Travis Braden Declared Snowball Winner after Nasse DQed, Garcia 2nd, Butcher 3rdadmin
‘Wheeling Wheelman’: West Virginia’s Braden Wins 52nd Snowball Derby after Nasse DQ’d
By Chuck Corder
Travis Braden stood beneath the humming fluorescent lights in Victory Lane at Five Flags Speedway, cherishing the moment.
The 25-year-old’s smile was cheekbone-to-cheekbone, his excitement overflowing after a roller-coaster weekend at the 52nd annual Snowball Derby presented by BJ’s Wholesale Club.
All this when he and the rest of racing world thought Braden had finished second to Stephen Nasse at short-track’s 300-lap crown jewel.
Three hours – and plenty of back-and-forth over the scales in technical inspection – later and Braden’s happiness had morphed into elation. Nasse’s win was up in smoke, disqualified for a titanium violation with his brakes.
“The brake calipers had titanium brake caps over the pistons in the calipers,” Snowball Derby technical director Ricky Brooks told Speed51 of the ruling. “That’s a distinct no-no in the rule book. It says blatantly, in black and white, no titanium allowed anywhere on the car. There are other parts of the rulebook that specify you can put titanium valves or whatever. That part of the rulebook states that you cannot have it on the race car.
“There’s a reason they were there. They don’t hold the heat. They were drilled to keep from holding the heat going into an aluminum piston and aluminum caliper. There is an advantage to it. Did it help (Nasse) in this race? Who knows. It’s like any other DQ we have. It’s all about the rulebook. If we don’t go by the rulebook, we stand for nothing.”
Track officials took the Tom Dawson trophy – topped with that legendary snowball – and awarded the hardware to Braden.
Braden is the first driver since Erik Jones in 2011 to win short-track’s most prestigious Super Late Model race in his first crack. He failed to make the show in 2014.
“It’s incredible,” said Braden, the 25-year-old driver from Wheeling, WV. “The whole year, this team has worked and worked, and I can’t even begin to describe what this means.”
That Braden had climbed to the podium, at all, was an impressive feat. He somehow survived the most stressful seconds in motorsports Friday when he qualified as the last of the 30 cars to lock themselves into the field.
That meant Braden, who earned a dual degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering from West Virginia University, avoid the white-knuckling tension of battling through Saturday’s last-chance race.
The “Mountaineer,” who became his state’s first Derby winner, grinded from the back of the pack as Casey Roderick, Jeff Choquette, and Ty Majeski all took their turns out in clean air after pole sitter Derek Thorn surrendered the lead to Choquette on Lap 43.
Then, with the race in overtime – exceeding the customary 300 laps – Braden thought his shot at history had unraveled. With two laps left, and three-wide racing happening all around the famed half-mile asphalt oval, Braden and two other drivers collected each other.
“I thought we lost our chance at a good finish,” Braden said.
Instead, he restarted and clawed his way back to edge Jake Garcia for the runner-up honors before Nasse’s disqualification.
With the 14-year-old Garcia – under the watchful eye of Ricky Turner, the past Derby winner both as a driver and crew chief – inching to second, Cole Butcher rounded out the podium in third.
“I’m proud of everybody that helped out,” Garcia said. “I just couldn’t get it done. Hopefully, we’ll get it next time.”
For Braden, he doesn’t have to wait.
His week certainly wasn’t smooth, full of potholes along the way, including being involved in a crash during Friday’s practice.
But, like all champions do, Braden rebounded to overcome adversity staring back at him through his windshield. He put himself in a position to create a moment, a memory, a chance to etch his name alongside racing royalty.
It’s Braden’s to cherish for a lifetime.
Here is the official order of finish: