Perspective Guides Braden into an Uncertain 2022

By Walker Polivka

Travis Braden is one of most talented racers who has not reached the top 3 major series of NASCAR (Cup, Xfinity, or Truck). Winner of the 2015 Reese’s 200 in the ARCA Menards Series, the 2016 Winchester 400, and the 2019 Snowball Derby, Braden has proven time and again that he can get the job done, both on and off the track. I had the chance to speak with Travis towards the end of 2021, and again in early 2022, on a myriad of topics. Read on below to read about Travis’ career in auto racing, his recent attempt at dirt racing at the Chili Bowl, a late model team that he formed with BJ McLeod, and how he is able to keep it all in perspective.

Q: Where are you originally from and how did you first become involved in racing?

A: So I’m from Wheeling, WV, and it’s not really much of a racing area, especially not outside of dirt racing. There’s a little bit of dirt racing around there, but not much else. And there’s not even a lot of that. And so really how I got into it was, as a kid, I had a little battery-powered four-wheeler from the time I could basically walk, and then when I was probably four, four-and-a-half, something like that, I got my first gasoline-powered four-wheeler and I just always for some reason kind of liked that stuff. I actually wanted to be a Supercross racer; that’s what I loved to watch on TV when I was really young. And eventually I got introduced to racing. I think, really how that happened was my dad went to the Daytona 500. And when he told me he was going, I was like, “What, what is all that? What’s racing cars?” I didn’t know that was a thing at that age. So that kind of introduced me to it and it was just something I was always passionate about. I followed Jeff Gordon and I thought he was cool because he was the young guy and he had the cool looking car and the flames and all that. And it was just something that always really intrigued me. So it kind of led me down the path. We actually went to a couple of races with my four-wheeler. As a kid, we would go to some local fairs and stuff and just kind of poke around on it. Nothing too serious. But I really wanted to start doing it more. I was kind of asking my parents if I could do more of it. And they didn’t want to tell me no, but they also, I think, were a little concerned with the danger aspect of it. And I think because they saw that I was into racing cars as well and I followed that, they got me this go-kart—it was called a mini wedge. And they would race them somewhat locally around the Wheeling area, like Tyler County Speedway. There’s a little track called 339 Speedway in Marietta, Ohio, and a couple others, but that was basically it. That’s kind of where I got started actually racing cars and racing frequently. We probably raced 15 times in a year, maybe 20. And that was when I was eight years-old. So that’s kind of, you know, where I grew up and the geographics of it and kind of how I got into it the way I did. And I was really passionate about it, but it wasn’t something that I necessarily expected to turn into a big career, and I definitely can’t say I ever really pictured where I’ve gone today. So you know, it’s coming up on 20 years since my first go-kart race and it’s been a cool experience all the way through. It’s kind of neat to look back at how it all came to be.

Q: Who won Daytona the year your dad went down?

A: I think about this all the time because at the time you don’t really realize—because he kind of brought it up and told me, but I think he went in 1997. He might have gone before then, but I think that was the earliest I can remember, and I would have been four years-old, actually almost four years-old, just shy of four. In 1997, Jeff Gordon won and I’m pretty sure that’s kind of what got me hooked on Jeff Gordon as well because he won and his car looked cool and he was really highly talked about and everything. So I’m pretty sure the 1997 Daytona 500 was the first car race that I ever watched in my life. We’re pretty sure that was the first one and that was when Jeff Gordon won.

Q: Did you play any other sports growing up or were you just strictly an auto racing guy?

A: I did a little bit. I was actually pretty good at most sports. I wasn’t good at catching a football or anything, but outside of that I was a pretty physical kid. So when I was in grade school at some point, I think I did a couple games of soccer, but I didn’t really like it. And I don’t remember much about it. So I don’t think I did that very long. And then in middle school, I always liked football and I wanted to play that. And so in middle school, I played football all the way through. But you know, I had to miss some of that stuff for racing. And so it was pretty apparent that when I got to high school, I just would have to make a decision, and to me it really wasn’t even a decision. I just loved racing. So I didn’t play anything in high school at all. I was actually on the swim team a little bit, but I never actually competed. I just kind of would go to all the practices and stuff and just basically athletic training, kind of conditioning myself for racing was why I was doing it. But I wasn’t competitive in it.

Q: Do you think having that background in other sports made you a better athlete?

A: Yeah, I mean, across the board, I was always really competitive. And I was an only child, so I was kind of a brat in that sense. Like I just couldn’t stand being beaten at anything, even if it was a board game. I wasn’t having it, you know, and being an only child, my parents kind of spoiled me and never told me to quit being a brat about that or basically not putting me in my place a little bit. So I was kind of always invincible, and I never thought anyone could really outdo me in anything. And in a lot of ways that turned out to be somewhat true. I was always really good at what I was passionate about at least. But a lot of that’s just mental. You know, we see that with a lot of people in any competitive sport, or anything. If you believe in yourself, that’s a big part of it. And I became a little less self-centered and selfish as I got older, but I still have always realized that I need to stay confident in myself and that’s the most important thing. So in that regard, being competitive and doing other stuff 100% just transferred right over into racing.

Q: Now we’re going to get into the racing side of the sport. You’ve raced in several different series in your career, and you’ve raced several different types of vehicles. Walk me through some of the series you’ve competed in and some of the vehicles that you’ve driven. What are the major differences between them?

A: So when I first started at age eight, those were just little go-karts, and they weren’t much different than like a yard kart that most people might have had if they had a big yard or something. It had a five horsepower engine on it and it was kind of beefed up, but it had no suspension, it was very basic. And then I went from that into what was called a quarter midget, which is still a go-kart essentially. But these were way more competitive. They had four-corner suspension with shocks and springs and more power and they race these things all over the world, actually, and a lot across the country from the east to west coast, you know, from Maine to Florida. These things are huge and really popular. And so that was my first introduction to really truly competitive racing on a national scale. And I started out when I was 10 and that was kind of at like the go-kart level. Of course at that age, you’re not even old enough to drive a full-size car anyway. The go-karts started it for me on a very small scale. And then when I went to the quarter midgets, that’s what really introduced me to the competitive side like, “Hey, I want to try to pursue this as a career.” And I raced the quarter midgets until I was 13 going on 14 and kind of transitioned right around for my 14th birthday into racing what was called Legend Cars. And Legend Cars, they have a body on them that’s like, a 1930s model car is what they look like. And they’re like a half-scale or a third-scale. They’re kind of a smaller, not a go-kart, but they’re a smaller car. And they were really popular as well. Very well known. A lot of the drivers that you see now in the upper ranks of NASCAR have driven those when they were around that age as well. And, you know, at that age, it’s kind of like you’re transitioning into driving full-size cars, the thing had over 120 horsepower. We raced on a lot of tracks that we’ve raced on in stock cars, so pretty big tracks. And you’re up over 100 miles an hour on a lot of those tracks, so you know that was the introduction to that. They’re really hard cars to drive because they don’t have a slick tire like a stock car, and they don’t have a sway bar and certain parts of the suspension you can’t work on. So they’re really difficult to drive because you can’t really tune them the way that you would like. Then I did that for quite a long time. I was actually 17 before I really got to move on from those, and to be honest with you, at that point in time, that seemed like the end of the road. But that’s where things kind of took a really cool turn for me, around age 17. Because just financially, you know, my family could kind of barely afford to help me do that stuff. But when we wanted to move up into stock cars, it wasn’t even remotely close to being an option financially. And unfortunately, I didn’t have any sponsorship and not being related anyone in racing, not being connected or friends with anyone, there was just no options for me to draw sponsorship. And so I got really lucky. Somebody offered me a chance to race their car at a couple tracks in Ohio in the NASCAR Weekly Series. And so I did that for like two or three years and that’s what really propelled my career into stock cars. And so those were, you know, I still race those cars to this day. And those are wildly well known. They’re the same type of car that’s in the Snowball Derby, which I won a couple years ago. And you know, a lot of the NASCAR guys will still in their downtime come and race those cars, which are called Late Models. And so that was a big step. I got really lucky to have a car owner. We started to kind of help fund it to an extent, but we didn’t have to foot the whole bill, if you will. And that’s the only way that was possible. But there again, even once I broke into that level, which seemed like that was never going to happen, it definitely felt like that was going to be the end of the road for me. And I just enjoyed it while I was doing it and did that for a long time. But I never really saw any chance to go further than that because of the financial aspect of it. And we decided one year that, “Hey, let’s not spend so much money on those cars and let’s just save up and do one race in the ARCA Menards Series,” which as you probably know is owned by NASCAR and it’s a true national series that races at Daytona. They race all the NASCAR tracks and a lot of times they’re a part of the NASCAR Cup Series event weekend. And so it was like, “We need to get to that level.” And so, we can’t really afford it, but we could put all of our money for like an entire season into one race and barely afford it. So let’s try, you know, and that was in 2015. And that’s what we did. And I’ll be darned if I didn’t go and win my first race. And at the time I was going to school at WVU for engineering, and they had given us a really, really, small sponsorship financially, but it was huge in terms of visibility and what it did for my name and in my visibility as a driver because people noticed it and it stood out. And the story was very cool and unique, and people followed it. And so doing that first race was huge, but then winning it truly propelled me, you know, all the way through today really. That’s a breakdown of all the different cars I’ve raced, that’s everything I’ve done to date. And I’m trying really hard to break into the NASCAR world, but I haven’t done that yet. And so that’s kind of where I’m at right now.

