Prior to the start of the 2014 season, Travis Braden was looking for someone to help him work on his cars while he continues to work on his mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering degrees at the University of West Virginia. Through a friend, he connected with two-time ASA champion and two-time Snowball Derby winner Gary St. Amant.
The Braden/St. Amant combo won two races this year in the ARCA/CRA Super Series powered by JEGS, which led to the driver’s second series title. Now the combo are getting ready to compete in the 47th Annual Snowball Derby on Sunday, December 7th at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, an idea that the two talked about at their first meeting.
“Gary brought it up right away when we first met, it has been his focus all year long,” Braden said. “Gary thought that the Snowball Derby would be the perfect race for me. First day I met him, that was the one thing he wanted to do, go to Snowball and win it.”
Getting to the 2014 edition of the most prestigious asphalt Super Late Model race has always been a personal goal for Braden.
“It hasn’t been in our budget for the past couple of years, but we are going to make it happen this year,” Braden said. “We want to go to the big races like this and try to win it.”
The 20-year-old from Wheeling, West Virginia said that with St. Amant’s knowledge of Five Flags Speedway and with his mentorship, he feels confident about making his first Derby.
“I learned from Gary how to run a 400-lap race at Winchester,” Braden said. “He taught me how to stay calm in a long race. When we get to Five Flags, our first goal will be find the speed, make the show and the be there at the end of the race to challenge for the win.”
St. Amant helped Braden defend his 2013 ARCA/CRA Super Series powered by JEGS championship with two victories this season.
The first of the two had a special meaning for both of them.
The first win came on August 2nd at Columbus Motor Speedway in Columbus, Ohio, a sentimental place for both the driver and crew chief.
“I was still getting to know Gary, as we only have been together for four to five months, and still didn’t know a lot about him,” Braden said. “ I know he wanted to get back into racing after his father, Bud St. Amant, passed away earlier this year. The race was named after his father, so I knew it would be a special race for him. It was also a special race for me as well, since Columbus is basically my home track. We brought over about 50 family and friends on a bus for the race.
“The way how the race went, it wasn’t an easy win. We had some neat scenarios play out and then we won. I didn’t realize how emotional it would be for everyone there. Many of the fans have followed the St. Amant family for generations, along with our respective families there as well. It was the first win for Gary since Bud passed and it was our first win together.”
A couple of weeks later, they would get their second win at Flat Rock Speedway in Flat Rock, Michigan. The two followed up with a great Winchester 400 weekend by winning the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour race and the second-place finish in the 400-lap CRA event.
While Braden continues to look for that first Winchester 400 win next year, his focus now is making his debut in the 47th Annual Snowball Derby on December 7th at Five Flags, where St. Amant won the event in 1992 and 2000.
Braden also plans on running the All-American 400 on Saturday, November 1st at the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. He said if his car were to be in good shape after the race, they would also plan on running the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 on Snowball Derby weekend.
“We didn’t put a lot of focus into our Pro Late Model car at Winchester and we still won the race. If we are going to go down there, might as well have some fun with that car and get some extra seat time.”
Braden is not too concerned about seeing Five Flags Speedway for the first time during Derby week. He said that he is already doing his homework by studying video online of how to get around the track along with his conversations with St. Amant.
Braden has a career goal to be a full-time driver where he can make it a living and not struggle to get by. He hopes opportunities like running the Snowball Derby will help him on his future plans.
“My goal is to get to a point where you have gone up through the ranks and you get to one rank where you can’t win. I haven’t reached that goal yet, and so far I have shown that I deserve a shot to the next step.
Braden already has an impressive racing resume with track & series championships, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Rookie of the Year honors, wins and more.
A Snowball Derby win on that resume may get him to that next level.
– 51 Sports/Snowball Derby press release
– Photo credit: Speed51.com