Bubba Pollard, Stephen Nasse Come Up Empty Handed in the Derby Again After Late-Race Tussle
Dec 4, 2023
2019 Snowball Derby champion Travis Braden scored an impressive third-place finish in his return to the Snowball Derby. It was an emotional evening for Braden, who not long ago felt his days of running the Derby were over.
For a guy who not long ago felt his days racing cars were over with, Travis Braden sure did make an epic return to the prestigious Snowball Derby Presented by Hooters and Safe Locator on Sunday evening as he came home with a solid third-place finish.
Braden, the 2019 champion of the Snowball Derby, has a knack for finding his way to the front in the biggest Super Late Model event of them all. He found a way, against all odds, to do it again.
"A lot of hard work," Braden said of the effort after the race. "These guys stuck with me. I tried my best to stick it out. I hadn't been in a race car much over the last three or four years. It feels really good just to be back."
It was a hard-fought podium finish for Braden as he nearly fell from the lead lap multiple times throughout the 300-lap marathon. However, the racer was able to keep himself in contention.
"Man, I mean it was a little bit better starting spot than usual, but we just really honestly struggled," Braden explained. "The first 20 laps of a run, we would get so far behind almost back to the leader, and then we could kind of run with them and run a decent pace. Not quite what we needed, I think, to start the runs. We dialed it back in there towards the end. I think that's why once we got track position, we were able to keep it at the end."
When a massive pileup ensued with 18 laps remaining, Braden was able to steer clear of the chaos.
With Braden inside the top five, Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse crashed while battling for the lead with seven laps remaining. This moved Braden into third, where he would finish the event.
As Braden drove his No. 21 Jett Motorsports entry back to the room of doom for post-race technical inspection, he was greeted by his longtime girlfriend Jess Ballard. While Braden is a stoic individual, who rarely lets his emotion show, Ballard is the complete opposite. She wears her emotions on her sleeve, and you get a real sense of just how big of a deal this podium finish was for the driver through Ballard's tears in the tech shed.
The couple shared a moment, and hours later, Braden's third-place finish was confirmed by the inspection team at 5 Flags Speedway.
To be fair, Ballard's tears were justified as it had truly been an incredibly long road to this Snowball Derby start for Braden.
The world was turned upside down for the up-and-coming racer turned 2019 Snowball Derby champion when Ballard was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021. While racecar drivers overall are a selfish lot, Braden chose to be selfless. With his girlfriend courageously battling cancer, the racer shelved his driving career and instead got a real job for the first time in his life.
It was a vastly different life, but Ballard says that Braden remained upbeat and steadfast in his support as she battled cancer.
Heading into the 2023 season, Braden landed a job within the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team in the NASCAR Cup Series, and by July, Ballard announced that she was officially cancer-free after nearly two years of battling.
Then, and only then, Braden pursued the option of getting back behind the wheel of a race car.
On July 21st, Braden made his triumphant return behind the wheel in the ASA Southern Super Series Kioti Tractor 100 at 5 Flags Speedway. Braden would finish eighth that day. As he prepared for the upcoming Snowball Derby, Braden competed in two additional ASA Southern Super Series races at 5 Flags, and he scored top 10 finishes in both races.
Braden was primed for his return to the prestigious Snowball Derby, and he would lock himself into the field with a solid 20th-place qualifying effort on Friday afternoon. Remarkably, it was the driver's best-career starting spot in the Derby.
After soggy weather washed out practice on Saturday, Braden put his head down, went to work in the race, and when the checkered flag was displayed he had scored his second top-three finish in his third-ever Snowball Derby start.
While nice guys often finish last, sometimes they also finish first. Sunday, at 5 Flags Speedway, the nice guy came home in third place, and that's not too shabby at all.
Photo Credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America