Q: Walk me through that ARCA race. What sort of expectation did you have? What was the whole experience like?

A: I don’t think anything will ever be more of a story than that because really, to go forward in racing, to take so much sponsorship and stuff, nothing will ever really compare to that feeling and that story. And I’ll tell you why. And that’s because we decided, “Let’s take, basically, our entire budget for like a year, and it’s probably going to cripple us for like two or three years to do this, but let’s just try anyway.” And so we did that. It’s a long story, but I got some really cool support from Kenny Schrader to actually help me get a car that was Jeff Gordon’s and then became Chase Elliott’s and then we bought it directly from Rick Hendrick. And that was the car that I got for that race and that was big, and in part possible, due to Ken Schrader trying to help me out. And so we put all that effort into it and was like, “Let’s just focus on it.” And it’s like our last hurrah, you know, if something comes with it, then that was awesome, and if not, this is the end of the road anyway, so let’s just try. And so the expectations were hard to really manage because we were putting everything we could into it, and I felt really good that we had a great car and it would be fast. But also, you know, having no experience in those cars, having no experience on a radial tire, which is what they use, and I’m still racing on bias ply tires at that point. I’ve never done pit stops, so that race was the first time I ever pulled into a pit stall and did a live pit stop, never practiced or anything. And, you know, all these things. I was like, I always had this higher level of confidence than what I even should have. But I had this level of confidence that I could do it. But I knew that realistically, there was probably going to be a lot of things that would make it hard because these teams that are really well tuned in and they have drivers with a lot of experience in all this stuff are probably going to be so perfect. Because somebody out there will put a really good race together and it’s going to be hard to beat them, even if we are really competitive. So I realized that realistically, but I knew we could do something and hopefully be competitive and do something great that would continue the story and maybe help me get more opportunities. Throughout the race, I never really thought until like 10 laps to go that winning that race was even remotely close to being possible. I was leading the race, and in my mind, I still knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Because really, how we won the race, well, that was a pit strategy. And the only way it was going to work out for us is if the race went green flag with no cautions for like 120 laps, which is unheard of. And so I take the lead with 30 to go, maybe less. And I’m just in my mind, I just knew that it was just a fact that there was going to be a caution. And then at that point, I had no tires left. Everyone else was going to pit for fresh tires and my race was over, you know, and so I just knew that it’s cool that we’re leading the race, but our chances of winning are out the window. Then it was just, the laps kept ticking away and before you know it, I’m hearing the spotter say 15 laps to go and I’m kind of like, “This is going to be a real big bummer.” We’re going to get down to a couple laps to go and I’m going to lose instead of losing it halfway through. And then I hear 10 to go and five to go and I started to think about it all at once. I’m like, “Wait a minute, are you serious? This is going to happen?” And so I really had zero time to process it. My post-race interview always makes me laugh because I can just tell that I had no idea where I even was. Basically, I was just totally beside myself, just really not mentally able to ever prepare to do that in your first race. The way that we had to do it with building the car itself and it was a total personal effort. There was really no support from anyone, there was no technical support at all from anyone in the industry that was helping me get started. So it just seemed insurmountable at the time that it happened and I was not prepared mentally to do it. You know, I had confidence, and looking back, it was really weird because it didn’t sink in until much later. And a lot of times, people say that, “Oh, you do something big, when did it sink in?” But in a lot of other instances where I knew I had a shot to win a big race and I did, it was easy to enjoy it in the moment and let it sink in right there because I was kind of mentally prepared. But this race was definitely something that I was almost mentally not all there for a couple of days after that. It was very cool. Even more so because that car was raced by Jeff Gordon. I’m pretty sure if I remember right, he won Martinsville in 2005 off that car, and then Chase Elliott drove it. So at that point in time, in the ARCA Series, most of the cars were just an old Cup car, just like that one. Today, they’ve kind of changed and they’ve started building brand new chassis from the ground up specific for the ARCA Series. But back then, that’s how they mostly were. So to me, I remember just working on that car, like we built it from the ground up. And it was just so cool. Every time I even touched that car, looked at it, it was just the coolest thing, like, are you serious, you know, like I am going to get to drive this car? And just all that stuff was very neat and at the time I just definitely didn’t expect that.

Q: You won your first ARCA race in 2015 and you continued to race in ARCA for a couple years, correct?

A: Yeah, so we raced that one race and I got a sponsor to help me go to two more races that year at Kentucky Speedway and Kansas Speedway. I almost won Kentucky, which would have been even more mind-blowing because it’s an intermediate track. My first time on one of those types of tracks too. And I almost won too, it came down to like the last two laps and I finished second. And then we did two races in 2016. I think I only did one in 2017. And then I actually got an opportunity to drive. Someone hired me to drive full time in 2018 and 2019 for a really small team. They had a lot more overall equipment, but they were kind of more underfunded per race because when we did the race that I did myself, you know, we put a lot of money into just one race, and we made sure we had everything we could possibly need. And, you know, they weren’t able to do that every week in that deal. But I actually did that full-time for two seasons. And then I left at the end of 2019.

Braden after winning the 2019 Snowball Derby. Photo Credit:

Q: Okay, so now we’re coming into 2019. That was the year you won the Snowball Derby, correct?

A: Yep. So December of 2019. That was another one that was a little bit unexpected. But of course, a cool story. Well, I mean, I guess what was so was rewarding about it was, I’d never actually been down there and started that race. It’s always the biggest race on everyone’s calendar. And I was kind of getting to the point in the Late Model ranks to where I was kind of expected to be there and race for that race. But we just couldn’t ever financially afford it because it’s so expensive of a race. And so we went down there to try to do it. And, you know, we had a lot of confidence. We had a really good year that year. And we were kind of expected to do well. And we were like, a top three car all week long because we practiced for like, four days. And it was very apparent that we were going to be racing for the win in that race, which was huge. And, you know, we had confidence that that could be possible going down there, but once we got there, we were that fast. It was a really cool week. And so we thought we had everything just absolutely perfect. I was so happy with the car. It was driving the best I’ve ever had a car driving my whole career, which was so awesome being that it’s such a big race and it’s going to mean so much to have that good of a car. And its final practice, really on the fourth day of practice, and there’s two minutes to go in the last practice for the whole weekend. And I am coming off turn four and I’m completing a lap at the start-finish line. And as I come off turn four I’m like, “Okay, you know, I feel good, but I’m going to bring it to you this next time by in the pits and we’re going to call it a week,” you know, ready to qualify this car and race it on Sunday. And I crossed the finish line and I lift off the gas and there’s a car in front of me. And I could see him, but I wasn’t sure what he was really doing. He was really high up the track. So it seemed like he was out of my way. And as soon as I lift, all of sudden, and I kind of start to turn down into turn one, this car decides that he’s going to do a 90 degree turn right in front of me and come down the track and go into the pits at the last second. And so there was absolutely no way I could avoid him. I drove right into him, I actually went over his car. I hit him so hard that I went like, overtop of his car and completely destroyed our car. I thought for sure that it’s just going in the trailer and we’re driving home and our weekend’s over because we didn’t have a backup car. And it was pretty banged up and the chassis was actually bent, but we managed to put a bunch of suspension parts and body parts back on and kind of halfway fix it and just see if maybe it was decent still. And we went and we qualified into the race barely. 2/1000 of a second was what we qualified by. And so we start way in the back in like 30th or 31st and when the race starts off, I’m dead last. I’m 36th, like, I’m terrible. And it’s like okay, you know, kind of expected this after the car being wrecked and so we fought hard and we actually lost a lap and went a lap down really quickly. And then the first pit stop came up and we made some adjustments, put on new tires and all that good stuff, and all of sudden, the car just came to life again and I passed from last all the way to like sixth in one run. And now we’re like halfway through the race and I’m in the top 10. And then we just raced it the rest of the way out. And it was looking like I was going to finish second and I made the pass with eight laps to go for second place. And I was just emotional and ecstatic because I knew that we were faster than the cars I was passing. So I knew that we were going to finish second and to me that was huge. You know, that was a huge recovery and that’s a big statement. So I passed a car and for some reason, he decided to wreck me, he drove into the next corner and just drove right into the back of me and spun me out and wrecked me. And so now, here I am again. I’m like, you got to be kidding me. You know, we overcame all that and now we’re back in the back of the field, and the race is almost over. But there was no damage, I just spun. So we restart and oddly enough, everyone in front of me wrecks and somehow I squeaked through the wreck. And so we restart again with two laps to go on the race. I restart fourth and I drove around a couple cars on the outside and I finished the race in second. And you know, it was even more emotional at that point than it was a couple laps prior just because of what just happened. And so that was huge for us, just to finish second in that race was, you know, extremely emotional and there was a lot of tears and everyone was happy and very content with it. And so I didn’t actually win the race, I actually came in second. Then later that night in the tech inspection, the car that won the race was actually disqualified for not meeting the rules on a certain part. And so I was awarded the win. You know, it was like two o’clock in the morning, I think, when they finally declared me the winner of the race. So it was a very up and down roller coaster weekend, but now my name is on a really cool list of winners of a very special event.

Q: What was the thought process like when first you think you finished second and then a couple hours later you find out that you won? How does your mind flip and what’s your thought process at that point?

A: You know, honestly, like that was a little bit of a bummer. That probably sounds surprising to say but like, I knew that as soon as something like that happens, people try to discredit that a little bit in their head. And to me, we overcame having a really fast car all weekend and getting wrecked in practice, then coming from last to finishing second. Rightfully finishing second. And then the car that was dominating the race when I was initially in second place is the car that got wrecked on that restart that got me back to the front. And so the car that ended up winning and got disqualified, he wasn’t leading much of the race and he was really wasn’t that fast and wasn’t the dominant car of the race. He wasn’t going to win the race if it wasn’t for that wreck. So really, to me, it was a bummer to know that people were going to look at it that way because I just know how it goes. Because that meant everyone’s going to overlook what we actually accomplished, which was, getting our car wrecked, coming from last and then almost winning the race. I don’t care that we got the first place trophy, I want people to remember how amazing it was that we accomplished coming from last, finishing second, and then getting wrecked and coming back and still finishing second. You know, like that was an amazing story, finishing second. And so because of the way it all played out, and we ended up being the winners, like everyone just kind of discredited a little bit of the rest of the race because it was kind of like an anomaly. And so I really was honestly a little bit bummed that we won that race that way because I knew we could eventually come back and compete for the win the right way if I had just finished second. People would always remember that story and say, “Oh, you know, Travis had a really good car that came from last to almost win it. And he’s always really fast in his cars and, you know, could this year be his year?” And now it’ll never be that way. It’ll always be like, you know, “Oh, he’s already won it, so he’s never going to win it again.” But that story is never as big of a story as like, “Oh, he’s finished second he really wants to break through and win it now.” You know, that’s always the biggest storyline and so that kind of got taken away from me and there was nothing I could control. So in that way, I was bummed out and I’ll always want to go and actually finish that race first, rightfully, and win the race that way. I don’t know though that I’ll feel complete about that win until I go back and actually win it again the right way. So, I mean, it’s very cool. I love the fact that we were able to say that we did win the race, but with an asterisk on it, I guess.

Q: How much of an impact did winning the Snowball Derby have on your career? Did it open a lot more doors for you?

A: You know, I don’t mean to be somewhat negative, but it really doesn’t, unfortunately. You know, it always legitimizes you. But at that point, I’d already kind of been legitimized with that ARCA Series win, and I’d already won a lot of other big races and a lot of championships and stuff like that. So that was already kind of to that level. And that’s helpful because if you’re in a situation where you’re meeting with a sponsor and a team owner or something about racing, let’s say NASCAR, you need to have a good resumé. But at that point, realistically, that wasn’t really improving my resumé a lot. I was kind of already established as far as that goes. And so, at the end of the day, the sport is very financially driven, and it’s all based on sponsorship. No one goes to the racetrack, not even Jeff Gordon, unless there’s a sponsor helping him do it. And so unfortunately, in that way, like, it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes and ears to pay attention to me, if there is an opportunity for me to bring a sponsor, but just the landscape of, how things have gone in this country the last 10 years, it’s not very simple to go and draw in new sponsors. So I guess the way to put it is I get calls all the time of people wanting me to drive for them in NASCAR, and a lot of that is due to winning the Snowball Derby and all those other races, but none of that can ever come to fruition until we are able to generate sponsorship off of it. And unfortunately, winning the Snowball Derby doesn’t really help with that part. So it’s been great. I mean, it helped me. You know, I came to Charlotte shortly after—really directly after that race, I moved to Charlotte. My girlfriend Jess and I moved here and it opened some doors and people did give us some opportunities. We started a business, a small team, stuff like that. But as far as like, progressing the driving career, unfortunately, it just really doesn’t help anymore like it used to because the team owners can’t fund it themselves. They have to have the sponsorship.

Q: Would you like to give a shout out to some of the sponsors that you’ve had in your career? If someone would be interested in sponsoring you, how can they get in touch with you?

A: My family is there in Wheeling and has always been a huge help and without them getting me started in racing, I would have never been able to do any of it. West Virginia University was the Travis Braden sponsor. You know, people think of me that up to that point, I had just been really lucky. I really didn’t have any sponsors. And again, the deal with them wasn’t necessarily massive, but it was huge in terms of visibility. So that’s always been a huge help. And I was always very thankful for the folks there in Morgantown that they gave me the chance. They were a little bit skeptical of the idea I think at first and it was a little bit nerve-wracking to know that some individual was going to go out and kind of have all this brand on him. And then if I do something dumb or make a dumb decision or I say something dumb, it’s a reflection on an entire state and an entire organization. So them giving me that chance was huge. That’s probably the single biggest thing that’s made a difference in my career. So huge thanks to everyone that was involved in that. And just across the board, all the people that gave me the chance to drive for them. That was the only reason I’m here. You know, we couldn’t have done it ourselves. So we needed all those people’s support. And realistically, to list the people’s names, it is probably over 100 at this point. So I could try to name them all, but thank you to everyone. As far as going forward, anyone that wants to try to help out, people do call sometimes and try to offer help in any way they can. You can reach out in several ways. My website is and my email address is That’s probably the easiest way or on all the social media platforms as well. So if somebody wants to follow me, they can do that. And that’s pretty much it. That’s the gist of it. That’s where the racing career kind of leads you to, where it becomes a business of trying to work with sponsors and build value for the sponsors. And so that’s kind of where it’s all resting right now.

Photo Credit:

Q: You most recently raced in the Chili Bowl. I want you to walk me through the whole process. How did the ride come together? How did you prepare? What was the week of the race like? How did the race go?

