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BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - APRIL 16: Buddy Kofoid, driver of the #51 Mobil 1 Toyota, waves to fans as he walks onstage during driver intros prior to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pinty's Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 16, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) | Getty Images
(Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images)

NOTEBOOK: Dirt ace Buddy Kofoid ready to chase victory at Springfield Mile

The No. 15 Venturini Motorsports Toyota will have a yellow stripe on its rear bumper this Sunday, but the driver behind the wheel can hardly be considered a rookie on dirt.

That driver is Buddy Kofoid, an ace dirt racer who is set to make his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Atlas 100 at the Springfield Mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds (2 p.m. ET on MAVTV/FloRacing).

Kofoid has been turning heads since 2016, when at age 14 he won a sprint car feature during the Trophy Cup event at California’s Thunderbowl Raceway.

It’s been full-steam ahead ever since for Kofoid, who has won dirt races from one side of the United States to the other as well as dirt races in New Zealand.

The last two years have been some of the best of his young career, with Kofoid earning some marquee victories and a championship in the USAC National Midget Series despite suffering a broken right wrist and broken left foot during a crash in an asphalt Late Model.

ARCA at Springfield: Entry list | Complete event schedule

This year, the 20-year-old from Penngrove, California, continues to keep busy racing on dirt. He started the year winning a preliminary feature at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in January, and he hasn’t slowed down since.

His accomplishments this year include his first World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series triumph at South Dakota’s Huset’s Speedway. He also captured a marquee victory in the BC39 Midget race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dirt track, an event held in honor of the late Bryan Clauson.

He even made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut this season for Kyle Busch Motorsports during the dirt events at Bristol Motor Speedway and Knoxville Raceway, scoring a best finish of 11th at Knoxville.

In advance of his ARCA Menards Series debut, Kofoid banked more than $20,000 for winning the High Limit Open on Tuesday night at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana. The event was promoted by reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson and his brother-in-law, World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet.

While this will be Kofoid’s ARCA Menards Series debut, this won’t be his first dirt event on the ARCA platform. He made his ARCA Menards Series West debut in 2018 when he was 16 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, finishing 21st after a mechanical issue forced him to retire from the event early.

Ryan Unzicker, driver of the #24 RJR Transportation-Hummingbird Winery Chevrolet, drives during the Illinois Truck & Equipment Allen Crowe 100 for the ARCA Menards Series at the Springfield Mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois on October 4, 2020. (Jeff Curry/ARCA Racing)
Ryan Unzicker drove Bill Hendren’s No. 24 to victory in 2020 at the Springfield Mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. (Photo: Jeff Curry/ARCA Racing)

Team owner Bill Hendren preparing for retirement

Bill Hendren, the car owner of 2020 Atlas 100 winner Ryan Unzicker, has decided to retire after this season.

Hendren is the longest known participant of the stock car events at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, having participated in some capacity since 1974.

His journey began with fellow McLean County resident Ken Rowley, and together they won the 1974 USAC Stock Car Rookie of the Year award. The duo also finished ninth at Springfield that season behind winner Roger McCluskey. During the next few seasons, Ken and Bill enjoyed strong runs on the USAC Stock Car circuit, usually making the dirt shows at Springfield and DuQuoin.

He stepped away from ownership for more than a decade but remained involved in some form or another, at times helping financially or as a crew member.

Hendren returned to ownership several years ago, and together with Ken Rowley set two track records at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds and nearly won the 1993 Atlas 100. He fell short but gave the team its best Springfield finish in third

Unfortunately, Rowley was forced to retire after the 1998 season. Hendren then turned to veteran Bob Strait, who promptly set the team’s Chevrolet on the pole for the 1999 event. Strait ran sporadically for the Hendren outfit for the next few seasons. The team helped Mark Littleton for a few years before Unzicker became new driver for Hendren Motorsports.

Unzicker led laps at DuQuoin and equaled Rowley’s third-place finish in 2016 but had yet to lead a lap at Springfield. All that changed in 2020, when he led a record 102 of 103 laps and gave Hendren a long sought after Springfield victory.

Unzicker will try to give Hendren a going away present this Sunday during the Atlas 100 at the Springfield Mile.

Double duty for Ken Schrader

It’s been a busy week for veteran racer Ken Schrader, and it’s only going to get busier.

It started with the 67-year-old Schrader, a four-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner, competing with the NASCAR Pinty’s Series during the inaugural Pinty’s 100 dirt race at Canada’s Ohsweken Speedway on Tuesday.

Schrader started third, raced as high as second and finished eighth aboard the No. 3 Chevrolet fielded by team owner Ed Hakonson.

Now the racer from Fenton, Missouri, is bound for the Illinois State Fairgrounds and the Springfield Mile, where he is set to pull double duty.

Schrader is scheduled to make his first ARCA Menards Series start of the season Sunday aboard the No. 11 for team owner Andy Hillenburg. He’ll also compete in the companion Sportsman race, of which he happens to be the defending winner.

Schrader is a five-time winner on dirt in ARCA competition, a record that includes a victory at the Springfield Mile in 1998. He also has three victories at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, and his first ARCA victory came on dirt at Maryland’s Hagerstown Speedway in 1990.

NOTES:

  • Amber Balcaen is hoping a return to her dirt roots will lead to a turnaround in fortune. The Canadian driver grew up racing on dirt and raced a midget car on dirt as recently as 2020 in the POWRi National Midget League. Balcaen has crashed out of the last three ARCA Menards Series events.
  • Springfield native Kelly Kovski is still in search of his first ARCA victory on dirt and returns for another attempt this weekend aboard the No. 16 that Justin Allgaier drove in this event last season to a fourth-place finish.