After months of preparation, one of the drivers with the most confidence heading to Five Flags Speedway for the 52nd Snowball Derby has been Travis Braden. Despite it being just his second time racing a Super Late Model in December, the West Virginia ace’s predictions were coming true in Thursday and Friday practices, and then it all seemed to come apart.
Late in the final practice Friday before the all-important qualifying session, while coming up to speed, Braden’s No. 26 was impacted by another car making laps, leaving he and his crew in a seemingly hopeless situation with just a few short hours to make repairs and present the car for pre-qualifying inspection.
But, the No. 26 camp bit the bullet, making the inspection line, and eventually the qualifying line with no trouble. Then, the miracle; with no practice laps, and many new parts and pieces fresh on the car, the former ARCA/CRA Super Series champion ended up 30th – the last driver to lock in on time – when qualifying was complete Friday night for the Snowball Derby.
“This race can be really stressful, this is only my second time ever attempting the Derby. But coming into this week, the past couple of months, I haven’t been stressed one bit. These guys have been so good all year, all day yesterday, all day today; I was more than confident we were going to be in the top 30 in qualifying, without question,” Braden told Speed51 after qualifying.
“At the very end of practice, we were just making just one last little change, didn’t really need to, just wanted to try one last thing. Then you get run over and your car gets destroyed. What an up-and-down day, turning into by far the most stressed I’ve ever been at a race track. Just emotional, up and down rollercoaster day, and these guys worked their butts off to get it back, ready to go, in the tech line, no practice, a whole new suspension, a whole new body, just so proud of the effort.”
It was a close shave though, with Braden and company completing some of their work in the tech line itself.
“They gave us a time that we had to be in line, and they wouldn’t adjust that. We still had to be in line on time, and we barely made it. But, they worked with us, we were still trying to set the swaybar and stuff. When we were in tech putting our tires on, they said to go ahead and set it. It was very last minute, but we got it done. Basically, built a car with no practice and qualified for the Snowball Derby, that’s pretty impressive.”
It is an effort that not only saved his hopes of making the Snowball Derby, but possibly having a shot to win the 300-lap race itself on Sunday. Braden already has a long list of what to focus on in the final practice sessions on Saturday.
“It’s a pretty big relief. We unloaded pretty good, little too tight, fixed that a little bit, and then we were trying to find a balance, and we found it over the course of the day. We kind of know what it took to do that. Tomorrow we’ll go through this car, see if there’s anything else that’s bent or needing attention, and we’ll get it right.”
The 52nd running of the Snowball Derby continues Saturday with the Pro Late Model Snowflake 100, plus the Snowball Derby Last Chance Race and Outlaw Stock features. It all leads up to the “big dance” on Sunday, with the Super Late Models getting the green at 2pm CT for 300 laps of racing.
Watch all the action live on Speed51 by purchasing your pay-per-view ticket at www.speed51.com/snowballderby.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com