Local driver a future NASCAR star
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 13, 2013 23:01
Travis Braden is by no means an average college freshman.
At just the age of 18, Braden, a West Virginia University mechanical engineering student, has been titled both the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Rookie of the Year and the 2012 ARCA/CRA Super Series Rookie of the Year.
Braden was born and raised in Wheeling, W.Va., a town, he said, that does not provide easy access to racetracks.
Braden recalls watching the Daytona 500 race when he was young and being instantly attracted to Jeff Gordon’s car. None of Braden’s family members were involved in racing before he sparked a sudden interest in the sport.
"Most people say, ‘I’m sure your family was into racing,’ but it’s not like that. Now that I’m involved, my family is really into it. It’s just what we do; it becomes a way of life," Braden said.
Braden began to race four-wheelers at local fairs when he was just six years old. As he grew older, his parents didn’t like the idea of him racing the four-wheelers because of how vulnerable he was to injury.
"My parents heard of this little go-cart series that I could race near Marietta, Ohio, and I began to participate in that," he said.
Though the experience was just for fun, Braden said he and his family began to realize he had some serious talent.
In his second year of racing the go-carts, Braden won every race he competed in except one.
At that point, the Braden family knew it was time for Travis to move up in the racing world.
After he turned nine, the family did some research and moved him into Quarter Midget racing, a type of national automobile racing.
"Almost every single NASCAR driver’s kid will compete in these races. It’s a really good way to practice and learn how to race. I thought, ‘If I can do good in this, then this is the absolute best I can do at this age,’" Braden said.
In his second and third years in the new division, Braden won countless regional and national championships.
"Going to those races was good for me because I got so much time behind the wheel. I learned and benefitted from all of the practice," he said.
After two years of racing Quarter Midgets with a strict racing budget, Braden and his parents were looking for ways to earn recognition.
They came across a big series called Legends Cars, in which he would race mini versions of 1930s Chevy and Ford sedans and coupes.
Braden began racing these cars at 14.
In his second year of racing in the Legends, Braden not only made 48 race wins in only 78 starts, but he was the national champion in the Young Lions Division.
His third year, he finished third in the Pro Division.
To prepare for the Million-Dollar Race in Charlotte, N.C., Braden’s largest race, he and his family spent all Spring and Summer preparing for the race. There were almost 300 cars that tried out to make the race, and only 26 made the cut.
Braden started 16th in the race and placed ninth in the event.
"That was one of the biggest races I’ve been in money-wise, and I won 12 thousand just for finishing," Braden said.
To set his sights on the Pro Championship race, Braden competed in various races for practice, and he eventually landed a spot in the top 10 in the Pro Division.
He finished third that year in the championship.
"That was a big year for me, and it was good to run those cars for two or three years to gain some skill and recognition. It wasn’t cheap, but (it was) cheap enough. We couldn’t go any further than those cars, so we wanted to race bigger and better," he said.
After 2010, although Braden was used to racing the Pro Division in Legends, he was looking for a different series to run in 2011.
"We ran into a guy in January of 2011, and he said he didn’t have a driver for his model and that I could drive it. We had to pay him per race to use it, but I’m still racing under that car today," Braden said.
By the end of 2011, Braden had gained so many points he was named the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Rookie of the Year. At the end of 2011, Braden won a race in the CRA/JEGS in Winchester.
"Just from that, a lot of people opened their eyes to me," he said. "We went to the banquet for that series in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It was a really high-class event."
In 2012, Braden and his family decided to switch over to the ARCA/CRA super series, in which Super Late Models are raced.
"We never did get a win. We were close a lot of times, and multiple times,we qualified in the top three. It’s hard to say whether we would have won or not, but it was a 15-race schedule," Braden said.
In that series, Braden got a qualifying track record. He came out in a close fourth to second overall in the championship. And, to finish off the year significantly, Braden received the 2012 ARCA/CRA Super Series Rookie of the Year title.
"The ARCA/CRA gave me a free practice run at the ARCA racing series at Daytona to race their cars. I went about 180 miles per hour," Braden said.
This experience, which Braden simply said was "astonishing," had been one of Braden’s goals since he was just seven years old.
Since he was just a child, Braden wanted to be an ARCA racer – even if it was just for practice.
"I never thought I’d have the chance to race a Late Model. This was a huge goal of mine. At this point, I set a goal and even though it was iffy I made it happen, so it’s like what should my goals be now?" he said.
For Braden, the sky’s the limit.
As for his racing goals, Braden said he wants to compete in more well-known races in Super Late Models throughout the country, like the PASS racing series and ARCA Midwest series.
He also wants to race in the ARCA racing series or the NASCAR K&N series. His goal is to accomplish this by the end of 2013.
So far, Braden said he has accomplished everything he has set out to do in the racing world. He believes, with some bigger sponsorship, he can do even better.
As for his goals as a college student, Braden said he has always known WVU was the right pick for him.
"I didn’t want to go far from home, and WVU can offer everything I want. It was a no-brainer to go there. I didn’t even apply anywhere else," Braden said.
Braden said WVU offers a dual major in both mechanical and aerospace engineering, which will benefit him immensely in the racing world.
Braden said aerodynamics plays a vital role in modern strategy, and both types of engineers are involved in the NASCAR world because of growing technology.
"NASCAR racer Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, is a mechanical engineer and also a perfectionist. That’s why they’ve won five championships," he said.
"I’m a perfectionist, as well, always striving to be the best I can be. Still being involved in racing as a crew chief or mechanical engineer would be great for me," he said.
Braden said his shortcomings and failures are what drive him and inspire him to succeed.
"I’m not one of those students who gets a ‘C’ and everything is fine. If I get a ‘C,’ then I want an ‘A’ next time. Whenever I slack a little bit, it wakes me up, and I start focusing again," Braden said. "Same thing with racing. If I could have done one thing differently, I would have done better or won.
"I think about things in advance and practice in my head. Then, I’ve mastered it. I don’t like to make the same mistake twice. Most people would settle with being a 90-percent driver, but I won’t settle until I make that last 10 percent. Like I said, I’m a perfectionist."