WHEELING, W.V. — Audio and story by Race Chaser Online Northeast Correspondent Kyle Magda — ARCA photo —
Travis Braden and his small Platinum Motorsports operation took down the big names in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards garage after winning last July’s race at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The 21-year-old driver came back from a lap down to storm through the field to take the victory in his series debut, when just a few weeks before, the deal came together to run the race.
The great run propelled the team team to run two more events at Kentucky and Kansas to end 2015, and now Braden has his sights set on even bigger goals entering a new year.
“It’s been a long off-season, I feel like, we raced in October, but, pretty much nothing to do with the race car since then, so it’s been so long,” Braden said. “I’ve just been pretty heavily invested in my school work and here, just recently, I should have been a professional. I was a snow-shoveler, we got hit by a bunch of snow here in West Virginia. For about a week, it seemed like that was our job was cleaning where we live and the whole city was like a state of emergency, but other than that, we’ve been working on some plans for this year’s racing season and nothing’s really finalized yet, but we have some really cool things going on and it looks like it’s going to be another great year.
“Hopefully, it’s a little bit more busy and just as rewarding as last year.”
The Northeastern part of the United States got pummeled with several snowstorms this winter, but it didn’t slow down the West Virginia University student from talking about his racing season. Braden finished second in last September’s Crosley Brands 150 at Kentucky after running down eventual race winner Ryan Reed in the closing laps and just missing out on making a move for the win.
“I took away a lot of things (from 2015), having no experience (in the cars before). We went to the test at Kentucky (that) Tuesday, which was hugely valuable for the race at Kentucky and for Kansas. I was just having to learn the basics of having to get around one of those places and a little bit of the aerodynamics. There’s always aerodynamics that come into play, but it was really noticeable compared to the short-track stuff we do. It was just a matter of figuring out that stuff and a little bit of getting used to the car still, it was my second ARCA race at Kentucky, the different weight, tires, horsepower and stuff. It was still just a new experience.”
Braden didn’t turn a lap at Kentucky until the open ARCA test that week and nearly became the third driver in series history to win in their first two ARCA series starts.
When he’s not racing, the West Virginia native is a student at WVU, pursuing a double bachelor’s degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering. The partnership between he and the school has the university logos all over his No. 01 Chevrolet, which goes back to his double ARCA/CRA Super Series championship run in 2013 and 2014, before he jumped up to driving full-bodied stock cars on short tracks, as well as eventually superspeedways.
“It’s been great for me and for them, so it’s one of those things that’s everything going really good and you want to keep it that way,” Braden said of the partnership between he and the school. “It’s been fantastic, it’s a really unique thing to have going on. With our agreement is, it’s really weird because it’s not something that a public university has ever done before because to be advertising on a race car, typically, when you see a university, it’s a football or basketball team, student-athletes. I’m a student and an athlete, but not a student-athlete, so that’s really unique.
“It’s kind of a tricky deal, honestly, because of the fact that I’m a student here, but it’s been great and it really helps me. The fan base, if somebody’s watching the race and they’re a West Virginia native and they hear that I’m from West Virginia, that really turns them in and when they see the car, they’re immediately hooked on me and that’s really want you want. Fortunately, we’ve had so much success since our partnership started that any fans that we’ve gained have surely liked what they saw and kept watching.”
And accumulating all that sudden success, Braden got help with an ARCA crew chief at LOR to look over the Platinum Motorsports effort. He talked with Ken Schrader to get the team in the right direction when KSR crew chief Donnie Richeson suggested Braden call Matt Weber to oversee the team. Weber is a multiple-time winner in the series after bouncing around the garage, finding success wherever he goes.
“It’s one of those deals like how did it happen and you look back on it and you’re like, ‘Man, I got lucky,'” Braden said. “Going really far back, the reason I got into the ARCA stuff was because primarily of the help and support of Kenny Schrader and his ARCA team. They found us some good cars, gave us some advice on how to do things to keep the cost down and do them properly, lend us some parts, lend us a hand with some of the work we needed done. When it was time to go racing, we needed a crew chief and they wanted to help us as much as they could, but that was something that they couldn’t supply us with, but Donnie knew who Matt [Weber] was and knew he was a pretty good guy on the ARCA tour and wasn’t doing anything at the time, so he said, “Hey, call Matt and see what he’s doing and if he’s not doing anything, he’d be a good choice.”
In their first race together, the combo of Braden and Weber ended up in victory lane after a gutsy call to put on tires during the race’s last caution to begin the bull rush to the front, while everyone else’s tires began to wear out, allowing the small team to work its way through the field and pass 2015 K&N East champ William Byron with 20 laps to go for the win.
Braden found success early in his ARCA career, but learned a lot in all three of his series starts in 2015. The dreaded aero-push came upon the rookie driver in the final laps at Kentucky, and the smooth 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway only resulted in a sixth-place showing, but Braden said he felt prepared entering the events — despite the final outcomes not going in his favor.
“I did a lot of practicing on iRacing before I went and watching races. I’ve watched racing my whole life and I’ve been waiting for those days for my whole 21 years, so I was prepared as I could possibly be without actually ever sitting in a seat. It was great though and the really cool part was learning from the mistakes. In Kentucky, we had a great car, finished second and almost won the race. It’s one of those things if I could do it over again now, there’s definitely a lot better that we end up winning that instead of finishing second, but that was a huge learning experience for me. If I would’ve been in the lead and won the race, that would’ve been fantastic, but I would’ve never learned what was I was doing wrong there when I caught the leader.
“Even though we didn’t win the race, it was a huge success for us, really unexpected, even for us and I’m sure for everyone else. Because of how that race went with the rain and everything, we learned a ton about how to drive a race; four-tire pit stops and come through the field and the whole general aspect of driving a 3400-pound car at that speed.”
With learning comes additional chances, and on Friday Braden announced he will return to the Platinum team to pursue additional late model races, as well as select ARCA events in 2016.
“We’ve been working through a lot of stuff over the winter to try and put some ARCA plans in place for 2016. We have a lot of people that are going to help us — we just had to clear our late model plans,” Braden said. “The first ARCA race on my schedule will, more than likely, be the first Pocono or Michigan in June. We have some support but it’s a pretty tight box we’re working with so we have to pick and choose. The goal is to one day run them all, but first things first.”
“I think we can honestly do five or six for sure, as many televised ones as we can. It’s likely you’ll see Chicago, Kentucky, Kansas, possibly Iowa on our schedule.”
The 21-year-old driver continues to excel every time he hits the race track, and more of that might be seen throughout 2016.
To listen to Race Chaser Online’s full interview with Travis Braden, click the player below:
About the Writer
Kyle Magda is a Northeast Correspondent for Race Chaser Online and a co-host of both Motorsports Madness and the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show, airing at 7 p.m. ET on Monday and Thursday nights, respectively, on the Performance Motorsports Network. Magda broke into racing in mid-2001 as the sport’s tide was beginning to change towards the current modern-era formula, but still has an affinity for the history of NASCAR’s earlier days.
The 22-year-old is a graduate of Penn State University and can be found traveling to numerous tracks across the country, covering everything from NASCAR and the ARCA Racing Series to the UNOH All-Stars Circuit of Champions and the Super Cup Stock Car Series.
Email Kyle at: [email protected]
Follow on Twitter: @KyleMagda
Email Race Chaser Online: [email protected]
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews