Races at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California are a family event both in the stands and on the track. For this weekend’s opening night, brother’s Jim and Ed Coffey will both suit up in their respective modified cars, while each of their wives will stand on the roof and work as their spotters.
Racing is in the blood of the Coffey family. Both their mom and dad used to drag race in the 1960’s – “My mom won a lot more races than he did, so we like to tease him about that,” Jim Coffey said. The brothers, and their sister, Shelley, got into racing on their own when Jim was 13 and Ed was 11.
The brothers often shared a car growing up, so their days racing dirt tracks never saw them compete against one another. It wasn’t until Kern County, a half-mile asphalt oval, opened in 2013 that Jim made the move to asphalt with Ed working as his crew chief.
The following summer, Ed got the chance to ride in a modified of his own, pitting the duo against each other for the first time.
“For me, I think it’s really cool because growing up I never really got to race against my brother. We were always at the track but never got to go head to head,” Jim said. “Now it’s really cool because on the one hand you race your brother probably harder than everybody else, but on the other hand if I can’t win he’s definitely the guy I want to win the race. So it’s cool. We compete hard against each other, but at the same time we work together as teammates. We always tease everybody and say it’s always shake and bake with us.”
Just because they’re related doesn’t mean they’re not competitive.
“We’re trying to beat each other more than anybody else,” Ed said. “But there’s been multiple time on restarts he’s been on the front row, and I’ll be on the row right behind him and I’ll be pushing him down the front straight trying to get him over everybody. So it’s been fun. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
Though they are brothers, the Coffeys say the couldn’t be more different both in and out of the car. Ed is more mechanically inclined, and is the go-to if there is an issue with an engine or something electrical. Jim, on the other hand, is the technical one who knows how to fix issues with the chassis or with the car’s handling.
The way they drive is very different too.
“Like the movie ‘Days of Thunder’, when they say you’ve got your calculating driver and your kamikaze driver, that’s sort of how it’s always been with us,” Ed said with a laugh. “Jim has always been the smooth, calculating, methodical driver, while I have always been ‘okay, how far can I push into this corner and when can I get on the gas?”
“I can tell you this, there is no one who drives the car harder than Ed,” Jim said. “Sometimes I’ll look and I’ll be like, ‘dude, you don’t have to drive that hard.’ But it’s fun to watch.”
Neither of the brothers’ wives grew up in racing families, but they’ve taken to the sport since the duo began driving at Kern County. Ed’s wife, Tracy, is his full-time spotter, and has been since he began. Jim’s wife, Carolyn, enjoy the camaraderie and social aspects of the track, but she will step in when his regular spotter, his sister Shelley, isn’t able to make it.
Ed also has a 5-year-old son who is starting to get into racing himself, putting three generations of Coffeys on the track.
“It’s kind of always been the common ground,” Ed said. “We’ve always been a close-knit family, but it’s the one constant that is always there. No matter if we owned a car and raced it or not, we’re always at family gatherings talking what happened with Jeff Gordon or racing. It’s always be a part of our life since we were little. So it’s been really neat.”
Kern County will open the season on Saturday for “Faith and Family Night,” with late model twins, super stocks, modifieds, hot stocks, mini dwarfs, and bandoleros.
And during the races, the Coffeys will be having another family reunion in their favorite spot.
“Even now, our parents are 75 and 79. They’re always at the track, always down in the pits,” Jim said. “We’re all really busy with our own families, and to be honest if we weren’t at the racetrack together we’d probably go three or four months without seeing each other. The racetrack is the place that we get together every couple weeks and get to hang out, so it’s pretty nice.”