Almost 400 Drivers Have Entered the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals
Jan 5, 2022
To know where the line is, Travis Braden first had to cross it, and it’s better to do that on Friday night at Millbridge Speedway than Tuesday at the Tulsa Expo Center.
The 2019 Snowball Derby winner turned his first official laps on dirt in a Micro Sprint owned by Mike Carber in advance of his debut appearance in the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. All told, Braden made nearly 100 laps around the 1/6th-mile.
It took about dozen laps for Braden to feel confident with staying in the throttle -- which runs counter to everything he has ever done in a Super Late Model or ARCA Racing Series car. But once he got comfortable staying on the loud pedal, the challenge then became throttle response and reading a surface that was constantly changing and proved to be radically different in Turns 3 and 4 than on the other side of the track.
Braden looped it around twice in 3 and 4 and grazed the wall on his final run in Turns 1 and 2 -- all part of pushing himself and the car closer to where he needs to be before arriving in Tulsa.
"Definitely learned a lot," Braden said. "It became obvious that (you put more throttle in it) when you feel like you're about to make a mistake and hit the wall, which runs counter to my instincts in a pavement car to lift."
Braden says he's always known that from watching on TV or in person, but it took some laps to mentally adjust from inside the car.
"You feel like you're going to crash or hit the wall, or do something wrong," Braden said.
Carber, who works as a front-end mechanic for Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 9 team in the NASCAR Cup Series, was especially helpful in coaching Braden through his first laps. Carber also operates a driver development program during the week at Millbridge and is well regarded as one of the best coaches for drivers new to the discipline.
His brother Brian is a Sprint Car racer who won the 2020 Keith Kunz Motorsports Giveback Invitational at Millbridge to earn several starts with the most prominent team at that level. The Carbers were also working with NASCAR Truck Series contender Tyler Ankrum and 2016 CARS Tour champion Cole Timm on Friday night.
Of note, Timm’s father is also a longtime mechanic and engineer at Hendrick Motorsport, so there were no shortage of smart people around Braden at Millbridge.
"It was great working with Mike Carber." Braden said. "He told me at one point -- go out there and go wide open and I don't think I would have done that on my own.
"I think I went out five times, first time was absolutely terrible, and started to feel comfortable at the end. I was in the gas the whole length of the track, where before, I was lifting a lot. I need to get more throttle, more percentage of throttle, but for the first time out, I was happy with it."
All told, Braden was happy to have taken a test day in a Micro Sprint, because he needed to go through the ringer on Friday as opposed to Monday and Tuesday in Tulsa.
"I would have been very nervous if I had waited until Monday, but now it will be a fun excited nervous," Braden said. "We're going to go home, pack our bags and get going. I can't wait to get there and get fitted in the car. I'm really excited to see the Expo Center and experience all of it."
Braden will drive a Racing America sponsored entry out of the Team Ripper Stable operated by Steve Reynolds and Flea Ruzic. He will get practice time on Monday before his Tuesday qualifying race effort. Since his assigned night is Tuesday, that also means he will get to hot lap before his heat races too.
So, his Friday track time will roll right into laps on Monday and Tuesday.
"I had a false sense of confidence," Braden said of going into the week. "I got kind of woken up a little bit tonight. But I got that confidence back at the end. We're not going to go out there and win the Chili Bowl but coming here was really important.
"Now I can go there and have fun, be really respectable and do a respectable job, and show well for Racing America, Circle Track Wearhouse and everyone that is supporting us. But most importantly, just enjoy a show I've been watching at home for a long time."