NASCAR Cup Series
Larson, Elliott Spending Off-Season Doing What They Love Most - Racing
Nov 20, 2021
Travis Braden has entered the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals and the 2019 Snowball Derby winner is taking Racing America along for the ride over the next two weeks.
The 27-year-old from Wheeling, West Virginia is Tulsa Expo Center bound and will drive a Racing America sponsored Dirt Midget out of the Team Ripper stable operated by Steve Reynolds and Flea Ruzic next week.
The next seven days will be important to the first-time dirt racer as the ARCA Racing Series winner and two-time CRA Super Series champion will prepare for the event by turning countless laps on iRacing before a Friday trip to Millbridge Speedway in North Carolina to test a Micro Sprint.
Braden will unload in the ‘Oil Capital of the World’ on Sunday afternoon for one of the five qualifying days that will determine his starting position on Saturday morning (Jan. 15) for the famed alphabet soup. Along every step, Braden will chronicle the journey on Racing America through its expansive editorial, social media and video platforms.
The decision to enter the event began with a tweet.
"Walkapedia tweeted a few weeks ago that West Virginia was one of 13 states that didn't have a Chili Bowl entry and one of my followers tagged me and said I should go. I thought, 'I'm not afraid,' and sent out a tweet that said I was interested, and things started to happen pretty fast. It's nowhere near as expensive as the pavement stuff and once we got some initial funding, I started to think about how we could create value."
Enter Racing America.
What is now Racing America has covered Braden’s exploits for over a decade. The website was there for his CRA All-Stars Pro Late Model debut and for his CRA Super Series championship seasons in 2013 and 2014.
Racing America was there in 2015 when he won at Indianapolis Raceway Park in his ARCA Racing Series debut and it covered his Winchester 400 triumph in 2016. And of course, Racing America broadcasted his Snowball Derby victory in 2019.
"To do it with Racing America is special because it says a lot about what they’re trying to accomplish with the rebrand," Braden said. "Even though they’re not the broadcaster for the Chili Bowl, they still want to spotlight it, tell those stories and support a team.
"They have meant a lot to my career over the years and it’s cool to me that I can be part of it is we spotlight one of the biggest races of the year."
RTA Media and Racing America president Colin Smith says a collaboration with Braden for the Chili Bowl was a natural fit.
"We are really excited about sponsoring Travis on this journey," Smith said. "What a fun way for us both to get involved in such an incredible event. Travis has been a great friend of Racing America and the team here for many years, and we are happy to ride along with him. We are obviously big supporters of the short track racing community at large, and this is another way for us to continue to give back."
Braden has no experience on dirt.
He watched as Chase Elliott made his Midget debut last year in advance of the Chili Bowl and followed Kyle Busch as he made his first trip to the Tulsa Shootout. Braden knows he faces a steep learning curve, but that’s part of the appeal.
"Honestly, that's all the more reason to do it," Braden said. "There's kind of no expectations. No one knows what to think about it. I certainly don't. So, anything will exceed expectations, right? Or I could go into Turn 1 and flip into the grandstands, but I hope not."
At the same time, Braden says he's oddly comfortable in trying new things. He won in his ARCA debut at IRP and says his first starts in a Pro and Super Late Model were 'oddly straightforward' experiences.
"Throughout my career, the first time I get in a new car or new track, my first experience has often gone better than a lot of my follow-up trips," Braden said. "I actually feel way more comfortable than I probably should."
No matter how it turns out, Braden just wanted to have a new experience and have fun while doing it. He didn’t race as often as he wanted in 2021. He also wanted to represent pavement short track racing on one of the biggest stages in open wheel dirt competition.
"It's a big ask because it's dirt," Braden said. "But it's a race where a lot of people are paying attention. There has always kind of been a dirt versus pavement stigma, maybe not as much these days, and I want to contribute to bridging that gap too.
"I don't think of it as, 'oh, I'm a Snowball Derby winner going to the Chili Bowl,' but I do want to show that we're all racers and we do the same things at the end of the day and that we care about the same things even if we do it a little different. But I do know people will be watching me because I have a background people are familiar with and I want to be respectable."