Editor’s Note: With the outbreak of COVID-19 forcing racing around the globe to a sudden stop, SPEED SPORT is reaching out to members of the racing community to find out how the outbreak is impacting them, both as racers and in their daily lives. This story is part of that ongoing series.
CONCORD, N.C. — Reigning Snowball Derby winner Travis Braden had a plan when the year started.
Braden and his girlfriend, Jess Ballard, decided to move to North Carolina in January in order for Braden to focus on finding a long-term home in motorsports with a NASCAR team. By doing so, he gave up his role as a driver in the ARCA Menards Series for RFMS Racing.
Braden and Ballard have been focused on working on building a stronger marketing presence for Braden so, in a perfect world, can make himself more attractive to race teams and sponsors.
However, the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has forced a few changes to the plan Braden and Ballard had so carefully crafted when they moved to North Carolina from West Virginia.
“I left my role as a driver in the ARCA Menards Series at the end of 2019 and moved to North Carolina in January with sights set on finding a long-term home in racing with a NASCAR team,” Braden said. “Part of that plan when moving here was to spend the majority of 2020 focused on super late model racing and building a better marketing presence to base sponsorship value on. All of that work is done by myself and my girlfriend, Jess, so our daily routines on that side of things hasn’t changed.
“What has changed, though, is the fact that I would have otherwise been on the track for numerous other events with Team Platinum (a super late model team Braden drives for), and all of those are not going to be happening obviously.”
While Braden acknowledges slow-down in motorsports allows he and Ballard to work more on their personal goals, that doesn’t always pay the bills.
“It gives Jess and I a lot more time to work on our personal agenda, but that doesn’t always pay the bills this early on, so it’s definitely a struggle,” Braden said. “Not to mention, it’s not like I can go get a job working on race cars for someone. That is non-existent.”
While he may not be able to get on the race track anytime soon, Braden is one of many competitors who have taken advantage of the opportunity to gain exposure through iRacing. He said it’s been encouraging to see the response that sim racing has received amid the lack of real-world racing.
“I have definitely seen the industry come together socially. You see it on social media and now we’re seeing some huge new ventures happen with sim racing,” Braden said. “What’s so great about this in my eyes is that it can fill the social voids we’re all experiencing right now and most likely some of the financial and marketing voids that the teams and personnel are having to deal with. So many people are engaging in this new form of racing and that’s surely valuable to sponsors.”
However, Braden acknowledges that while iRacing is a great alternative for now, it’s certainly not a long-term solution for those who may be without work or are in limbo waiting to find out if they’ll have a job.
“Unfortunately, that still leaves a lot of people out and, for the most part, that means without a paycheck,” Braden said. “I know a lot of those who are less-impacted are trying to do favors to support those who are in temporary limbo, but it will be impossible to sustain this for very long if the virus does not start to fade away. I’m unfortunately concerned that many teams will have to close and many of those jobs will not be coming back.”
Despite the uncertainty, Braden encouraged race fans to remain engaged with their favorite drivers and sponsors. He said that every little bit helps, especially when it comes to attracting sponsorship.
“The biggest message I could give to fans is to go out and continue to engage,” Braden said. “Engage with your driver’s content on social media. Watch the eSports races and engage in them too. If sponsorships start to become prevalent, click on their content. In a time where there’s really nothing you can do to speed up the process of eradicating this virus, your engagement could be extremely valuable. Brands who rely on advertising could really be desperate for a platform to use to generate engagement, and right now there’s only one place they can do it. You can make a difference.”