When NASCAR first came to Japan for a series of exhibition races in the 1990s, Takuma Koga was among the many Japanese race fans to watch the events with great interest.
Fast-forward to Friday, and Koga, now 45, is set to make his 100th ARCA Menards Series West start when he takes the green flag for the Star Nursery 150 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Koga, who travels from Japan to the United States for every West Series race, will become the second driver this season to reach the 100-start mark in the West Series. Todd Souza achieved the feat earlier this season at California’s Kern County Raceway Park.
It’s been a long road, figuratively and literally, for Koga to get to this point in his West Series career.
Koga made his West Series debut in 2002 when he was 25. He spent the next five years racing part-time and full-time with the series. However, after making 24 starts during that five-year period, Koga stepped away from the series so he could build a business and become a father.
Eventually, the draw of racing in the West Series brought Koga back to the United States from his native Japan, and in 2016, he returned to the West Series. From 2017 on, he’s competed in every West Series race contested.
Koga’s career has seen several ups and downs. The downs include a violent crash and subsequent fire at Stockton 99 Speedway in 2005 that destroyed a brand new race car, but the ups include four top-five finishes, with three of those coming over the last two seasons at Portland International Raceway.
Now the upside will include his benchmark 100th West Series start Friday at the Bullring aboard the No. 7 Toyota fielded by veteran team owner Jerry Pitts.
Sarah and Bridget Burgess set to make NASCAR and ARCA history
History will be made Friday night during the Star Nursery 150 at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
For the first time in ARCA and NASCAR touring series history, a mother and daughter will race against each other in the same event, as West Series regular Bridget Burgess will joined by her mother Sarah in the field.
The opportunity for Sarah and Bridget to race against one another comes thanks to sponsorship support from eBay Motors, which has signed on to sponsor Sarah’s No. 97 Chevrolet this weekend in Las Vegas. The company will also appear on Bridget’s No. 88 this Friday.
Sarah works as a senior business development and partnership manager for eBay Motors, which helped open the door for the sponsorship agreement that made Friday’s race possible for Sarah and Bridget.
Working on my own race car today…. #97 @ebay Motors Chevrolet SS for next week's @ARCA_Racing race at The Bullring @LVMotorSpeedway
.#ebaymotors #letsride #rtic #racing #nascarroots #weekend #Saturday #funday #instagood pic.twitter.com/niZclTInz8
— Sarah Burgess (@SarahBurgess97) October 8, 2022
While Friday’s race will be Sarah’s West Series debut, it won’t be her first racing rodeo as a driver. She previously competed in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, where she raced a Pro Lite Truck, and also competed in drifting events in her native Australia.
Sarah typically works as the crew chief for her daughter during West Series events, but since she’ll be racing in Friday’s race, that role will be filled by Victor Franco, a family friend who is a regular member of the team’s crew.
Bridget, 20, made her West Series debut in 2019 and has been a regular with the series since. In 29 starts to date, she’s scored nine top-10 finishes with a best finish of seventh on two occasions. One of those seventh-place results came at the Bullring in 2020.
Tyler Reif making West Series debut in Vegas
Sunrise Ford Racing driver Tanner Reif won’t be the only member of his family competing in Friday’s ARCA Menards Series West event at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
His younger brother, 15-year-old Tyler Reif, will make his West Series debut in a third entry fielded by Chris Lowden on Friday night.
The younger Reif has been gaining experience racing Pro Late Models on the West Coast over the last two seasons, including in Madera (California) Speedway’s Junior Late Model program.
Last season, while embarking on his first season of touring racing, he broke his collarbone in two places during an off-track accident. It forced him to miss two events, but it didn’t slow him down once he returned to the track.
Tyler will race as a teammate to team owner Lowden as well as RJ Smotherman when the West Series competes in Las Vegas. This will be the first time Lowden has fielded three cars in one event.
The team is coming off a strong performance in the most recent West Series event at All American Speedway in Roseville, California, where Smotherman scored a seventh-place finish in his second series start.
- Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion who grew up racing at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, will join two-time West Series champion and fellow Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughn to sign autographs during the driver autograph session Friday from 5:30-6:30 p.m. PT. Ronnie Mund, best known as Ronnie the Limo Driver on The Howard Stern Show, will also take part in the autograph session.
- Jerry Pitts will field a pair of entries in Friday’s West Series event. In addition to Takuma Koga’s car, he’ll also field the No. 5 Ford for the debuting Jacob Smith. Pitts is also listed as the crew chief for Kyle Keller’s No. 12 Ford.
- Buddy Shepherd, who last competed in the West Series in 2019, is returning to the series Friday in Las Vegas. He’ll make his eighth career start aboard the No. 17 Toyota owned by Steve McGowan.
- Taylor Gray is flipping the script … sort of. Gray, who won the West Series opener at Phoenix Raceway this year and is the defending Bullring race winner, is returning to the West Series for Friday’s race. Instead of the No. 17 he drove in the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East, he’ll drive the No. 71 this Friday.
- Katie Hettinger, the granddaughter of two-time ARCA Midget Series champion Jim Hettinger, will make the first of two scheduled West Series starts this Friday for Young’s Motorsports. She’s also scheduled to compete in the finale at Phoenix Raceway.