A: Yeah, so the way it came to be was kind of funny, I would say. I’m not a dirt racer. I’ve never raced on dirt besides go-karts when I was a kid, but it’s not really the same type of stuff. Somebody just—there’s a guy that publishes a lot of tweets about, you know, just information about the Chili Bowl and a lot of dirt racing, but he tweeted about how big the entry list was, and he stated on his tweet how there was like 13 states that didn’t have drivers entered, which was notable because that means there’s obviously a lot of states that did. And somebody pointed out on the tweet, you know, they kind of tagged me in there like, “Hey, would you ever consider this?” or something along those lines, and I was just in one of those moods where I was like, “Yeah, sure.” So I quoted it, and was like, “Yeah, I wouldn’t shy away from it if there was a way for me to do it. Anyone out there have any ideas?” kind of thing, and a few people right away started to come up with a couple of things and some people actually got with me privately and offered us a little bit of sponsorship support. So pretty quickly, it started to take shape because, obviously, it takes funding to do any kind of racing. It costs money. It’s not cheap. So that’s how I got started and it was like—the same day I already had figured out roughly what it would cost and then we had already had people commit to give us, I would say, 40% of what we would need. So at that point, I was like, well, now I have to take it seriously because this is substantial and it’s worth the time to figure out if we could get the rest of the support. And so I started to ask a few people and long story short, we worked it out. We made it happen. So we were able to get primary sponsorship from Racing America, which is a company that has promoted pretty much every bit of racing I’ve done for the last 10 years in the short track ranks and it’s actually now owned by the RTA, which is essentially an organization operated and funded by most of the NASCAR team owners and a lot of the drivers are involved in it. And their goal is to kind of have a private arm somewhere in this whole business, trying to influence the sport for the better. And so it’s really cool to have them on the car. We basically did it like a vlog style, where we did a lot of stuff on our individual social media profiles, but then we would do some special kind of exclusive stuff through them and the point was to share the story of somebody that’s been pretty accomplished in one side of racing that’s doing something very tough, with no practice and no experience in this totally different and totally new side of racing, the dirt style of racing. So that was really cool. That’s how that kind of came together and it was really cool for me to be able to do that because that was the whole point of it for us. It’s cool to be the one guy from West Virginia, and to do this kind of crazy thing and to go to the Chili Bowl, which is like the toughest and biggest race and with no experience and never even sitting in a dirt car before—I don’t even know how to fit in the thing, you know? And so to me, it was perfect to be working with a primary sponsor, a deal that like, could also be trying to tell that same story, so that was really cool. We worked out with a race team out of Illinois. They’re called Team Ripper and the crew chief’s name was Flea Ruzic, who’s a pretty respected guy in that side of the sport. It was really cool to work with him, and so we just basically went into it blind. I did get a little bit of practice in a micro sprint car, which is similar, but not too similar. It looks similar, they’re about the same size and they’re open-wheel cars, but quite a bit less power and a different tire and stuff like that. So I got a little teeny bit of dirt experience on the Friday before we left town to go to Tulsa for the Chili Bowl, which was really helpful, but again, it wasn’t quite the same thing. And then we went and really it was no expectations, the whole idea was to have fun and kind of share the experience and showcase how hard this is and how much this event means to so many people and just kind of share my view of how it all goes. And so it was really tough, the first day of the week everyone gets one round of practice, which is actually only about three laps. And I was absolutely terrible. We documented it all and shared it on social media and it was kind of funny to watch how bad I was at it. And then as the week progresses, you get more seat time and I got a little bit better. It was fun to watch myself, I feel like kind of improve, but also still not really have a clue how to do this. And then the big race day event was on Saturday and every one of the competitors actually gets to compete on Saturday. And it’s basically sort of like a tournament-style system. They call it alphabet soup because the A Main is the feature event, right? That’s the premier event of the day. And so you go A-B-C-D-E-F-G all the way down the alphabet and the slowest cars start first, in I think like the P or Q Main. And then you can transfer your way up if you finished high enough in your race. And if you transferred all the way you go to A Main, and that’s the big race that races on TV in primetime. So that’s how it all went. I transferred one round and I think that was in the M and I transferred to the L. So that’s about the middle of the road maybe? I thought it was kind of cool. I wasn’t the worst and I had never even done this before. So I thought it was interesting and kind of cool to at least make some improvements and be able to transfer on.

Travis practicing at the Chili Bowl. Video Credit: Travis Braden’s Twitter page

Q: You didn’t have a lot of dirt background leading up this race. What are the biggest differences between racing on dirt versus pavement?

A: The most obvious thing is just that you’re on a surface that’s slipperier and it’s not smooth, and it kind of moves and changes. And the way you drive the car is, you’re totally sideways and you’re actually turning to the right, even though you’re going in left-hand circles. It’s just a balancing act of keeping the car pretty far sideways, but just enough to where you’re kind of driving forward and making the corner at the most optimal speed and angle. So what I’m used to on the pavement stuff—it’s the same principle, but the thing about it is that with pavement—it’s surprising because it looks like you’re always just like totally stuck to the ground and you’re turning left, you never really turn to the right. And while that is mostly true, it’s not entirely true. Like you are actually still sliding in a pavement racecar, it’s just that that angle of—it’s called a pitch angle, like how much you have the car pitched sideways. It’s very small. It’s very challenging still, but it’s just a very small angle and you still are kind of still pointed kind of straight. Whereas on dirt, that slip angle—that pitch angle—is very, very drastic. You know, it’s probably 30 or 40 degrees versus, like, less than five degrees. So it’s really challenging. That’s the biggest difference, and that was the biggest part of the challenge is just that, for me, getting used to the perspective of sitting sideways like that—as soon as the car would start to rotate sideways, I wanted to naturally, because of 15 years of experience, I wanted to straighten it back out because that’s what I’m used to doing. That’s what I’m trained to do, you know, and what you actually have to do is the total opposite. You have to give it more gas and get it more sideways and then try to control that at the perfect amount of angle. And it was really hard. I could sit and watch the video of myself—I had GoPro footage on top of the car, I had people recording from the grand stands, and I could see exactly what I was doing and what I was doing wrong and what the good guys were doing right and how they were doing it. And I totally could kind of grasp it, but just to get in the car and apply it is much more challenging than what it would seem when you just sit there and watch. Everyone’s like, “Oh, you’ve just got to get the car more sideways before you get into the corner.” And I’m like, yeah, I know, I can tell when I’m on the track that I need to do that, but doing it is another thing. You know, I’m a really experienced racecar driver and I’ve done this for 15 years, but to expect me to figure out how to optimize that handle on the car is just not any easier for me than anybody else their first time. And so I thought it was really fun. It was entertaining to kind of see myself struggle, but also improve, and that was the toughest part. The biggest thing is that when you try to see it from the perspective of standing in the audience or just even on the cameras, like the GoPro cameras and stuff, it seems very simple to sit and look at it and you can see where you’re not getting the car sideways enough. But sitting in the car, you know, these cars are really small, you’re kind of crammed in there and just where you’re positioned and how you’re sitting in the car, you don’t have a lot of room to move your arms and stuff. It’s just very deceiving a lot of the time, and you’ll think, “Okay, I’m going to get the car more sideways,” and you’re trying to do it, and you either overdo it or you still don’t do it enough. And I only got three laps to practice and I was out on the track a couple more times after that. So again, I think I would obviously be a lot better with more seat time, but with very limited amount of laps, it’s very hard to say “Okay, I need to get it more sideways,” and then try to do it. You’re not going to hit it perfect, most likely, the very next try and it does just take a lot more time than you think. And with that, as you can tell, the dirt track is constantly evolving. So every single time I would get on the track, it was a totally different racetrack. One day it was really, really muddy and had a lot of grip, and then the next day, it was completely slick, it was like ice. And then on the following day, it was really rough and bumpy. It was kind of in the middle, like it wasn’t too muddy and grippy, but it wasn’t completely slick. It was just really rough and bumpy. So, three totally different tracks. And I’m supposed to figure out the basics, let alone figuring out how to adjust to these different style of tracks each time I go on. That’s the biggest thing, just it’s way different than asphalt.

Q: Do you think you’ll do more dirt racing in the future? Did this kind of light a fire in you?

A: Yeah, I mean, if I could go this weekend, I’d be at a dirt track for sure—I’d be at an asphalt track too, you know, but I do think that we probably will see me do more of it because it’s something that we could probably make happen more feasibly than the asphalt stuff. You know, all racing is expensive, but the cost to do this was actually way lower than what I would have guessed. And to do it a few times here and there, just at smaller events would be really not that bad—to the point where we could actually probably race with the right kind of sponsorship. Because asphalt has gotten so expensive, it’s like you have to have corporate national brands sponsor you because everybody else can’t afford it. Even if they thought it was a good deal, they just can’t afford the price tag. And this stuff is a little different. There’s room there based on what it costs to do some smaller stuff and make it all work, and it’d be a way bigger pool of sponsors to ask to do it. So for that reason, I think you’ll probably see me do some more because I think we can work through a couple of the connections that we built doing it this first time.

