With two months remaining until the Snowball Derby, its defending winner found himself out of a ride and weighing the possibility that he wouldn’t be able to return and defend the accomplishment.
That would have been quite the shame, because as defending winner, Braden is one of just three drivers to have a guaranteed starting position in the Field of 36. No matter what happens this weekend, he would take the green flag as long as he entered a car, but he didn’t have anything a month prior to Opening Day.
Following the Winchester 400, Braden and Platinum Motorsports unexpectedly parted ways. It was a surprising outcome because they had just bought a new No. 26 car and had expected to return as a unit to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
If it weren’t for that guaranteed starting spot, Braden likely would have sat the winter out and planned his next move. Instead, he quickly got to work. One of the first phone calls he received was from Jake Keaton, a dirt racer from Braden’s hometown area of Barboursville, West Virginia.
Keaton had bought a Super Late Model earlier in the year, and Braden had driven the car in March at Southern National when it was still owned by Circle Track Warehouse proprietor Bryan Rogers.
So, it presented an opportunity for a bunch of Mountaineers to go south and chase a second Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy.
“They’ve been really gracious,” Braden said. “We’ve had to pull together some sponsorship at the last minute, but it’s come together. We’re real thankful for all the people that have helped us pull this together in terms of sponsorship and getting this car ready.
“I had pull double time between the holidays to get it finished. And all these guys have been on this team have all been very, very great to work with. So, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s it hasn’t been easy because of how quickly I had to do all this but we’re excited to be here.”
Braden had to crowdsource the tire and fuel bill and the sponsorship comes from several local to West Florida businesses.
Due to the last-minute nature of the project, Braden didn’t immediately have the feel he had last year when he crossed the finish line second but won the race in technical inspection. Already having a guaranteed starting spot, his team has focused entirely on race runs, which is why it’s not too alarming to see his No. 14 car down on the speed charts.
And even though Braden enters the race as the defending winner, he still feels as though he is seeking his first win the 300-lap main event.
There is a subset of the short track community that says he isn’t the winner because Stephen Nasse was robbed in post-race inspection. They say Braden didn’t cross the line first and wouldn’t have won if not for Ty Majeski getting crashed late.
Braden has heard it all.
“I just want to cross the line first, y’know,” Braden said. “In terms of the accomplishment, I don’t dismiss is because it’s still a win and it means a lot.
“That was the greatest I’ve ever felt in working with any race team during any race. I was just excited to finish second because it was such a stressful race, and nothing was going out way. It was the same on race week. We got wrecked in practice, nothing went right. We literally fell a lap down and we came all the way back and finished second.
“So even without what happened in tech, I’ll always remember it for that effort.”