Racer X/Suzuki Between the Motos

December 7, 2005 7:12am
While the Amp’d Mobile World Supercross GP Series was kicking off in Toronto on Saturday night, Travis Pastrana was halfway around the world, competing on four wheels in the 2005 Race of Champions, where an elite fraternity of the world’s best auto racers had gathered. Teamed with NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon, Pastrana represented Team USA in the World Nations Cup. Before an overflow crowd of nearly 60,000 fans, Gordon and Pastrana flew the red-white-and-blue on the one kilometer-long asphalt track. And while they did not fare well on the final result sheets, they did impress the global motorsports community.

Racer X
: Travis, first off, did you hear about the supercross race in Toronto last night?
Travis Pastrana: Yeah, James won, huh? Wow. I didn’t think he would win, but I’m stoked for him. In fact, now that I think about it, I lost some money. I bet some friends that Carmichael would win!

Just so I don’t forget, what in the world happened in that rally crash in the opening of the new Nitro Circus DVD?
Yeah, I sort of messed that up a bit. Too much speed combined with too little talent, I guess. We were approaching a crest at 123 miles per hour. I could see the road on the other side of the crest and could hear the notes I was being given by my co-driver, but I came over the crest and into the following corner way too fast.

How many times did the car roll?
Eight and half times.

Was the car totally destroyed?
Yeah, it was. No, wait. The camera on the roof of the car was never touched. Seriously.

So how was France and the Race of Champions?
The Race of Champions was really cool. Jeff Gordon, my teammate, was, I think, the best guy in all the disciplines. The place was packed, sold-out, despite it being so cold and rainy. The overall atmosphere was really cool.

A number of the best drivers in the world where on hand in France. Did you hit it off with any of them?
Nelson Piquet [Formula 1 test driver and A1 Grand Prix competitor] and I rode pit bikes all weekend. I hung out a lot with Sebastien Loeb [World Rally Champion], Marcus Gronholm [Peugeot-backed World Rally Championship driver] and Colin McRae [995 World Rally Champion] But you know what was really cool?

Colin McRae is my hero, and he really went out of his way to help me in France. He was such a great, laid-back guy, and he was so much fun to be around. I guess he saw the Nitro Circus DVD somewhere and at one point said to me, “You know, one day I’m going to come to you house, drink beer, and watch you guys tear yourselves up.” I think he was serious.

Going into the Race of Champions, did you know Jeff Gordon at all?
I knew him a little bit, through Jimmie Johnson [Gordon’s NASCAR teammate and lifelong motocross enthusiast]. Jeff was awesome. He was extremely focused. He could have easily won everything in France if not for dumb luck. A lot of the drivers there were really impressed by him. In fact, Nelson Piquet said to me, “Damn, he’s not just a NASCAR racer.”

Sixty thousand fans and an asphalt racetrack inside the Stade de France—how was the atmosphere inside that place? A lot like supercross?
It was a lot like supercross, but among the drivers, it was really laid-back. It was a fun, huge event. It was so much fun. It was amazing.

How did the racing go for you?
We raced the buggies first. Gordon won his race easily. My race was against Felipe Massa. On the first lap, we were 1/1000 of a second apart. I ended up losing to him by 4/10 of a second. Gordon won his race, and we moved on to the next round. Jeff Gordon lost to Tom Kristensen but I really thought Jeff won. That’s how it looked to a lot of us. But I guess not. I raced Mattias Ekstrom. The car I was given to drive was beat. I’m not complaining, but we switched cars all day and the one I got for my race had a fried clutch and wouldn’t shift up or down. The computer system in the car wasn’t working and the car stalled three times during the race. Needless to say, I didn’t win. So Jeff and I were out of the Nations Cup.

Then came the Race of Champions—the race for individual honors, correct?
Right. For the Race of Champions, I drew Sebastien Loeb for the first round. When I found I had to race against him, I was like, Heck, I’ll just go along with it. He was in his car, on pavement, and in front of his home crowd. Right before our race, it started to pour down rain. We took off and I put in a perfect first lap. I was 4/10 of a second ahead of him. Through some kind of sponsorship deal, there was a person riding in the car with me. He kept screaming, “We’re ahead of him! We can win! We can win!” I was like, “All right, dude, shut up!” At the halfway mark, I was only 2/10 behind Loeb. The deal went down to the last lap and the last corner. I was two car lengths behind Loeb and just pinned it. I ended up going off. It was real close. I wasn’t too bummed I lost, though, since Loeb went on to win everything.

What happened when you got out of the car?

The crowd was booing me.

Maybe because it was so close between Loeb and me. They booed Jeff Gordon throughout the night too. But when I got out of the car, David Coulthard [Red Bull Racing Formula 1 driver] and Colin McRae were jumping up and down for me. They were screaming, “You choked! You had him!”

Did Loeb say anything to you?
He came over and said, “Impressive. You really surprised me.” Loeb was cool. I walked around with him in France, and that guy is just beyond rock-star status.

So you had a good time over there?
I had a great time. My results weren’t that great, but the way I raced proved showed that I deserved to be there.

Where are you at, as far as the 2006 supercross series is concerned?
It depends on a few things. My goal is to be ready for Daytona.

I understand you’re all set for a full-on assault on the 2006 Rally America Championship.
Yes, I have a two-year deal with Subaru. They’ve been great to me, really awesome. Next year, Ken [Block, from DC Shoes] and I will move up to the main class. We’ll also do three rounds of the 2006 World Rally Championship in the Group N class.

Can you compete there?
I have everything in place that I need to do it; it’s just a matter of being good enough. While this weekend, and the track we raced on, was not indicative of what goes on in WRC, I felt good to be right there with Sebastien Loeb. I’d love to be the guy to race n the World Rally Championship and help make the sport more popular in the U.S.

Okay, have a good trip home.
Thanks, Eric.