DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 13, 2017) - Travis Braden knows that if his race car driving dreams don't pan out, he's got nothing but great opportunities ahead of him. After all, the Wheeling, W.Va. native and recent graduate of West Virginia University is a hot commodity with dual degrees in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.
But Braden has a plan, and that plan still includes a steering wheel.
"I want to drive first," said Braden. "I don't even want to consider anything else at this point.
"I set a goal for myself three years ago when I was still in school...that when I graduated I was going to give myself at least two years to pursue all those things I didn't have the time for in college."
That all makes perfect sense but here's the crazy part. To be a full-time race car driver, Braden wants to drive as little as possible. Huh?
"It sounds crazy I know, but it's part of a plan I made for myself. I'd like to race as few times as I can...just enough to keep in the spotlight and stay sharp. I'd rather spend as much as possible on sponsors and marketing partners that I never had time for. Now I have all this free time to get things done...I don't want to spend all my time working on race cars. I want to work with sponsors. Now I have the time and I want to give it to them. If things work out, then yes, I want to drive as much as possible."
Now we're making sense. As it turns out, Braden is not only an extremely skilled wheelman with engineering smarts to boot, he understands the increasingly important marketing side...that without marketing partners, the race car dream can't get out of the gate...kinda like a potential Kentucky Derby winner with a broken leg.
That said, Braden's ready to come out of the gate in 2017. Braden will be making his first attempt at Daytona in Saturday's 54th running of the Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200 Driven by General Tire. And, as you might expect, he's bringing some new marketing partners along for the ride.
"We were fortunate enough to find some new help from the restaurant chain Quaker Steak & Lube for Daytona. We'll be talking afterward too. They're in Wheeling, where I'm from. The restaurant is located in the Highlands shopping plaza, and they're going to help us too, so those are the two new ones for Daytona."
Braden's car will also ride with sponsorship from West Virginia University, Platinum Express, Matheson Gas and Kolb & Son Excavating.
"West Virginia University, Platinum Express, Matheson Gas and Kolb participate in every race, and we're grateful to have them back again in 2017."
Braden is also grateful that his team has most of the Daytona car prep behind them. It's been a long and winding road since the Daytona test in January.
"We're doing pretty well, but it was a lot of work. It was difficult to get ready for this race, but that's the job we all assume when we do this."
Braden's car required a fairly large overhaul in order to be ready for the race.
"Essentially, the body was initially built pushing the rules too far. We knew that when we bought it, but we ran out of time to get it fixed in time for the test.
"Fortunately, after the test, we were able to work with it without completely rebuilding it. It may not be perfect, but it's as presentable as anyone else's. We talked to the officials every step of the way to do everything that's required and make sure we were going to be good, without ripping it in half and rebuilding it.
"The job of all these teams is to push the rules without going over. This car got pushed too far and we had to come back on it."
And that brings us back to Daytona.
"I'm excited. I've never raced at Daytona but I've tested three or four times. I'm actually pretty calm and comfortable. I may be a little nervous at the start, but I know we have a good car still and I know I'm going to be around a lot of good teams that will work with us. Like everyone else, our job will be to stay out of trouble and be there for the end.
"As far as the rest of the season, we're shooting for 10 races, primarily the live FOX races, but it's going to take a lot of help from a lot of different people to get to each individual race. If we finish good at Daytona, then we're going to Talladega. But if we wreck at Daytona, we won't be at Talladega."
Regardless of what happens at Daytona, Braden's still got his two-year plan in place.
"I have a plan for the next two years, and I'm going to pursue racing first. I'm not going to worry about what's going to happen after that, and see what happens.
"After that, I'll have plenty of opportunities no matter which direction I choose. But, first and foremost, I want to drive."
The Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona is live on FS1 Saturday afternoon, Feb. 18. Broadcast coverage begins at 4 p.m. Eastern. ARCAracing.com will feature live timing and scoring and live chat of all on-track activities, including practice Thursday and Friday and pole qualifying Friday afternoon.
Travis Braden is a two-time ARCA/CRA Super Series champion. He made big headlines in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards where he won in his series debut at Lucas Oil Raceway July 24, 2015. Braden also finished second to Ryan Reed in his career-first superspeedway race at Kentucky Speedway in late September, 2015 where he also hooked up with veteran NASCAR crew chief Tony Furr who will be atop the pit box for Braden at Daytona.