As Travis Braden carried the Tom Dawson Trophy across the infield at Five Flags Speedway Monday night, he was unsure about the emotions he was feeling. Just minutes after being declared the official winner of the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby, the feeling of winning the most prestigious Super Late Model race in America hadn’t fully sunk in.
Braden inherited the victory in post-race technical inspection after apparent winner Stephen Nasse was disqualified for having titanium in the braking system of his No. 51 Super Late Model. While Braden would have preferred to celebrate in Victory Lane, he was enjoying every moment as he held the most coveted trophy in Late Model racing.
“What does it mean to hold this trophy? I really don’t know, but in all reality, it’s one of those moments where I do know. It feels very special, but I can tell it’s going to feel more special with a little bit of time,” Braden told Speed51. “It stinks that we couldn’t have won the race outright, but I know these guys won the Snowball Derby. We brought a car here capable of winning this race outright.
Making the trip south to Pensacola for the first time since 2014, the Wheeling, West Virginia driver’s path to a Snowball Derby win featured many ups and downs. His weekend took a turn for the worst on Friday afternoon when he was involved in a practice crash with another competitor that heavily damaged the right side of his No. 26 Super Late Model.
“We had to replace an entire suspension on our car on the right side, we had to put a body on it, we thought the frame might have been bent, the front clip,” Braden explained. “We weren’t able to check properly to know. To have gone through all of that, we showed up off the trailer a top five or top 10 car, no questions asked. We almost don’t make the race because of it. It’s cool to just have the opportunity to even race here.”
After working intensely on the car prior to qualifying, Braden made it to pre-qualifying technical inspection just in time to make the grid for Friday’s time trials. With only the top 30 drivers locking themselves into the show, Braden qualified 30th as the last man in the show.
Rolling off from the outside of the 15th row, Braden bided his time throughout the 300-lap race Monday evening and put himself in position to take advantage of situations late in the race.
First, it was a chaotic late-race restart that eliminated contenders such as Ty Majeski, Jeff Choquette and Casey Roderick. Then, it was the technical inspection area where Braden received the news that he was the winner of the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby.
“Things didn’t go our way and it kind of hurt our chances because of where we had to start the race. I think we showed all day long to everybody sitting in this facility that we could’ve done it outright,” he said. “You know what? I think for that reason it’s going to be the biggest thing on our list to do is to come back and win this thing outright one time. My racing career at this point I would consider it completed.”
As Braden celebrated his victory with crew members, family and friends, he couldn’t help but feel for Nasse and the Jett Motorsports team as they received the news that they were disqualified.
“I felt heartbreak, honestly. I couldn’t imagine being in that situation. It wasn’t like whatever the disqualification was for was something that was probably performance altering to an extent that would have dictated the race differently. I was thinking a lot about how that team and he was probably feeling and how much that would stink. I was kind of putting myself in their shoes a little bit at that point. Of course, you couldn’t help but think about the fact that we earned a second-place finish and we were by default going to be the winner if that was the case.”
Following technical inspection, 14-year-old Jake Garcia was credited with an impressive runner-up finish. Nova Scotia native Cole Butcher, who was driving for Donnie Wilson Motorsports, was bumped up to third in the official results. Jesse Dutilly and Preston Peltier completed the top five.
To watch a full video replay of the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby, click here.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Content Manager – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com