Every path has led to victory lane for Travis Braden, who refuses to accept anything that looks like a dead end.
The 26-year-old from Wheeling, West Virginia is relentless, but more importantly, resourceful.
His victory in the Snowball Derby last December was arguably the most unlikely outcome in the 53-year history of the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.
You probably know the story, but here’s a refresher:
There was a crash in final practice a few hours before time trials. He was the 30th and final driver to qualify into the field on speed. He was involved in a spin inside of the final 10 laps that sent him to the rear of the field. He avoided the multi-car melee that eliminated several of the frontrunners. He finished second to flagged winner Stephen Nasse. He was declared the winner upon the disqualification of Nasse for titanium brake caps.
And then there was his improbable victory in his ARCA Racing Series debut at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana where crew chief Matt Weber gambled with an early four-tire pit stop — the race staying green for the final 70 laps and playing right into their strategy.
Simply put, Braden has always found a way.
“People always ask me which was the bigger win and I don’t know,” Braden told Short Track Scene. “The ARCA win in my first start was a huge to boost my career given where I was at that point. But, the power behind that win probably wasn’t the same as what the Snowball Derby will mean when I look back on it someday.
“The Derby is just a super incredible race to win. I don’t know that there is anything that can top that right now. With the competition and name recognition on the entry list, this is a big era for the Snowball Derby, so that’s how I look at it.”
Of course, with a Winchester 400 rifle and two CRA Super Series championships, Braden’s resume was already stout. But by etching his name on the Tom Dawson Trophy, Braden has already cemented his status as a short track great, even before he reaches his 30s.
In recent years, the likes of Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek and Noah Gragson have used the Snowball Derby as a springboard towards the NASCAR Cup Series. While Braden hasn’t given up on that same childhood dream, the West Virginia University mechanical engineering graduate has a considerably more realistic approach.
“My underlying goals haven’t changed over the last five years, but things evolve, right? Like your future outlook changes all the time,” Braden said. “And what I mean by that is what I’ve always said: People come up to me and say, ‘You want to be a NASCAR driver, right?’
“And, of course I do, but more importantly, I just want to be able to race competitively against the most competitive teams and best drivers. I just want to make an honest living, you know?
“When you’re a kid and your parents are helping to get you started, you eventually have to make a living. So, the goal for me is: How can I do that, still race and be as competitive as possible and keep going to the racetrack?”
That outlook was handed yet another setback over the winter when his ARCA Racing Series team, the RFMS Racing No. 27 closed and sold its equipment, leaving Braden without a full-time ride.
Independent of that development, Braden had already made the decision to move to Charlotte, North Carolina last month, the most logical conclusion for anyone with a goal of making an honest living in stock car racing.
There he will continue to drive the Derby winning Platinum Motorsports No. 26, while also pursuing behind-the-wheel and behind-the-scenes opportunities at the highest levels of NASCAR. This weekend, he will make his CARS Tour (SLM) debut behind the wheel of the No. 77 owned by Circle Track Warehouse proprietor Bryan Rogers.
During the World Series of Asphalt, he served in a variety of capacities as a spotter, crew member and fill-in driver for Derek Kraus’ Pro Late Model.
Whatever it takes for a racer that has always found a way.
“Platinum Motorsports has given me this great opportunity, and it really has been a great opportunity, and I want to build a career around that which branches out even further,” Braden said. “And what’s beautiful about that, is that it’s full-circle, because that can come back and help them and their program as I succeed and grow.
“My goal isn’t that I want to race this track or this series, or whatever. I want to be able to race competitively in the races that matter the most — whether I’m behind the wheel, the crew chief or car owner or whatever.
“I want to work with people that want to win and have that same desire that I do. I want to take some of the cool sponsorship activation stuff that we learned from the ARCA Menards Series and do that here because it’s good for our teams and good for the sport.”