Everyone loves a home game.
The ARCA Menards Series doesn't race in Wheeling, West Virginia, hometown of Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Health Care/Liberty Village Ford), but it does have a race in suburban Indianapolis, not that far from the RFMS Racing shop.
So Saturday's Herr's Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway is the best version of a home game Braden will get in 2019.
"Having a home track race is really a foreign concept to me, and I have had a lot of fun being able to call Lucas Oil Raceway my home track for the past few years," Braden said. "RFMS Racing's shop is just a few minutes from the track. Growing up in West Virginia, I was used to at least a two-hour drive to even the nearest track. Typically much further yet. While the short drive is extremely convenient, probably my favorite part about this home track race is that I get to race in front of a lot of my peers from my daily life here in Indiana. That's something I've never experienced before, and it's adrenaline-filling. I now know why they call it the home field advantage."
Racing at Lucas Oil Raceway doesn't just mean racing close to home for Braden, it means returning to the site of his first career ARCA Menards Series win, which came in his series debut in 2015.
Driving for his own family-owned team, and with a budget that only guaranteed them just that race, Braden used well-timed pit strategy to have fresher tires at the end of the race and he passed William Byron, at the time an ARCA rookie driving for Venturini Motorsports but now an established Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver for Hendrick Motorsports, with 21 laps to go.
It was perhaps one of the most surprising wins in recent ARCA Menards Series memory, and no one was more surprised at the time than Braden.
"To be honest, even now, years later, at times people will randomly bring up that race and I kind of forget that it was an actual thing that really happened," Braden said. "It didn't seem real then, and it doesn't seem real today. First-time winners are not extremely uncommon in the ARCA Menards Series, but it was nearly unheard-of that a first time winner wasn't driving for one of the big powerhouse teams, let alone a family-owned-and-operated team that had zero experience.
"When I tell you that we had no idea what we were doing, we had no idea what we were doing. HI had to buy a new HANS device at the track because I didn't know that they went out-of-date. The whole process of preparing for the race, and the entire raceday, were just a total cluster. Oh, and not to mention, we put basically our entire budget for the entire season into running just this one race. I think it was really these realities of the backstory that made it so surprising for everyone. It just wasn't supposed to happen. I'm so thankful for the steps ARCA had just recently taken to bring the spec Ilmor engine into competition, which really was the puzzle piece that made it feasible for us. And I can never forget to mention Matt Weber, who was our crew chief and made the perfect call at the perfect time and truly made the magic happen."
Braden, a graduate of West Virginia University with dual degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering, now drives for long-time ARCA team owner Don Fike. The team, located in Brownsburg just outside of Indianapolis, has just two full-time employees: Braden and Casey Swift. Crew chief Jim Long is in regular communication with Braden throughout the week and joins the team at the track.
Despite the long odds, the small RFMS Racing team has stood toe-to-toe with the series powerhouse teams and has acquitted themselves very well. Braden currently sits fourth in the ARCA Menards Series championship standings, just 110 points out of third.
As a two-time ARCA/CRA Super Series late model champion, Braden knows how to get around short tracks. He's finished second five times in ARCA/CRA competition this season, and is a former winner in late model competition at Lucas Oil Raceway as well. That gives him a lot of added confidence heading back to one of his favorite tracks.
"I have a lot of confidence at LOR," he said. "It's been a great track for me. There seems to be a very select few guys that ever find success here, and I feel blessed to have been one of those few over the past five years. It's probably the single most tactically challenging tracks on the schedule, and that gives really anyone a great chance to make things happen. Back in the 2015 race, we actually went a lap down briefly during that race before making the comeback and winning."
The Herr's Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway is set for Saturday October 5. Practice starts the day's activities at 2 pm ET, with General Tire Pole Qualifying at 5 pm ET. The 200-lap main event, scheduled for live broadcast MAVTV, will go green shortly after 8 pm ET. ARCA for Me members can access live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For more information, please visit TrackEnterprises.com.
-ARCA Racing Series Press Release
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo