Travis Braden set fastest time on practice day for the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour’s Masters of the Pros presented by Day Racing Products at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway (TN). While it was Braden’s name atop the timing charts, another name rode above the door on his Pro Late Model.
The 2019 Snowball Derby winner’s car carries Robert Hamke’s name this weekend, along with his signature No. 74. The legendary car builder and racer passed away on Thursday, just one day prior to Friday’s practice sessions.
Braden finished the day with the fastest lap in practice, clocking in at 19.375 seconds around the 0.596-mile oval. The West Virginia native hopes he can finish Saturday night with his No. 26 atop the scoreboard, and Hamke’s name in victory lane.
“We’re carrying Robert Hamke’s name on the car this weekend,” Braden told Speed51. “I never really knew Robert that well personally, but I did meet Robert. I was from the north, but we raced his cars for years and had a ton of success.
“This is one of our last Hamke cars that we still own. We’d like to come here and win the race. It’s a great way to start the weekend, the fastest car during the day. That would be big for his family. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
However, Braden knows the event will be a challenging one. The $10,000-to-win event drawn top Late Model racers from around the country, and Nashville boasts a stout local crop of racers who compete in the historic track’s Pro Late Model division throughout the season. Braden expects those locals to put up quite the fight on Saturday.
“A lot of the guys, I don’t want to sound negative, but they’re essentially locals, so they have a lot of pride, and they should. You get raced really hard, especially when you travel a lot. They will race you as hard as they can every lap. It makes for an interesting and very tough event.
“Nothing’s easy, no passes come easy. No one’s waving you by, they’re racing you like it’s the last lap with 100 laps to go. That’s what puts on a great show. Not only how hard they race, but it’s a great car count between the locals and the outsiders.
One of those locals is Jackson Boone, the defending track champion who was second-fastest in practice, just one-thousandth of a second slower than Braden. Boone acknowledged he was more focused on finding balance in his Pro Late Model, but was pleased to see speed as well.
“When we come out here, we’re always trying to find balance in the car,” said Boone. “You want to have a balance in both one and two, and in three and four. You’ve got to figure out where to find the speed in the center.
“We weren’t looking to be fastest, but it’s nice to have speed. We’ve still got some work to do, but it’s a good start to the weekend. We’ll try to put 150 more together.”
The W.A.R. Racing Development team that fields Boone’s No. 7 also fields a No. 26 typically driven by former track champion Willie Allen. However, Allen has turned over driving duties to veteran racer and NASCAR Xfinity Series winner Justin Marks.
While Marks has years of experience behind the wheel of a race car, his Late Model experience is limited. Nonetheless, Marks jumped to fourth-fastest during the final session of the day. The improvement was the result of finding more and more comfort behind the wheel of his new ride for the weekend.
“I don’t have hardly any Late Model experience in these cars and haven’t really been to this track before. It was just getting used to the feel you need to go fast in these things. The feedback is different from really anything I’ve driven. It was just interpreting the car’s behavior the right way and making adjustments, keeping tires underneath the thing. We made progress every time we went out on the race track.
“I’ve done three or four races out in California. I’ve just moved to Nashville, those were much smaller tracks with a much different tire. It feels a lot different than this place. I’m getting used to the speed, the aero, the travel, everything like that.”
While 40 cars took time during Friday’s practice at Nashville, one of the favorites for Saturday’s race did not. Bubba Pollard, winner of the last two Masters of the Pros and his last five JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour starts, was not on the premises for Friday’s practice but has entered Saturday’s race, looking for a third Green Jacket.
Fans can watch Saturday’s Masters of the Pros from Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on Speed51 if they are unable to attend the event in person. Click here to order your pay-per-view ticket today.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo
Practice Results – Masters of the Pros presented by Day Racing Products
Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway – July 17, 2020