WHEELING - Wheeling resident Travis Braden started racing go-carts when he was 8 years old because his parents thought it was safer than the all-terrain vehicles he used on the family farm.
He's since graduated to racing "super late model" stock cars and even has sponsors. But what he really wants is to hit the big time - NASCAR.
"It would be a fun life - to make a lot of money at your job and it be fun," he said.
Wheeling resident Travis Braden, 18, prepares for a race.
Braden, 18, is a sophomore engineering student at West Virginia University. He picked the major because he believes it will help him in his future racing career, whether he's behind the wheel or behind the scenes with the team that keeps the car running.
But getting to drive is what he really wants. Some people, he noted, think motorsports involves just driving in circles, but there's more to it.
"Watching it on TV doesn't do it justice. There's nothing like being in the car," Braden said, noting as a "super late model" driver he races at speeds of up to 130 mph on half-mile tracks.
"In the middle of the race you're pretty calm. By the end of the race your adrenaline is rushing in. You feel like everything is louder and every lap feels faster. ... And it keeps going up until the race is over," he said.
Braden said he has been involved in plenty of accidents, but none that he caused himself or any that were too serious. Though he does have some fears, it comes with the territory.
"My biggest fear is just fire. I'm scared of burning," Braden said, noting getting trapped upside down is a scenario he's thought about. "But it doesn't happen very often. These days the cars are pretty safe."
As a child, Braden enjoyed watching NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon race.
"I taught myself from his style. ... It would be cool if I got the opportunity to race him. If I beat him I would rub it in his face a little bit," Braden said, adding one of his new favorite drivers is Brad Keselowski.
On the topic of driver Danica Patrick, Braden is not sure what the fuss is all about. He's been racing against females for years. And he doesn't believe Patrick being female and a NASCAR driver is anything special.
"I haven't seen anything good out of her yet," he said.
Braden noted the biggest obstacle to becoming a NASCAR driver is finding a financial partner, a company willing to sponsor him. But he believes if he does well at some bigger races, he can potentially land someone to help him.
While Braden currently has financial support from about 10 local sponsors, including his parents, Don and Rhonda Braden of Wheeling, he noted it is too expensive to practice often.
Typically he will practice the weekend of a race. And in the meantime, he uses an online race simulator. And as far as conditioning is concerned, Braden said he does some strength training during the off-season. But the best workout is racing itself.
"There's nothing at the gym that's any better than that," he said. "People don't realize how mental and physical it is. It's like any sport, like football or basketball."
Most of the tracks he competes on are located in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia and South Carolina.
Last December, he got the chance to drive, not race, on the Daytona Speedway where his top speed was 180 mph during the Automobile Racing Club of America's open testing event.
In 2011, he was named the NASCAR Whelen All-American National Rookie of the Year.
He also was named the 2011 Rookie of the Year by Jostens Standings.
His next competition, the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, is slated for April in Richmond, Va.