5 Minutes with…Travis Pastrana

March 18, 2009 4:37pm

It’s official: Travis Pastrana really is racing a dirt bike at this weekend’s round of Monster Energy AMA Supercross in St. Louis. In fact, yesterday afternoon, Feld Motor Sports issued a press release about it, so we decided to give Travis, the star of the Nitro Circus franchise, a call and get his thoughts on this brief return to racing.

  • Watch out for the thumb.
  • Travis has always been a showman
  • It's been almost eight years since Pastrana ran the #1 plate
Racer X: First of all, why in the hell are you racing the St. Louis supercross?
Travis Pastrana: [Laughs] Well, there are a few reasons! I wanted to get back out there for quite a while. Not that I’m really planning on being competitive, but racing supercross takes months of just training and doing nothing else. I’ve always been real focused on the car stuff and the MTV stuff lately, but I decided to come back out there now and I’ve had the best history at St. Louis. (Note: It was also the site of his first AMA Supercross back in 2000.)

But why St. Louis and not a race further down the schedule like Jacksonville or Toronto?
St. Louis actually has the best dirt for me. It has really good traction, and it’s easy to mold. It’s not like Atlanta, which always is soft and rutted. I can’t hit backside to save my life, so if I came up short or over jumped something at Atlanta I’d flip over the bars. I’m not very smooth in the corners, so I use aggression to make up for my lack of flow, and the hard-pack tracks you can’t really be aggressive on those, either. St. Louis was always good for me because the dirt is a mix between clay and sand, so berms form instead of ruts and it’s just better for an aggressive rider’s riding style.

But, the REAL reason I’m kind of doing this is I put myself into this situation with Feld Motor Sports. For an episode of Nitro Circus, I told them it’s going to cost this much to bring out a monster truck. I said I was going to flip it and land it on its wheels, and if I don’t I’d pay them back. They said I didn’t have to worry about paying them back; just show up at a few events and we’ll work it out that way…. Well, I landed the monster truck upside down, so now I’m doing Monster Jam World Finals, and the St. Louis Supercross! [Laughs] It’s actually a dream-come-true. It allows me to tell some of my other sponsors, like Subaru, that I’m obligated to go race supercross now! But it’s good. Feld has always been awesome to me, so I just want to try and go out and put on a good show for them, so we’ll see what happens!

St. Louis also happens to be the same track that you designed. I also heard some rumors that you were going to help build it too?
Yeah, well, actually Hubert, my redneck mechanic, is out there right now. Rich Winkler from Dirt Wurx said we could come out, so I’ll probably oversee a couple things. I mean, designing a course is one thing, but you should definitely do some follow-through. Like, Mike LaRocco was on the dozer most of the time in Indy. The Dirt Wurx guys were really cool about everything. They said they want it to be my wildest illusion, so here go!

  • Travis hit it a little too quick at Reed's, hit the ground, and was done for the day
We ran into you a few weeks back down at Chad Reed’s place in Florida preparing for this weekend. And in the press release we received yesterday from Feld Motor Sports, it said, “Over the past two months Pastrana buckled down and committed to an intense training regimen in preparation for this weekend’s race.” Is that true?
It’s very true! [Laughs] Like, I’ve been training for two weeks before I got to Chad’s, and I’ve been putting in a lot of time with my trainer and doing a lot of swimming, because that’s the only thing I don’t seem to break myself doing. The knees have been swollen from bicycling and whatnot. Obviously, I haven’t been able to run since I was 17. But yeah, I’ve been putting in a lot of time—probably about fifty laps a day on a supercross track. My speed is still not where I had hoped. I’m not too far off where I was before, but like everything, progression is amazing. I was riding with Davi [Millsaps] and he said he was playing with me like a bear, just pawing me around the course to speed me up! It’s been a whole lot of fun. It’s really cool just riding with these guys again.

