), Parnelli Jones (83rd start), Tony Stewart (84th start), A.J. Foyt (89th start), Ken Schrader (97th start) and now Kofoid himself (100th start).
Kofoid takes Placerville finale
Buddy Kofoid pocketed the biggest payday of his USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship career on Nov. 19 at Placerville Speedway.
He pocketed a total of $32,000 by virtue of scoring both the 100-lap feature victory worth $20,000 as well as the overall Hangtown 100 points championship, which added $12,000 more for his efforts.
After going winless with the series for nearly two months, as it turned out, the Hangtown 100 prelim victory was merely the warmup act for Kofoid. He finished off his second victory in as many nights while also delivering a weekend sweep at Placerville for the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team.
One year after leading a race-high 66 laps en route to a second-place result on the final night of the 2021 Hangtown 100, on this evening, Kofoid led 95 laps, including the last 45 in succession.
His first career 100-lap midget victory was the 21st overall of his USAC National Midget career, which passed A.J. Foyt to move into 30th on the all-time series feature win list alongside Steve Cannon, Jimmy Caruthers, Rex Easton and Ken Schrader.
“This is one of the biggest midget wins that I’ve gotten,” Kofoid said. “That was a long race, and it was stressful. It’s hard to lead that many laps and know where you need to be or if you need to move around. When the track is this slick, it kind of brings the speed of everyone somewhat close together.”
In what has already been a historic season for Kofoid, his 12th win of the 2022 season has made 2022 one of the most successful single seasons by a driver in the 67-year history of the series.
Kofoid’s dozen victories are the fifth most in a USAC National Midget season, and he’s now the eighth driver to string together 12 wins or more in one year, joining Mel Kenyon’s all-time best 17 victories in 1967, Rich Vogler’s 16 in 1988, Kenyon’s 14 in 1969, Sleepy Tripp’s 13 in 1975 as well as the 12 turned in by Jimmy Davies (1961), Bob Tattersall (1965) and Danny Caruthers (1971).
This week in racing history
From 50 years ago, Gene Petro (late models) and Jim Linder (sprints) were named track champions in their respective divisions for the 1972 season at Eldora Speedway.
From 30 years ago in 1992, Steve Barnett was named the late model track champion at Union County Speedway in Liberty.
Also from 1992, Bob Kinser was named the sprint car track champion at Paragon Speedway.
From 20 years ago in 2002, Derek Scheffel was the track champion in the sprint car division at Bloomington Speedway.
From 10 years ago, Brady Short was the 2012 sprint car track champion at Bloomington.
James Essex writes a motorsports notebook for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected]