WHEELING - Wheeling's Travis Braden is busier than ever today as he continues to balance his racing career and his school work while pursuing a mechanical and aerospace engineering degree at West Virginia University.
Braden hopes his continued success in NASCAR's ARCA/CRA Super Series late model racing division may one day provide him with a shot at driving a "Cup Car" on Sundays.
From the time he was just 8 years old racing "Mini-Wedge" go-carts at the county fair, Braden, the son of Don and Rhonda Braden of Wheeling, has had the competitive spirit that keeps him raising the bar. Braden, who achieved a 4.0 grade point average at WVU in 2012 while working toward his engineering degree, said he eventually would like to move up to the next level in NASCAR racing.
Wheeling’s Travis Braden races his West Virginia University-themed late model car in one of NASCAR’s ARCA/CRA Super Series late model races this year.
After being named the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series late model national Rookie of Year by Jostens Standings and finishing 12th in the overall national standings that year, Braden went on in 2012 to place fourth in the championship standings in the ARCA/CRA Super Series division and bring home the Rookie of the Year title again.
"This year's really good. ... We have been consistently running for the win every week," said Braden, who is leading ARCA division by 140 points and has several wins and a few second and third place finishes in 2013.
Braden said there has been a bit more of a learning curve while competing in the ARCA/CRA division, as he has found himself traveling to many more racetracks scattered over several states, including Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.
As for juggling his classroom and racing schedules, Braden, a sophomore at WVU who currently lives on campus, admits scheduling can be a bit challenging at times.
"It's a lot of work to keep up with that (racing) and go to school. ... It's hard to balance the time, and I have to miss a couple of Fridays here and there," said Braden, who races primarily on weekends. "It's been cool for me because a lot of times there (are) things that I learn from the technology of racing that (have) helped me in school ... and there are things in school that have helped me on the racetrack."
While Braden said he hopes to continue competing at a championship level as the season winds down - the final race is scheduled for mid-October - he admits one of his biggest hurdles in moving up in the car racing world is finding enough local and national sponsorship and advertising. He said while he continues to be extremely appreciative of the continued support he receives from local advertisers, he feels to move up to the next NASCAR Series level he needs to secure a national or corporate sponsor to help cover the tremendous costs associated with top-level racing. He said it would be extremely disappointing to have his racing career come to an end at this level solely because of the cost.
"The way I see it now ... to go higher ... the cost does go up exponentially - it triples or quadruples," said Braden. "At this point, most of the struggle now is spending a lot of time working on sponsorship. ... The biggest goal now is to maintain and keep building and really focus on the marketing part of it.
"I'm good enough to move on from here. I'm winning here, so obviously you want to see yourself go to the next level and see if you can win there. The top goal is the Cup Series, but if I'm not cut out for that, then that's fine, but I think I am. ... That's all I want is a shot," he commented.
While Braden's car is owned by Gary Estes of Miamisburg, Ohio, he decided to go with a West Virginia University-themed race car after the school was able to assist with some advertising. He said while the school is not permitted to sponsor his car, it is allowed to advertise. He said he feels a tremendous amount pride carrying the WVU logo and colors on his car.
"It's something that the school has never been involved with. ... It's cool, and I'm glad to see we're having a lot of success for them," he added.
Braden said everyone around him, including his parents, the car owner and the crew, have been extremely helpful and supportive in his endeavors.
"Everything that has happened to me has been because of somebody else caring and giving me little opportunities here and there. ... I think I have enough people around me that something soon is going to break through - 'til then I'll just keep working hard at it," he added.
Braden's racing career is marked with many displays at the Quaker Steak & Lube Restaurant at The Highlands in Ohio County. He continues to have many local sponsors, including his father's local towing company, A-1 Braden's Towing and Collision. He believes his no-nonsense approach and competitive spirit combined with the continued support of those around him will continue to breed success both on the racetrack and in the classroom.