The Frontstretch: Beyond the Cockpit: Travis Pastrana Learning Curves, Bright Cars and X Games by Mike Neff -- Wednesday June 5, 2013

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Travis Pastrana is one of the most famous extreme athletes in the world. He’s won 11 gold medals in X Games competition. He’s scored four national championships in rally cross. He’s a two-time motocross champion. He has developed the Nitro Circus brand that has taken extreme sports to the next level and spawned a movie as well. He’s broken nearly as many bones as Evel Knievel and once jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. He has now turned his wide open style loose in NASCAR, trying to make a name for himself in an entirely new arena.

After running eight races with RAB Racing in 2012, he jumped into the seat of a Jack Roush-owned Nationwide car at Richmond. During the offseason it was announced that he would run for Roush Fenway Racing for the entire 2013 season. He has not secured primary sponsorship for this season but has adopted a very loud paint scheme that is drawing attention to his car in good times and bad. Pastrana has scored three top 10s this season, which is three more than he did in 2012, but he’s also had two DNFs. As he begins to learn more about running full body stock cars he gets closer and closer to that first win in NASCAR. Pastrana sat down with’s Mike Neff before cranking up for the weekend at Dover to talk about racing, paint schemes and riding motorcycles.

Mike Neff: You switched to Roush full-time for this season. What has the transition to one of the biggest teams in the sport been like for you?

Travis Pastrana readily admits he’s still learning his way in NASCAR… but he’s been able to rely on his teammates to help.

Travis Pastrana: I tell you what, it is really awesome for me. Most guys who get a chance to drive in any form of Truck or Nationwide ride have driven for so long that they know what they want out of their cars. Even if they’re rookies they have a little more experience in this type of driving than I do. For me to come to Roush where I have teammates to lean on, you may be able to hear it or have seen me on TV when I can get a little lost. I think we’re going one way and they’ll tell me at the end of practice that the track is going to go one way and I’ll tell them “Just give me whatever Trevor has.” (laughs) and that helps out a lot. Ricky Stenhouse (Jr.) has really taken me under his wing and been there through a lot of the practices and stuff, just talking me through things. Carl Edwards has been there too. It is fun to have so many people who are so passionate about stuff to be able to lean on.

Neff: Have you been able to do any testing and have any of your teammates gone along with you to test with you and help you out with getting the feel for the car away from the pressure of a race weekend?

Pastrana: That is when I feel like I can make the most gains. When you’re with a smaller team or you’re at a test by yourself, you feel like nobody on the face of the earth can drive faster than you. You feel like, ‘I am driving the piss out of this thing’ but when you have teammates you can see that they’re gaining on you coming into the corner or through the center or on the way off or braking more or less. Carl has been awesome. We are almost identical in size so we use the same sized seat and don’t have to make any adjustments. He’ll fire off a pretty good lap, ok, amazing laps, which are usually better than mine when I’ve been driving all day. It is good, though, because I have the telemetry to go off of which is unmatchable compared to anything else that we could have done before.

Neff: You’re running the full season. How are you feeling about how things are shaking out now that we’re 11 races into the season?

Pastrana: Y’know, restrictor plate racing was something I knew nothing about coming into the season. It is kind of like a chess game so that is a lot of fun. If we were in a points battle it would be a lot more nerve wracking for sure but I feel like we’ve got great cars for that and it is always nice to run up front. I’m figuring that out, which has been kind of cool. The first race I started was my first top 10 and I was going backwards through the grass at the finish line. (laughs) It has just been a wild season. Every time I gain some confidence and try to go faster, it seems like I slow down and make more mistakes and crash more stuff. My goal coming into the season was to try and get some top 10s. I figured a good race would be around eighth and a bad race would be around 12th if I do my homework and drive my butt off, that was my goal coming in. We were right around there at the start, a little further off than I wanted to be but came from in the 30s in qualifying for a 10th in Vegas and that gave us two top 10s in the first three and I thought we were doing pretty good. Then we came back to the tracks that I’d raced on before and the goal was to start stepping it up, I kind of got off of probation. Three DNFs in a row and I was back on probation coming into this weekend so we’ll see what happens.

Neff: Who came up with your paint scheme for this year?

Pastrana: It is pretty funny because, last year, everything I’ve always done has been so technical. Everyone that watches motocross, not everybody but a lot of people, ride a motorcycle. They know the parts, they know the stuff. Rally car, with the import tuning world, they know everything about the car so the details were kind of what we paid attention to. So we had some pretty cool stuff ghosted in the car and what not. In NASCAR, you can be a mile-and-a-half away from the fans watching the race and they can’t really see any of the technical stuff. The car just kind of blended in, it looked like a gray and black car, so I said let’s go loud, man and get some colors out there so when my dad or one of my family members turns on the TV they’ll be able to spot me. So, be careful what you ask for is all I have to say about that. So, my agents, the guys who’d done a lot of my moto stuff in the past and the kind of skate guys so that it had a little more of the action sports kind of feel to it. Definitely in NASCAR you don’t see a lot of pink, although Kurt Busch ran a pink car this year and Trevor did last round. I just really wanted to do something that stood out so I told the guys to use 80s rock as an inspiration. Let’s just go all out and be seen out there and they definitely did it.

Neff: Outside of NASCAR, how is the Global Rally Cross going? Are you getting to run many of those races this year with your full-time Nationwide schedule?

