PENSACOLA, Fla. – Travis Braden was the luckiest man on the grounds at Five Flags Speedway all week long, and his good fortune continued long after the checkered flag waved over the 52nd annual Snowball Derby on Monday night.
After a week in which Braden endured a heavy practice crash, rebuilt a car in hours before qualifying and squeaked into the show with the final position on speed, he capped his whirlwind run through Pensacola with a victory in super late model racing’s most-prestigious event.
Braden didn’t cross the line first, originally finishing second behind Stephen Nasse in triple overtime. In fact, he never even officially led a lap during the rain-postponed event.
However, Braden inherited the iconic Tom Dawson Trophy when Nasse’s Jett Motorsports No. 51n was tossed in post-race technical inspection by chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks.
The car which originally took the checkered flag at the head of the field was disqualified for having titanium caps inside its brake calipers, stripping Nasse of what would have been his first Derby victory.
In contrast, it handed Braden his maiden win in the prestigious event, giving the 25-year-old Wheeling, W.Va., native two of the three legs of the unofficial Super Late Model Triple Crown.
Braden won the Winchester 400 in 2016 with Platinum Motorsports, embarking on a raucous celebration afterward, but was almost in shock as he received congratulations from team members and onlookers in the wake of his Snowball Derby triumph Monday night.
“I didn’t even have words in that moment,” Braden told SPEED SPORT. “It was so surreal, I don’t even know how to describe it.”
While Braden soaked in the moment, dejection was the prominent emotion for both Nasse and Ty Majeski, who appeared to have the win in hand twice late in the event before circumstances intervened.
Majeski started 23rd but took just 80 laps to march into a top-three running position, never falling off the podium after that until encountering misfortune close to the end.
The Wisconsin native took the point on lap 153 and, though he ceded command briefly to Jeff Choquette with 50 to go, repassed Choquette on a restart with 24 laps left and appeared poised to finally end his run of futility in super late model racing’s most-prestigious event.
Then came a skirmish between Boris Jurkovic and John DeAngelis with five to go that set up the first attempt at overtime – needing five green laps to get to the checkered flag.
Majeski ran away from Choquette on the ensuing restart and completed three of those five, but a spin by Travis Braden in turns one and two with two to go forced a second overtime try just as Nasse had passed Choquette for the runner-up spot.
At that point, all hell broke loose.
Majeski was bringing the field to green through turns three and four when his rear tires were lifted off the ground by third-running Casey Roderick, sending Majeski spinning down to the inside wall and stacking up virtually the entire field in the process.
As cars crashed all along the frontstretch of the Florida half-mile, Nasse steamed past on the outside, assuming the lead as Braden snuck through the chaos to line up third when the race resumed for the final time.
Braden worked past 14-year-old Jake Garcia during the final two-lap dash, then waited for roughly two hours before getting the news he only ever dreamed of hearing: he was officially a Snowball Derby champion.
“It was a three-hour long ordeal, going through tech … and it was probably an hour or so until we could kind of tell something was up and something may not be right, potentially something that would give us the win,” Braden recalled. “Some of it is unfortunate, even in my eyes. I get to take the trophy home, but you never really want to see it go down that way. I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of that stick. So that’s a bummer.
“But man, we raised from the pack all the way up to finish second regardless,” Braden noted. “So I feel like it proved that we were deserving to win the race, but it was an emotional roller coaster just like the weekend was. I was super emotional after the race, just finishing second … and this, I guess it kind of didn’t seem realistic, that we actually could come down and win the Snowball Derby, but we did it!”
Brooks was clear in his explanation of Nasse’s technical issue to the media afterward: the rule against any usage of titanium in Snowball Derby race cars is clearly spelled out in the rule book, and Nasse’s team ran afoul of that clause.
“It had titanium piston caps all the way around the entire car,” Brooks explained. “It’s blatant in the rule book; there’s no titanium allowed. They were fastened to an aluminum piston and aluminum caliper, and what that does is keeps the heat from sinking into the caliper and the piston.”
Nasse’s disqualification elevated Garcia to the runner-up position in the final rundown, with Canadian Cole Butcher completing the podium after starting on the outside pole.
Jesse Dutilly and Preston Peltier finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Kyle Busch Motorsports – going for its third-straight Derby win as an organization – came home sixth with driver Chandler Smith, followed by Casey Roderick, Hunter Robbins, Dan Frederickson and Boris Jurkovic.
Majeski was scored 13th after his car was claimed in the multi-car melee on the second-to-last restart.
Travis Braden, Jake Garcia, Cole Butcher, Jesse Dutilly, Preston Peltier, Chandler Smith, Casey Roderick, Hunter Robbins, Dan Frederickson, Boris Jurkovic, Dalton Zehr, Derek Griffith, Ty Majeski, Jeff Choquette, Derek Thorn, Gio Bromante, John DeAngelis, Derek Kraus, Matt Craig, Brad May, Michael Atwell, Cole Moore, Jeremy Doss, Lucas Jones, Bubba Pollard, Kaden Honeycutt, David Gilliland, Augie Grill, Josh Berry, Connor Okrzesik, Corey LaJoie, Jeremy Pate, David Rogers, Rodrigo Rejon, Kyle Plott, Corey Heim, Stephen Nasse.