Q: Outside of dirt, do you have any other races on the schedule for this year?

A: I have zero. To be honest with you, I don’t have any and I haven’t really been working on—it’s just not really been something that is feasible. We don’t have any existing sponsors that we’re working with and with everything going on in daily life right now, it’s just not really cost effective to be working on that. It just takes so much time, it really takes a team of people to do it, honestly. So I don’t, but I do think, again, there’s probably a decent chance that I might be able to do something that is cost effective and go do a couple more dirt races this year, and we’ll just go from there.

Q. How much has your race prep changed in the age of COVID? What’s the week like leading up to the race? How do you prepare?

A: Well, honestly, I don’t think anything’s really changed because of COVID on that from the perspective of preparing for a race. The races were pretty much all stopped during the pandemic until there was enough freedom to go back racing the normal way. Because they couldn’t afford to host races when there weren’t fans and stuff. So nothing’s really changed. But overall, what goes into prep—you know, I’m a little different than most drivers where I’m kind of more involved. A lot of times, I’m the crew chief for myself. And if I’m not the sole crew chief, I’m always working directly with the crew chief and we kind of do it together as a two-person team and make decisions that way. But, it’s just kind of you looking at what event you’re going to, what the weather might be like, and kind of preparing all your setup, components and things for the car and things you can try in practice to see what handles better and what’s faster and stuff like that. And you know, a big part of being at a high level is making sure your car can withstand the test, right? So you’ve got to make sure all your components aren’t going to break. Nothing’s going to come loose and fall off the car, things like that. And just keeping track of all that stuff and making sure before you go to race that it’s all prepared the right way and that it’ll last for the whole weekend. And then I never really had the luxury of having a lot of free time to prepare myself physically and mentally. So I don’t really do anything special there. I try to eat a little bit less leading up to race weekend because I have a little bit of a stomach digestive issue. And so if I’m eating too much or too much of the wrong thing, it really messes up how I feel physically throughout the weekend, and that makes it tough. So besides that, I’m a pretty calm person when I go racing. I don’t need to have all this extra space to get mentally prepared before the race starts and I don’t really care that much if I eat a special diet or anything like that. Nothing too special. I just try to make myself feel relaxed and just do my normal stuff. My normal routines.

Q: Do you do any specific exercises to stay in shape or is it just kind of a whatever happens, happens, sort of thing?

A: Yeah, I mean, I’ll be really honest, the last few years I haven’t done any, you know, specific to racing, physical work at all. And I’m not saying I don’t want to and I shouldn’t be, but life has been hectic and I make that excuse because you can always make time for it. But you know, I’ve been wearing a lot of different hats and trying to do a lot of different things and just haven’t prioritized that. But, early in my career was when I was trying to make sure I built my physical ability up a little bit. A lot of it is endurance. People don’t realize, you know—driving a car like when you watch on TV looks really easy. But what’s hard about it is the sustained Gs that you’re under, and you’re trying to steer and throttle and brake and all these things under a constant sustained G-force. And so it’s a really unique, clever strength, but you don’t have to be massive in terms of your strength. But you have to have a lot of endurance. And also on top of that, a sustained load on your body and in your muscles because a lot of heat in the cockpit of the car can be over 130 or even close to 140 degrees sustained, and there’s not a lot of fresh air. So you have to really be focused on your breathing and your heart rate and all that stuff. So that’s why I swam and I always was really athletic and I was always doing stuff on the farm when I lived in Wheeling. And I was always a pretty thin guy and that was the key, was just being able to have a sustained heart rate and stuff like that for hours and hours and not have it affect you physically or mentally where you start to lose steam. If you ever do any sort of a racetrack test drive, sometimes you can do a ride along and all that, it’ll really surprise you how much stress it puts on your body just simply going through a corner on a racetrack with banking. You don’t realize that because when you’re watching on a camera, it doesn’t look like that.

Q: So every athlete, regardless of the sport, has a zone where they shift into tournament mode or into racing mode so they’re ready to go. Do you have a switch that flips so you know it’s go time, or how does that work for you?

A: Yeah, I mean, I think that I have a little bit of—I’m not diagnosed with anything, but I definitely have a little bit of attention deficit problems, and I was always really good at math and science and stuff because I could zone in on that. But I can’t read a book and remember the main character’s name. So I just can’t pay attention to things that are lasting longer than a few seconds. And I found that racing is great for me because everything you’re doing is a constant iteration. One second, one thing’s happening and in a matter of a split second, everything around you is totally different. You know, the momentum of your car and the cars around you and the position you’re at on the racetrack and all these things are constantly changing, and that’s perfect for how my brain works. And so I just naturally get into a zone, I don’t ever even consciously think about it. When I’m getting ready to race, I just am already in a zone as soon as I’m strapped into the car. Throughout the race, I’ve always felt like I’ve done a good job of staying really aware of what’s going on around me. You know, I ask my team and my spotter a lot of questions and get a lot of information about what the competitors are doing and how their races are unfolding around me so I can adjust what I’m doing to kind of, maybe, conserve a little bit of my car’s tires and stuff like that. And that’s really it. You know, it’s just being in the zone and being focused. And racing is a lot more of a mental game than what people give it credit, I think. But if you look at the top levels of the sport, you watch a Cup race—most of those races are won by crew chiefs being really smart about a decision they’re making. Yeah, you have to have a fast car and a good driver that’s consistent, but most of the time, they’re all that good at that level, you know? There’s 40 cars out there and they’re all the 40 best drivers in the world. So it comes down to being really smart, strategic, and that’s what is rewarded.

Q: What’s your favorite style of track to drive?

A: Honestly, people are usually surprised that I really like the mile and a half style tracks. I can get a really good sense for the different momentum that you can build and the different lines you can use. The aerodynamics come into a lot more effect, and I’ve studied aerodynamics for a long time and I understand them very well. And especially in the ARCA Series, most of the drivers don’t have that experience, which I didn’t either, but I really studied it, so I understood it a little bit better. And I like that aspect of it. It’s kind of like a game of chess, and I like what you can do on those intermediate tracks. It’s more about making a decision and not so much always just about being on the gas and on the brakes really hard, which is what the short tracks are all about. It’s just like, who can muscle the car to the corner the fastest is what the short tracks are all about and intermediate tracks are more of a finesse game.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about driving?

A: Oddly enough, to me, it’s not really so much about the driving part as it is just the competitive part. I don’t particularly—you know, if I was driving down the road in a cool sports car, that’s not super intriguing to me. It’s cool and all, but I don’t really have anything that stands out to me about it. I just like competing, and I like the strategic part of it.

Q: Let’s say they made you the President of NASCAR. You can do anything you want, make any changes to the sport at any level, anything at all. What would you do?

A: So there’s the technical aide and there’s the event and hospitality side of it. On the technical side, I think I would kind of change the way the cars are built, a little bit more back to where they used to be. You know, they’ve gotten a lot wider and more stable, the way that they’re trying to get more room between the driver and the door of the car for safety reasons. But I think I’d try to focus on what can we do to keep drivers safe and still make the cars narrow and really hard to drive. And I understand why people get upset about them taking horsepower away, but I really do understand that need going forward in the sport. So I’m not against that and I think that is okay to stay, but I would try to work on what can we do to reduce grip and stuff where, okay, we have less power, but the cars are still hard to drive. So those two things kind of go hand in hand. Because if you made the cars narrower, they’d be again much harder to drive, like they used to be. And then on the event side, I think that the way when I grew up around the sport, there was a lot more hospitality and activation and engagement with sponsors at the tracks. And that kind of got taken away. NASCAR kind of took control of that a little bit, took a little bit of power away from the sponsors and teams. And that backfired a little bit, so they’re trying to go back and I think they’re on their way back. So I don’t know that I’m saying there needs to be a change there, it’s just that it hasn’t unfolded yet. And I would make sure that that is continuing to come back because that’s what makes these events fun for people to come. That’s why 200-and-some-thousand people used to go to Daytona 500. They loved watching that race, but they also loved the whole experience that whole week. All the things they can do and see and people like me to talk to, and a lot of that has gone away. It needs to come back.

NASCAR Cup Series Schedule 2022. Photo Credit:

Q: So NASCAR has been playing around with the schedule these last couple of years. They’ve added a wider variety to the schedule. They’ve added some new tracks and taken some tracks off the schedule too. What do you think of the changes? Do you like having more variety on the schedule?

A: I do, for sure. I think overall, I have zero complaints with what they’re trying to do. I think some of what they’re doing, you know, it’s a process. They’re trying to figure out what they need and how much of what they need. I think some of it will fail and some of it will succeed and I think that was by design. They need to see and try things with the schedule to see what really does and doesn’t work. So overall, I think it’s good. The problem is that a lot of the tracks have long-term contracts because that’s how they used to be with scheduling. And so right now, it’s like, there’s a couple of intermediate tracks that really, unfortunately, they’ve been reconfigured and stuff or they’ve just been repaved and they’re just not good tracks anymore. And so they kind of need to go, unfortunately—but they can’t right away, so they’re trying to do the best they can working around that. And I think they’re doing a good job. They need to get more short tracks on the schedule. The problem with short tracks is most of them aren’t set up to host NASCAR-size events. They don’t have the SAFER Barriers and stuff like that. But I think that needs to become a priority. You know, NASCAR as a whole makes billions of dollars per year, and so they do have the funding to do that stuff. And so I just mean, overall, I think they’re going on the right track. I just hope to see them continue to invest in more short tracks, more unique tracks that don’t compare to anything else because if they can get a better combination of that type of stuff, it’s intriguing to tune if for each individual race. Because then it’s like, “Well, this is only once or twice a year that we get to see this, so let’s tune in and see how it goes this year.” When we go to 15 intermediate tracks, we’re used to seeing that every week and it’s just not fun.

Q: In terms of just being a watcher of the sport, what are your favorite races to watch? Do you enjoy watching the Superspeedway races or the intermediate tracks or short tracks? What’s your favorite to watch being a fan yourself?

A: In NASCAR right now, Bristol and Martinsville have become really good races again. I really do like them. And I understand totally why most people get bored watching them, but I loved Texas before it was repaved, it was one of my favorites. Atlanta has always been one of my favorites, but now it’s getting repaved and reconfigured as well. You know, those tracks are always really fun to watch. Now Fontana, out in California, in its current configuration, I think is just an amazing race to watch. And the road courses are always cool too because there’s so much more strategy and you have different drivers that are faster than how they usually are on a weekly basis with the oval tracks. So, I’m a fan of the sport side. I love to watch any races. But those are my favorites.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Next-Gen cars? They had a practice yesterday, I’m sure you saw some of the highlights for that. How do you think the vehicles are going to fare in 2022?

A: I wish I had a crystal ball that I could see into because I really hope the best for it. It would be disastrous if this multi-billion dollar industry’s top premier series had major issues that cause the races to kind of be illegitimate. And I think that’s a little bit of a concern right now for some of the people inside the sport because they haven’t had enough time to really truly test this car and now it’s the next race that’s run is with this car and we don’t know anything about it. So, I mean, I’m really hopeful. I think they’ve put in a ton of effort. I think the cars do look really good. You know, there’s a couple of things that the old school guy in me wishes that they didn’t have to get rid of. But I understand what they’re trying to accomplish and where they’re trying to go with the sport and I really do hope it works out for the best, but I just, I don’t know. This test this week at Charlotte is our first big test on ovals and there’s been a lot of concerns with the car’s stability on the ovals and with the new, shorter sidewall of the tire and the way the steering works and stuff. And we’ve already seen that yesterday, a couple drivers spun out. You know, drivers just don’t expect to spin out or wreck. And I think it’s good to have cars that are hard to drive. The problem I see is that it’s like, they’re straight as an arrow and it’s easy to drive and all of a sudden, they just lose control. And so to me, that’s not really hard to drive because it doesn’t promote guys out there racing side by side, sliding around, and having a hard time. Everyone’s going to be kind of really straight and perfect and all of a sudden, a driver’s just going to wreck and it’s going to be a single clutch spin. And that’s going to be it, you know, and I hope that they can make some changes. They’ve already made some changes that I’ve seen to other cars’ steering and stuff that’s making it better. But I think they’re a little bit unprepared for that or they didn’t expect it to be that way and so now they have to really quickly figure out solutions to those problems. But honestly, I am really, really confident that they can fix all of those issues. I think the cars can produce good racing from the looks of them because they’re going to be a really fast car. They’ve got a bigger tire, so hopefully they can make the rubber softer and make the cars lose more and more grip during the run. So I wish I knew exactly how it’s going to work. But I’m hopeful and I’m confident.

New Number Placement and Single Lug Nut Wheels. Photo Credit:

Q: The new number placement and the single lug nut wheel: Yay or nay?

A: Emotionally, I definitely just like the old style better. But you know, I’m not one of those people that’s like, “Oh, you know, that ruins it for me. I don’t want to watch anymore,” because at the end of the day, that’s not why I tune in. I never thought, “I’m going to tune in to watch the Daytona 500 this year because they all have 20 lug nuts on them.” Like that’s why I’m going to tune in and watch? You know, I never thought that. I don’t just tune in just because the numbers are in the middle of the doors, you know? I’ve come to watch the race. So that part doesn’t change the race. Again, I don’t really quite know why that had to be changed, to an extent, with the lug nuts, because most passenger cars, if not all passenger cars, still use a multiple lug pattern. They don’t use a single lug pattern. So that was a really cool aspect of our sport, the pitstops and stuff. I don’t know why we had to get rid of it, but it is what it is. They’re going to figure out how to make it competitive. These teams are a competitive people, so they will figure out a way. And the numbers, I personally don’t like them the way they look being forward. But the rest of the car, I’ve seen some really cool paint schemes come of the new number placement. And the schemes themselves look really good, if you just take the number off of them. I just don’t really love where the number is, but the way they redesigned the body, there will be no room at all for sponsors if they didn’t move the number. So they kind of had to.

Q: What are your thoughts on iRacing? Do you do much of it?

A: I would probably do it every single day if I could, but I don’t get to very often. It’s probably been six months or so since I’ve done it, but it’s an incredible service. I can tell you when I went and ran my first ever ARCA race on an intermediate track at the Kentucky Speedway, like I was telling you, the reason I was able to be so competitive—my first race was iRacing. Period, end of story. I would have never had a shot to race for the win if it wasn’t for iRacing. And there’s two aspects of driving a car, it’s visual and feel. So with iRacing, you lose the feel. You still have the feel of the steering wheel because there’s like force feedback in them. That’s not really what does it for me. It’s the g-force and stuff that you feel and feeling the car kind of yaw out and things is how you actually drive it. You lose that in iRacing, but besides that, it is exactly like real life, like the visual aspect of it is exactly like it is when you’re in the cockpit. And so, for those reasons, it’s a great tool.

Q: So NASCAR internationally, they have the Euro Series, they have the Pinty’s Series up in Canada, and they have the Mexico Series down in Mexico. How important is it to continue to grow the sport outside of the United States and try to bring in a wider fan base?

A: Man, that’s a really interesting question because it hasn’t really been talked about a lot in NASCAR. And I think right now they are focusing on that, the leadership is. It is still not a huge subject. You know, if you watch racing media outlets, they don’t really talk about that a lot. But I do think that the leadership is really focusing on that and I think that’s a big reason for the way the new car is designed, the Gen 7 car, because it’s something that I think when stock cars would go race outside of the U.S., people would look at them and say, “What is this? This is not relatable at all.” And it’s just different in the U.S. We’ve been around those stock cars forever, so we’re used to them, but I think the new car is much more relatable. So I do think that would be fantastic. If we could get people that are enthusiastic about cars to want to see a NASCAR race, that would be amazing. And I think if we were racing in some other countries, that would really drive people to start watching, you know, even if they only had a couple of races a year that weren’t in the U.S. If people liked it in those countries, then I think that that would really drive ratings for the rest of the races too that are in the U.S. And you know our country, I look at it kind of uniquely, like, our country is really fortunate. We have a lot of people with a lot that are blessed with a lot of money. And with so much technology in the world now, there’s just a lot of things you can do if you have that luxury and you don’t really have time to go watch races on the weekend. You’re busy doing stuff that you want to do. And so for that reason, we need to continue tapping into other audiences that maybe are less fortunate, but like to sit and watch something like a race if they can’t afford to go do anything with their spare time, you know, that they maybe would want to, but they can’t afford it, right? So that was kind of where our core audience came from, in my opinion, 30 years ago and in that audience, some of them have aged and passed on and the rest of them have aged and become successful and have other things that they do now.