Pastrana: Yeah, it has been tough. The season didn’t get off to a great start. The track in the first round was really dusty and hard-packed, dry and slick. It was hard to pass so everyone just kind of Hail Mary’d it into the first turn. Myself, Ken Block, Tanner Faust and Buddy Rice, the four of us all crashed out in the first turn knowing that, however we came out, we were probably only going to be able to gain one or two spots the remainder of the race if we were lucky, so kind of took a risk there. What is cool about the rally program this year is that I’m not aiming for the whole championship. We go out, (and) every race is its own championship for me. We’re not interested in second or third or points. We can send it and that is my driving style so that’s fun. Last year we knew I wasn’t going to do the whole series so we had four DNFs but the fifth race was a win so there ya go. It is fun to do that but definitely for the Dart team we have Bryce Menzies trying to contend for the championship. He got off to a rough start the first round but I think we’ll be okay as a team.

Neff: Were you in Barcelona for the X Games deal?

Pastrana: I was over there and that was just a shame. Unfortunately they got a lot of rain over there and the spec tire we have to run doesn’t have knobbies so, for me, to go over there with a 600+ horse power, all wheel drive beast and not be able to run in the dirt and mud was very disappointing. They’ll learn; the series is new and it will get better and we’ll learn from it.

Neff: So that was the deal? I had heard the track was so bad they couldn’t run but it was because of the tire they use?

Pastrana: Yeah, it would have been really difficult even with the knobbies but I think we could have done it. I feel like that is what rally is all about, y’know? In the mud and off-road, they race in the snow for heaven’s sake, we should be able to race in a little bit of rain, but it is what it is. The Dodge Dart is a bigger, heavier car which is a disadvantage at some places, but when it was muddy like that, we went out to practice and everyone else was on top of the mud and we were digging in and I thought ‘this is going to be AWESOME’. But oh well.

Neff: Looking at the Global Rally Cross lineup for this season. It is kind of a young man, old man kind of thing. With Sainz and Isachsen and a couple of the other grizzled veterans going up against you and Faust and Deegan and the X Games guys. Away from the track do all of you hang out or does the younger crowd hang together and the older guys do their thing?

Pastrana: It is a really diverse mix. It is really funny seeing some of the guys come in, just looking at the X Games, and they’re like what is this stuff going on? My kids know about this but, it is funny in the athlete lounge, since Rally has been there, there are a lot of kids in the athlete lounge. We get a lot of parents with their skateboarders who are younger than most of the veterans competing in the Rally stuff. At the same time, we’re all competitors and we all get along really well so it is a pretty cool mix.

Neff: You mentioned the X Games. Charlotte Motor Speedway is trying hard to get them to come to the facility. Has CMS reached out to you at all to try and help their cause in wooing the X Games to Charlotte?

Pastrana: No, they haven’t, but I think it is a great fit. NASCAR has a much bigger audience than action sports but action sports has the youth of the world really. They’re really cut out of the same cloth. I’ve said this before, but I think the coolest part is they’re competitors. It is kind of an individual sport, obviously with the cars you have to have the whole team behind you but when you’re on the track you’re out there by yourself and it is still speed and risk and racing in that competition. Everybody that I have brought to a NASCAR race has become a NASCAR fan. I think, if Charlotte is able to bring in the X Games audience, they’ll keep building Charlotte as the capital of the motorsports industry.

Neff: I know Mr. Roush doesn’t want you to be on motorcycles anymore. Are you holding true to that request?

Pastrana: Yeah, actually it is funny, I was home yesterday and rode for the second time since X Games two years ago or almost two years ago now. I still love riding. It will always be a part of my life. My friends are always over all of the time. We’ve got tracks around back, there are always people on bikes, although I’m usually now on the equipment and film side of it with Nitro Circus. It has been a lot of fun building the ramps and now having other guinea pigs to try it out.

Neff: Have you ever done skateboarding?

Pastrana: Heck no!! I leave that for my wife. She crashes on the skateboards. I can’t ride down the driveway on one.

Neff: How about Street Luge? I always pictured you as a Street Luge kind of guy.

Pastrana: (A hearty laugh) It looks like it would be fun to try. It is definitely not for me. I’ve always been a little more technical than that. I need a motor or at least a way to pedal it, although they do look like fun.

Neff: One more motorcycle question. Do you ride a cruiser at all or are you strictly dirt bikes?

Pastrana: Yeah, when I was 16 I got a Suzuki 1500 Intruder. Still have it. Just went out on it the other day. My dad has a few Harleys that he keeps at the house. We always go out. I hardly ever get home and with my back I’m constantly moving when I get home because I’m sitting so much on planes and in cars these days. I have some bulging disks and some fused SI joints so I don’t sit too much so I definitely like getting out when I can for sure.

Pastrana ended the Dover race with a 15th-place finish on the lead lap and another new track on his resume. He heads off to Iowa this weekend where he started 15th and ended up 26th last season. If he has learned from his earlier experiences this season, he’ll go a little slower to go faster and bring home a fourth top 10 of the year.

Pastrana also did become part of the Charlotte Motor Speedway effort to land the X Games on Tuesday, June 4th, when the ESPN site survey committee paid a visit to the facility. Hopefully he was able to swing a few votes toward the facility’s side of the ledger.

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