PENSACOLA, Fla. – There might not have been a happier person in the Five Flags Speedway pit area on Friday night than Travis Braden following two-lap qualifications for the 52nd annual Snowball Derby.
Braden, who was involved in a practice crash with the slower car of A.J. Wernette that tore the right side of his No. 26 Platinum Motorsports entry to shreds, took the 30th and final guaranteed spot on time into the Derby field.
The Wheeling, W.Va., native and two-time ARCA/CRA Super Series champion was admittedly nervous as his team virtually rebuilt his race car in the hours leading up to qualifying, but all that hard work paid off.
Braden’s lap of 16.590 seconds (108.499 mph) was good enough – by .029 of a second – to lock him into the race.
“Literally, I don’t know if people realized (at the time) what we had to do, but these guys had to completely rebuild the right front suspension and the rear suspension … the whole right side of the body on this car from practice to qualifying,” Braden told SPEED SPORT. “We didn’t get a single lap to see how it was running. We just had to go for it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was actually pretty good considering, obviously, what we went through to get to that point.
“We’re in the show, barely, but we’re in. At this race, in this field, that’s what counts.”
After the incident in practice occurred, Braden’s crew had just a few short hours to turn the car around in time to make their pre-qualifying inspection appearance, which they did even as Braden and his team worked sat in the inspection line waiting to go through tech in order to qualify at all.
“They wouldn’t adjust our in-line time, and we knew that, so we had to work around everything as best we could,” Braden noted. “We barely made it, and we were actually still putting our tires on and setting the swaybar as we were about to go through … but Ricky (Brooks, lead inspector) and everyone worked with us to make it all happen. It was right to the end and as last minute as you can get, but we did it.
“When you think about it, we more or less built a car with no practice and qualified for the Derby,” he added. “It’s pretty cool, in our book at least.”
Despite all the adversity, Braden said he never lost faith in his crew that they could get the job done.
“This has been one of the most up and down days I’ve ever had in my career,” Braden said. “I hadn’t stressed all week coming into this, and then today just … it was what it was, but we got through it. I knew these guys put this thing together as best they could, and they did a phenomenal job, but obviously with the circumstances of destroying it, we were so worried honestly about how things were.
“I’m excited we made it in, and that’s all that mattered tonight after our day.”
Now, Braden can look ahead to Sunday’s 300-lap race and trying to win the Snowball Derby.
“We’ll get the car right in practice on Saturday and then go at it when we get to race day,” he said with a smile. “We got our chance, and now we’re ready to capitalize on it.”