Obviously, your goal isn’t to win, but you have a few other goals you hope to accomplish this weekend, right?
Yeah, not even close! I’m not pretending to be anything I’m not. Even back in 2002, my biggest thing was that I could be aggressive—sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. A couple weeks ago Timmy Ferry and Michael Byrne were trying to teach me how to scrub! This is after my time! I really haven’t been doing supercross since 2002. It really has taken an entire step above where it was. The guys in 10th are running the pace of the guys that were making podiums back in...

Back in your day…
[Laughs] Yeah, back in my day! I don’t feel that old but...

Do you remember the last supercross you raced?
I did a few for fun, but the last supercross I raced was actually with a blown-out knee, which still isn’t fixed, but at least it feels better. That was out in Phoenix, I believe, or whatever the second round was in 2004, I think. I tried to race Daytona after that, but that didn’t go much better.

That’s when you back-flipped the finish line in practice, right?
Yes. Everyone has been asking about that. They’ve been pretty clear that I can do it on a parade lap or something, but if I do it during the race my AMA license is revoked. If, by some miracle, there’s a sniper in the audience that takes out the top 10 riders and I’m leading on the final lap, yes, I will probably just throw my AMA license away and no matter how bad my arm pump is I will go ahead and do a flip. But I don’t see that in my near future. But we’ll give her hell!

  • Pastrana's nearly finished yardsale at Daytona
A race I’ll always remember is the 2002 Indy supercross when you battled with Ricky Carmichael...
Yeah, I was sicker than a dog that night, just surviving. It was like lap twelve or something, and everybody was just right behind me because I was just holding up the whole line just trying to stay alive. And then Carmichael passed me and messed up in the whoops, and I got around him and messed up another section. I then jumped in his rut and I pretty much almost knocked him down. I fell over and the crowd booed Ricky so bad! I was still back in the pits and I could still hear them standing and booing! I laughed a little, but I felt pretty bad there.

It’s cool that you still think about and follow supercross so closely.
Oh yeah! Everyone has always thought freestyle was my biggest goal, but that was always just for fun. My whole career has basically been for fun, but I really did put a lot of years into trying to be a racer. Since I was four years old, my goal was to win a 250 Supercross championship. So, yeah, that’s something that I’ll never check off the to-do list, and I’ve checked a shit-load of stuff off of the to-do list!
I follow all forms of racing now, but supercross is definitely my heart and soul, for sure.

Wil we see you under the Rockstar/Makita Suzuki awning this weekend?
No way man. Red Bull for life!

Oh, that’s right!
Suzuki has been amazing through all the stuff, and even though I really don’t do much for them at the moment, Roger [DeCoster] said anytime I’m there, anytime I need a factory bike or a place in the semi, I’m welcome. And that’s what’s really cool. The media kind of built it up that we didn’t get along well, but he’s like a father to me and Suzuki has been my closest sponsor to family. Heck, I’ve been with Suzuki since I was eight. They’ve been great and they basically handed me over everything that I needed. And to be honest, I don’t want the full-factory bike. I have a hard enough time holding on to a stock bike let alone a full Yoshimura-modded bike. They had this amazing bike that was just a rocket ship. I’m like, “Ok, now tune it down!” [Laughs]

Did they?
Yeah, they took all the power which was close to the factory setting and made it real smooth for me, so it’s going to be a little different strategy than I’ve taken in previous runs. I want to be strong. I just did a twenty-lapper yesterday, and my strongest lap was on Lap 16, and my best of the week was Lap 14, about a second off of Davi’s pace that he was running. I’m not hoping for a miracle, but I really want to be strong and prove to everybody that I could stay on two wheels and put in a good finish.

Switching gears, I know plenty of people have been tuning into Nitro Circus every Sunday night on MTV, and so far I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about it.
Last week, we had the eighth-highest rated show on cable television, so it’s definitely coming on pretty strong. It’s pretty neat now that a lot of my friends who have helped me so much and have really been around since the start are able to kind of show what they’ve been doing and able to make a living instead of getting real jobs, which seems like the goal of most of us in this industry! [Laughs]

Any hints of what mind-blowing stunts we’ll see in future episodes?
You know, we started the series and we realized that people really just didn’t relate to the gnarly stuff, so we started thinking, “Ok, let’s do stuff that people have already done.” So we said let’s do the blob, and everyone said that the blob was so cool. We ended up shooting Jolene [Van Vugt] 75 feet in the air off a blob. Greg Godfrey did three flips and three full twists in a complete flail! Our goal is basically to take things that people can relate to and just show them how much further you can take it. Like slip ‘n’ slides, big wheels, the blob—those have probably been our most exciting moments.