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Q: Did you follow Tony Stewart’s SRX Racing series at all?

A: Just a little bit. It was a really busy part of the year, so I didn’t follow it super closely. But I did follow it and kept up with it on Twitter mostly. I would see all the headlines and the big moments. I personally enjoyed watching it just for the fact that seeing all these different drivers from all these different series competing against each other.

Q: Do you think NASCAR should build that up more? Seeing guys from NASCAR take on guys from F1 versus Indy Car versus short track aces versus everything?

A: Yeah, I think it’s always interesting to see how things unfold because if I was NASCAR, I would be wanting to basically, you know, consume the SRX series and make it our own. Now that it’s already established itself so quickly and is successful so quickly. If I was them, I’d be trying to kind of like, buy it, you know, and use it as another tool to just generate numbers and revenue. I don’t feel like that’s what they’re doing. They kind of are trying to keep it separate and not really talk about it too much. And it’s almost like they’re looking at it as competitive to them. And so yeah, I mean, the SRX series day one had like the second-highest ratings of any motorsport series in the world, second to the Cup Series, and it wasn’t even that far behind the Cup Series. And so I do think that tapped into a different audience than NASCAR does. Not saying the whole audience was totally different than NASCAR audiences, but I’m just saying they were drawing a little bit of that demographic that NASCAR doesn’t draw anymore. And so if they would just kind of, I think, basically just embrace that a little bit, I think that would be beneficial to NASCAR as well.

Q: Picture it: Kyle Larson versus Lewis Hamilton versus Helio Castroneves. I just imagine that that would be simply amazing. If you’re a fan of auto racing in any form, that would be mind-blowing.

A: And I tell you what, there’s some interesting things too that can go on with just even stock cars still because NASCAR has literally bought a financial stake in a lot more of the short track places now. They’ve bought the media companies that broadcast all the races. They just bought into it. So kind of the same deal, use the Snowball Derby, for example. The Cup guys will come and race the Snowball Derby just on their own. They’ve done that for years. But now, with NASCAR kind of having much more of a direct stake in the short track race, if they don’t want to embrace SRX, they should at the very least be doing that part. Because you know, that’s the route where the next Cup Series generation of drivers comes from. It’s races like the Snowball Derby. So, you know, to be connecting, let’s say, Chase Elliott, the most popular driver in NASCAR going and racing and NASCAR really pushing that story on their channels and driving traffic to the short track races helps some guy, some young kid that’s going to maybe end up being the next Chase Elliott, but he’s in that same race with him. And people are getting exposed to that kid’s name and his abilities. It builds his audience for him and helps him generate what he needs to eventually go into NASCAR. So kind of on the same token, that’s what I think that they’re kind of trying to do in the short track world.

Q: Are there any tracks that you’d like to see added to the NASCAR schedule that aren’t currently on it?

A: For sure, Nashville Fairgrounds. It’s so obviously necessary. Like, you can just tell that people would love it. And the drivers all want to go there. The city is just booming. And it’s just a perfect thing. I mean, you can see the downtown skyscrapers when you’re in the grandstands of the racetrack. Like, it’s that close. So it’s definitely the top one I’ve circled on my list. Five Flags Speedway where the Snowball Derby is, I don’t know why they don’t really talk more about that because that would put on some really great NASCAR races in my opinion. So those are probably the two that I would pick first.

Q: This one is as both a fan and as being a part of the sport. Who do you think is the best driver in each of the top three series, Cup, Xfinity, and Truck? Who do you think is the best driver right now in each of those?

A: I mean, it’s hard to argue against Kyle Larson right now in Cup Series. I think he’s got even more potential yet than what he’s shown. It’s so hard to say anyone but him. In the Xfinity Series, Austin Cindric has finally proved himself. For a long time, he was just in great equipment and not really able to put it together. But the last year or two, he has really kind of come into his own. Same goes for our champion Daniel Hemric. I’ve raced against him a lot, I know Daniel, and he is definitely underrated, being that he’d never won a race before until this last race of the season. So he and Cindric in the Xfinity Series. And then in the trucks, Sheldon Creed is phenomenal. I’ve raced against Sheldon as well and he’s really good. Zane Smith is starting to show his ability and I do think he’s pretty capable, but I haven’t seen enough to really know how well-rounded he’ll be long-term in his career. So we’ll go Sheldon for the trucks.

Q: Other than yourself, of course, who do you think is the best driver you’ve seen that hasn’t made it to the top three series yet?

A: Of course everyone wants to say themselves, but I don’t want to say that. But I guess, you know, he’s been talked about pretty heavily, is this kid named Derek Griffith. He’s won a lot of short track races. He was chosen as the number one—it’s called the Short Track Draft they do and it’s like, people voting on who they think is the best driver in short tracks this year. He was picked number one this year and he’s been trying really hard to make it into NASCAR as well, just like myself, and hasn’t been able to pull out a sponsorship. But I do think that he would be very successful if he could and I can’t really think of anyone else that’s even really trying to do that that I think would be good. While people might say Stephen Nasse, I just don’t really think Stephen would be mentally prepared and equipped for that, for the mental part of what it takes to be competitive in NASCAR, because you have to really deal with a lot of crap. When you’re really on the inside of it, in that level of the sport, there’s just a lot of stuff that you can’t control and if you want to try to control it, people are just going to make your life difficult and it’s not going to work out anyway. So you just have to deal with it. And I don’t think he could do that. Just not his personality to do that, so that’s why I would pick Derek over him.

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Q: You recently formed a team with BJ McLeod. How did that partnership came to fruition? Walk me through the formation of this team.

A: Yeah, so this is kind of a cool little story. It’s nothing massive, at least not yet. But we actually met over a year ago now. I was looking into trying to get into the NASCAR Xfinity Series or the Truck Series, and we met with BJ about that because he owns a Xfinity team and, you know, there’s a lot of opportunities there. But again, it takes sponsorship. And so we were talking about all that and that was good and all, so we got to kind of just talking about short tracks because that’s where he came from as well, just like myself. His story is actually really similar to mine and how his career unfolded was really similar to mine. And so we were talking about it and I was like, you know, my focus has shifted. We move down here, we kind of left everything we had going for us behind and I’m not racing at all, and the focus is on NASCAR. But I hate to have to leave short track racing behind and my goal is to one day be successful enough to just have my own team, race some for fun and maybe help out some young drivers or fellow drivers that want to race for my team. I’m not really sure what that would look like, but I’d love to have a team, you know. He just had brought it up and was like, “You know, I used to kind of do some of that. I had my own team at one point, and if you would want to partner up and start it up again, I’d be willing to do it.” And so it was unexpected, I wasn’t asking him and he wasn’t provoked in any way, but he just kind of said that. And so I didn’t take it super seriously at first, but then we kind of talked about it more and eventually we’re like, “Let’s just do it.” Not really any pressure, but the goal would be to help some drivers and develop their careers a little bit. That will help the team become established and grow and we can build it up to be something hopefully really cool someday. So you know, this year we didn’t get to do a lot. We’ve only raced a couple of times, but we’ve had some cool drivers and sponsors come on board, just looking to have fun with it, which was really the idea, and make it something that over time can grow to be a cool entity.

Q: What racing series is that team going to be primarily focused on?

A: So it’s just sort of the Late Model divisions. So you know, Snowball Derby races, those type of cars. The problem with the short tracks is that they’re very confusing to describe because there’s like six different series around the country and there’s not one series nationally. And then you have races like Snowball Derby that are the same cars. And it’s not a series at all. It’s just a standalone event. There’s no points. There’s nothing like that. But it’ll just be that type of car.

Q: Obviously you’re a very busy guy, but when you do have time to unwind, what do you like to do in your spare time?

