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Born Racer: Braun Groomed for IMSA Success on Texas Mesa

Monday, September 11, 2023 Curt Cavin, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Colin and Jeff Braun

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship star Colin Braun (photo, left) learned all about racing and race car engineering from his father, Jeff (photo, right), while growing up in Texas.

Upon purchasing 100 acres in shrubby West Texas in 1988, Jeff and Diane Braun planned to build their dream home atop a mesa featuring a 40-mile view and adoring sunsets. But as it often does, life happened.

First, there was Jeff’s pursuit of a career in motorsports, including the construction of workspace on that mesa that included temporary living quarters. Soon after, their first child, Colin, was born, followed 16 months later by a brother, Travis. Before the Brauns knew it, Colin was old enough to reach the pedals of a go-kart, and their lives were about to go full throttle.

Hundreds if not thousands of races followed, with Jeff serving as Colin’s mechanic, Diane the team manager/travel coordinator, and Travis building clutches and offering support. Colin did his part, accumulating trophies faster than he could be homeschooled. By the time he was 8, he was a factory driver karting his way across Europe and in Japan. By age 14, he was car racing, and two years later he made his Rolex 24 At Daytona debut co-driving a Porsche 966. He was 18 when he debuted in NASCAR’s Truck Series, and a year later he won the pole for Roush Fenway Racing in the series’ race at Daytona International Speedway.

Through those years, Jeff became a top racing engineer, winning an IMSA World Sports Car Championship backed by Ferrari and helping Team Scandia qualify a record seven cars for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 (Alessandro Zampedri finished fourth). Today, Jeff and Colin are central figures in the Battle on the Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Colin co-driving Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura ARX-06 prototype in GTP and Jeff engineering CrowdStrike Racing’s LMP2 machine.

The new home on the mesa is yet to be built.

Anyone who knew Jeff from his days in Wisconsin could have seen this coming. At 14, he was the youngest student at the Bob Bondurant High Performance Driving School, and he helped childhood friend Alan Kulwicki win American Speedway Association stock car races. Although Jeff graduated first in his class at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, applicable positions weren’t yet the norm in racing, so he joined a Texas oil company in Abilene. Analyzing the depth of oil wells compares favorably to data acquisition of today’s race cars, he said.

With an eye on a racing career, Jeff built an unconventional shop on that mesa, and it’s no wonder Colin gravitated to the sport. The metal building is 40 feet wide by 185 feet long, with the first 40 feet, or about 1,600 square feet, the family’s living area. A door leads to the high-polished race shop, where Jeff taught the boys fractions by comparing the ratio of gear teeth. The next room for parts storage followed by a wash bay, a paint shop, a machine shop and a truck bay with six overhead doors. The final door is 40 feet from the front straightaway of a go-kart track.

The track of six corners and a set of esses measures about one-third of a mile, and there can be different configurations. It also is close enough to the shop so the karts could pull out of the hot sun quickly and the data could be analyzed, with Travis, at first only 6, often the one gathering that data and providing the first analysis. When Travis got big enough, he often served as Colin’s push starter during events.

The track, like so much in Jeff’s life, was prepared with purpose. At the time of construction, he was engineering sports cars for Fermin Velez, and they were the closest of friends. With Braun wanting the track to be a proper training tool for his sons, he asked Velez to assist with the design.

“Fermin hopped on the tractor and opened up the corner exits,” Jeff said. “He took the four-wheeler out and changed the braking points. We named one of the corners ‘Velez.’”

Other corners are known as “Treehouse,” where the boys once played, and “Fire” since one afternoon the family accidentally burned more than a half-acre of the countryside.

The home track became Colin’s home school, quenching his thirst for education. It’s where he learned to lean out a kart’s carburetor to avoid fouling up a spark plug. After struggling to pass a slower competitor, Jeff sent Travis out ahead of Colin in a faster kart, making Colin find a way around him.

“We’d give Travis the next step up in engine, so he could stretch Colin on the straightaway but then would lose ground in the corners because he wasn’t as good of a driver as Colin,” Jeff said. “So, that would help Colin.

“We’d come back from a race where we’d race four or five classes, and because we didn’t win them all there would always be a list of things to improve. Sometimes we’d just practice starts, so Travis would stand at the end of the front straight and throw the green flag.

“We all had a part to play, and the four of us were flat out every weekend.”

Perhaps the most ingenious creation was in preparation for Colin’s first street race. While there wouldn’t be a correlation to the Daytona Prototype he would drive in Long Beach, the sensation could be simulated by lining the track with sections of 4x8 plywood. So, that’s what they did.

“He did lap after lap trying to get close to the ‘walls’ so he wouldn’t be intimidated by them,” Jeff said.

“With my dad being my dad, everything had a purpose,” said Colin, who kicked off this season co-driving the overall winner in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. “We were always working on this, working on that. Having all that at my disposal was huge, a big reason why I’m here.”

In one form or another, Jeff and Colin, who turns 34 a week after the IMS event, have worked together for more than two decades, but Jeff insists it was never his plan to “make” a race car driver.

“Sure, Colin had talent, but it was always driven by his burning desire to be better,” he said. “We’d find something we needed to work on, and we’d fix it. That’s how we’ve always done it.”

Travis has gone on to become an award-winning writer for Disney’s animation division, with “T.O.T.S” and “Pupstruction” his most successful television series.

Colin can soon begin the next cycle of Braun racers when his wife, Melissa, delivers their first child, a boy. Like father, like son – again.

The Battle on the Bricks is scheduled for Sept. 15-17 at IMS. Visit for tickets and information.