Is anyone keeping a running tally of how many Suzukis you guys destroyed thus far?
Yeah, I actually had to go out and purchase some Suzukis to give back to the cause. I felt kind of bad. We’ve gone through so many motorcycles that it’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s pretty neat now that we kind of have a budget. Before, Nitro Circus was just everyone working their butts off and shipped in and paid their own way just to be able to do it. Now we get to destroy much cooler things and we have insurance! We’ve been able to go to the hospital and have the bills paid for, so it’s sweet!

Any other cameo appearances on a dirt bike in the near future, Travis?
You know what, I’m just going to try and get through St. Louis, so we’ll see how that goes. Every time I say that I’m going to race Daytona, then St. Louis and then this race, it never seems to work out.

Come to an outdoor national!
The problem is that Subaru is already kind of upset that I missed a few testing days to come out here, and then a tree broke my car in the last rally, so that really didn’t make matters better there. Just, to race motorcycles at this level, it is honestly the toughest sport that I know of. Barring the Ironman or the Tour de France, it takes more training and being able to deal with injuries than any other sport that I’ve ever known. It’s what makes this sport the best in the world, but it’s also very difficult to come in. People say that just making the main would be awesome, but I don’t want to ride around out there two laps down. If I come out, I want to at least pretend that I’m on pace for a few laps. It’s just really difficult to do!

  • Travis has always been able to find the speed...
  • ... but can he hang on for 20 laps in St. Louis?
One last question: what did you think of J-Law at Daytona?
Dude, I was standing up cheering my butt off at Daytona! I can’t believe that guy! The first year he was on the Team 199 Cernic’s team, and as much as people don’t like his antics, I think he could possibly be the best in the world if he focused in a different manner. I mean, the guy turned the fastest lap! Beyond anything else, the fastest lap in qualifying is very, very respectable. And when it comes down to it, he races! When he was on the team, everyone else would come in and make excuses, but he’d come in and say, “I’m not in shape, but I’ll try harder the next race.” The guy has issues, but I have nothing but respect for him!

You’ll be racing him this weekend…
I’m pumped! You know what you’re going to get with him, so that’s something to respect!

I hope you’re ready to sign some autographs this weekend.
Yeah, no problem at all! Since Nitro Circus, it’s weird, every time I’m on a plane I wake up and people are tapping me on the shoulder. I don’t know about this TV stuff, it’s a whole new realm! But yeah, hopefully we bring some different fans to the sport. I’m taking this real seriously. I’m not going to be out as much before the race, but I’ll there till sun-up the next day signing autographs till everyone’s gone.

The Nitro Circus crew going to be there this weekend cheering you on?
Yeah, the entire crew is going to be there. Actually, we got it shut down because it’s against AMA rules, but we were going to have all the communications set up to where they could talk to me throughout the whole race. They wouldn’t have given me any useful information anyways, but hopefully one day it’ll be like NASCAR and everyone could tune in to what the riders are talking about (note to DC…). After about lap ten it’ll just be wheezing, but yeah the whole Nitro Circus crew will be there. We’ll all be out in the pits, and our pit area is going to be as exciting as possible. They shut down a few things—we had a trampoline and tramp-bike and stuff, but they said we couldn’t have that. And Street Bike Tommy was going to come in and cook burgers and stuff for the fans all day, but they said we can’t have that inside either.

But we are having rowing competitions! The Concept2 Rowing guys are going to be out there giving away two rowers for the top two times. The first person that beats my high score on the rower will get a brand new one, so definitely come with your A game. It should be a good time and we’re going to have fun with it.

Well, have a safe trip and good luck this weekend, Travis.
All right, thanks a lot!

Read the Nitro Circus story right now in our Digital Issue.