A: {Laughter} I can’t remember. Man, I don’t know. Just if we get spare time, it’s nice to do nothing, like really do nothing. Maybe go to a nice restaurant that we haven’t been to or something and, you know, that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. I graduated high school and basically that was it. I just went all day, every day, 365 until recently and it’s time to slow down a little bit, maybe take a breather. And so it’d be nice to think about what I like to do in my spare time and maybe start doing some of that. Jess and I both like to travel and might start doing a little bit of it if we can and just kind of experience new things in life, whatever it is.

Q: What’s the most interesting place that you’ve traveled to? And what places do you have on your list that you’d like to see?

A: Well, I haven’t traveled to a lot of interesting places yet. A lot of cool cities with racing, like Minneapolis, which I thought was really cool. And I’ve been to Kansas City, Daytona Beach, Atlanta, Miami, and all those places and all the big cities. But I think both her and I like more unique and different places. We both think it’d be really cool to go out to Arizona and go out in the desert and see some of that cool scenery and stuff in desolate areas. And I’ve always thought it would be cool to go to a different country, you know, that speaks a different language and does things differently—drive on the other side of the road. You know, just wherever. That’s the thing, life’s been so fast-paced that I haven’t even thought about it yet. I know I’ve always known that I wanted to do this type of thing. But I haven’t thought about the specifics. I’ve always thought it would be cool to go to places that are just way out there and different. But then also it can be cool to go to some massive city like Hong Kong or something. Or like Moscow, where you might not come out alive. {Laughter} Just wherever, I don’t know specifically what I’d want to do. And I’m not sure just yet, but we both know we want to go and experience new places.

Q: What kind of music do you like? Do you listen to a specific genre or have any favorite artists?

A: Probably most of the time, I just listen to pop music, but I don’t really have any specific artists. I listen to anything. I like country music, I like rock music, but in general, if I turn on some music, I’d probably just find a pop music station.

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Q: Favorite auto racing movie?

A: Days of Thunder.

Q: Favorite actor?

A: I don’t know, I always say Will Ferrell just because I’ve always thought he was funny and people say I look like him a little bit sometimes. And I like a lot of the movies he’s in.

Q: Favorite food?

A: Let’s just say pizza. I eat a lot of pizza. I like Italian food and pastas and the such, but we don’t go eat at a lot of Italian restaurants for some reason, but I really like that. But we do eat a lot of pizza.

Q: Favorite social media platform—which one do you like the most?

A: It’s always changing. I really like TikTok, I just don’t really use it much. I just kind of get on there and scroll. So all around probably, I would say I like Twitter the most because there’s always something new that people are talking about and it’s shaped society a lot. You know, people’s opinions are out there. And I like that part. I just like reading what other people have to say.

Q: We’re a ways down the road from it, but some day, you’ll probably step away from driving as a full-time career. You mentioned earlier about owning a team and things of that nature. Would you want to be a full-time owner, or have you given broadcasting any thought or being like a crew chief or some sort of engineer on a car? What do you think you would do if you step away from driving full time?

A: You know, ideally, we’ve already kind of started this process of looking long-term and we’d love to be entrepreneurs in the sport. We’d like to start a business, and I have like 10 different ideas. And I don’t know if we pick one. I don’t know if we try to do all 10. Maybe we’ll find a different one. But we would just really like to find something else that we’re passionate about as well in life and kind of split life up a little bit and not be just 100% racing. Then maybe find a way to be, hopefully in the future at that point, financially free, and maybe have our own short track or late model equipment that we just go have fun with. And maybe we help out some other drivers that need a shot like I needed one time in my life, you know. And I’m sure if we have a family, which we both hope to, it’d be cool to maybe do that with our kids if they wanted to. So a retirement type image would be something like that, like where we can always get that, but we could always be a part of racing. Because it is really kind of impossible to be in NASCAR forever. You know, I don’t really have the desire to be a crew chief or an engineer. People ask me all the time to do that stuff. I’ve got some really good offers and I feel sometimes stupid for saying no because of all the money that’s involved, and trust me, I could definitely use some financial stability. But I just realized that at the high level of competition, I just don’t think I would have the drive to do it for someone else. You know, like I’ve done it for myself for so long and I don’t know that I’d be good at it. I’m very good at it, but I don’t think I could be good enough at it for other people and I think I’d lose the drive that I have because of how much passion I have for myself. You know, you never match your own passion when you’re trying to do it for someone else. Maybe for your kids, but that’s about it. So I don’t think I would do that. I don’t mind doing some of the races that are on MavTV. I essentially do the broadcasting. It’s pre-recorded and then I meet the other guy and we just record it like we’re in the booth calling the race. So I don’t hate doing that. I wouldn’t pursue it, but if there’s opportunities and someone was asking me, I’m not opposed to doing that stuff. It’s kind of fun.

Q: What goals have you set for yourself for 2022, as well as long-term?

A: For 2022, you know, I think you are aware that my girlfriend Jess was recently diagnosed with cancer. And that kind of changes a lot of things with what I want to do and what is important to me. But like I said, we’d already been starting the process of trying to branch out and do other things besides just racing and maybe have some different revenue streams so we’re not entirely dependent on racing. And so for 2022, I think my personal goal would be to maybe get at least something started outside of racing. And then I don’t really care too much to race my next race unless it’s a NASCAR race. I want to race in NASCAR. I’d love to continue racing short tracks, and I probably will get those chances, hopefully, but that’s not going to be my main focus. I’m going to be working on trying to race in NASCAR. And so it’d be cool for 2022 to be able to meet the goal of making my first NASCAR start.

Q: I want to discuss Jess and her recent cancer diagnosis. How does that shift things into perspective for you in general? How has that impacted you?

A: She’s doing really well. She actually has to start chemotherapy in a couple of weeks. And so before that, we just have to go through the process of an egg retrieval to hopefully be able to preserve the ability to have kids. So she just had to start doing a series of a bunch of shots that we actually do at home. And so that’s been a fun little thing to do because it’s not exactly her forte, taking shots. She doesn’t really like needles and all that stuff. So we’ve had fun with it and kind of made it a joke, but it’s definitely a lot to take on through this whole process. It’s pretty big. It’s bad news and it was almost immediate for me, that everything that I’ve always been holding on to, trying to accomplish for literally almost 20 years now and instantly within a moment, I’m just like, “Okay, what does all that matter anymore?” It doesn’t, you know, it really doesn’t matter. I’d love to do all that stuff, but it doesn’t matter and in a weird way, I kind of like that shift mentally. It almost makes things easier because you just go at it with a different approach and sometimes having a less emotional response to it, I think—just like in any kind of business setting, if you’re too passionate about it, people kind of see that and they steer away from that, really. And so, if you’re just matter of fact, it’s like here’s what we’re going to do, here’s what I want. I think that has almost helped me be more successful so far, but as far as like what really matters the most doesn’t really matter so much anymore to me with a racing career and stuff. It definitely changes. It doesn’t make that just all that I’ve ever wanted. And now instantly, it’s like, well, I definitely would like to do a lot more than just that. And I’ve always kind of realized that in the back of my head, but now it’s like, right in my face, you know?

Q: What advice do you have for young racers who are just starting to break into the sport, whether they’re driving go-karts or looking to make a bigger leap? What advice would you pass along to them?

A: I would say just to have fun with it. You know, I had a ton of fun racing all the way until today, but it definitely shifts from being just a hobby to taking it seriously. There is a lot of really hard to handle stress. And even if you still really love it, you know, it’s stressful. So whether you like it or not, it does take a little bit of fun away from it. So I would just tell people to just have fun with it. And you know, I know you’re going to want to have an opportunity to go to a higher level of the sport. Don’t let yourself over-fixate on that because it just makes it kind of harder and it makes it not always as fun. So it’s always supposed to be about fun. I grew up watching races and saw every driver get out of the car in a NASCAR race and just big smiles and people just going crazy. You know, the whole team was just electric, it seemed, in every single race. It didn’t matter what track, didn’t matter whether they won by a mile or by an inch, you know. That’s just how it was. Today, you can just see how much more stressful the sport has become for everyone. And I just try to point that out to people because I think a lot of times it’s easy to forget that. And people say don’t meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed. Well, don’t over-fixate on what this could be long-term because you’ll probably be disappointed if you get too wrapped up in it.

Please note this interview took place in 2 parts, November 18, 2021, and January 23, 2022.

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