Travis Pastrana is a busy man. Not only is he still running Nitro Circus, but he has an upcoming tribute to Evel Knievel, where he will recreate three of his iconic jumps, he’s competing in the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb, releasing Action Figures 2, and more.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Travis to talk about all that and more.
Racer X: I understand you are racing the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb. That’s a pretty crazy event.
Travis Pastrana: It’s super cool! Yokohama came on as a title sponsor for Nitro Circus—they are changing their market strategy to reach a kind of younger audience—and are looking for more brand awareness. A lot of guys in Nitro love to drive. We’ve got quite a few events with the cars and with their support. Basically, we are just all out there having fun.
After Pikes Peak, we’ll do the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well. Looks like it will be me, Bilko [Blake Williams], and I’m not sure who the others are, but it will be fun. That race is silly—you can only put like $500 into the car total. So, basically, we are racing junkers. And then [Trevor Piranha] and I, we’ll head up our team on the east. So this new partnership has helped the Nitro crew. You know, we are all kind of getting older, and giving us an option to have some fun doing car-related stuff and with less risks. It’s been cool.
How is Phil Smage doing? Do you want to talk about that at all?
Phil is doing pretty good. It is just an absolute shit situation. He’s going to have a long road ahead of him, there’s no doubt about it. He has decent insurance, but it’s not going to touch the medical bills on this one. It’s really tough. He’s more positive than anyone else, so if anyone’s going to come through 100 percent, it’s going to be him.
I understand that he is back home in Wisconsin.
Not home, but he’s in Wisconsin at a rehab facility. Unfortunately, but kind of fortunately, with all the injuries in the sport, a lot of people reached out to offer help. Even Doug Henry has gone up to visit him. Everybody who has kind of been there has been in his corner. David Bailey reached out to him. Jimmy Button, Anita Button (who are part of the Road 2 Recovery) all reached out to offer help. Collectively, they got him kind of set up with that facility, which is only an hour from his house so his family can come out. It’s more of a rehabilitation center, but it’s still kind of a hospital.
What are your thoughts on the social media feud going on between Josh Hill and Axell Hodges?
I think it’s awesome. At the end of the day, people still care. When Phil got hurt, so many people reached out. I was talking to [Ronnie] Renner. We were like, look around. All you dudes have had injuries. Everyone! Name some of our friends that haven’t been injured. It’s kind of harsh. This is still how we are making a living in the sport. You still do it. Your kids still ride bicycles. That’s totally different. I don’t push it. I’m like, I don’t do quarter pipe because it scares me now. Every time I was on it, I seem to knock myself out. High jump, same thing. [Ricky] Carmichael, myself, [Jeremy] McGrath, we all broke off on the step up. You do dangerous stuff; you’re just good at that. We do this. It’s just been kind of hard.
I had someone who reached out to say to me, “You’re pushing it too far—why don’t you guys just do smaller jumps?” So when I see this, and I see everyone fighting over who did it first and what’s bigger, and really Phil did it first, even if it’s into an airbag, I’m like, sweet! This just shows me that people do care. They want to see stuff. They want to have their imagination blown. They want to see progression. They want to see guys ride faster, go further. You want to see guys like [Eli] Tomac come through all that adversity and just be kicking ass. It’s Tomac and [Ken] Roczen up front. Those two guys have had more gnarly injuries—especially Roczen. I can’t even imagine. He had two career-ending injuries in two back-to-back years. It’s amazing how much heart that guy has. People do these sports because they love it, and I love to see the passion. Same for Axell and Josh.
You recently shared your plans to recreate some of Evel Knievel’s biggest jumps, including the infamous Caesar’s Palace fountain jump in Vegas. How did that come about?
It’s awesome. I just had an opportunity to do it, and I took it. We’ve got a lot of stuff that’s coming out that we were working on. It’s going to be in Vegas pretty soon. The Nitro Circus, we are almost more like a media company now, and so we are doing some stuff where we can help promote action sports while also taking advantage of unique opportunities. So for this, we kind of get to reach a little bit further in TV and social media. It’s interesting.
We had the History Channel reach out and say, “We’d like to do a stunt.” We’re all kind of sitting around our big conference table like, all right, it’s History Channel. This is really big. How do we throw back to something that has a long story? That has something that can be told that kind of sits on that, that is something that’s still relevant to what’s going on now? Honestly, with the retro dirt track stuff and what Roland Sands is doing, and even X Games coming out with so much of this throwback to old school, it just felt right.
We can show the next generation what Evel was all about and give me a challenge to say, can we jump motorcycles that are like this? Yeah, it’s definitely the modern Evel Knievel—it’s modern ramps, it’s modern technology, but it’s still using bikes that are heavy on jumps that really weren’t meant for it. So this kind of all just came together as a really, really good fit to tie in the new generation to understand a little bit of the past, and for some of the older guys like my dad, who’s like, “What the hell are you still doing doing stunts?” He’s like, “Yeah, all right. That makes sense. I love Evel.”
When exactly is that jump?
That’s on July 8 and in Las Vegas. We’ll do two jumps, basically, in the parking lot just on the strip, and then get a police escort to Caesar’s Palace. It goes through the most iconic place ever. It’s awesome. No one’s ever really cleared the fountain on dirt. They’ve cleared it, but they haven’t ridden away from it successfully on an old-school bike. Actually, Robbie Knievel jumped it, and then [Mike] Metzger backflipped it. So it’s not really about doing stuff that hasn’t been done, but really an ode to guys that created it. I got $800 custom-made high heel dress boots. We’re going full-out. Everything Evel did. We went to the same people that made his suit back in the day. Roland Sands went all-out as well. Evel was all about the show, and we didn’t want to lose track of that part. I got a cape and everything, man. It’s going to be awesome!
Between the car events and the jumps, you’ve got a super busy summer. Are you guys still doing all your Nitro Circus performances?
Yeah. Nitro currently does over 70 shows a year. We’ve got everything from the major capital state tours to kind of the regional tours to, we call them next-level tours. A lot of the tours we want to go bigger with the ramps and stuff, but we can’t do it inside, especially in Europe. The ceiling height is like 48-52 feet. So we’re about 55 feet in the air on the new ramps height-wise, whereas a normal freestyle jump at like X-Games or whatever would be about 32 feet, maybe 35 max, which is if you’re kind of overshooting to do a Kiss of Death or something. So we’re 20 feet higher on the new ramps, which makes the tricks a lot easier and we can go a lot bigger on the stuff. But we just can’t do it for our bigger shows, which kind of sucks for me.
We want to show them something that hasn’t been seen, something bigger, and it’s really hard to do a double backflip on a standard setup. Not to say it’s easy to do it on a bigger setup, but if you got four seconds instead of two in the air, you can really rotate the same as a single flip. You’re just in the air a lot longer. Yeah, the risk factor goes up, but the landings got the airbag technology now. Stuff still gets broken, but it’s proportionate for the height we’re going. It’s pretty cool. We got basically a few tours. One we bring in a lot of locals, try to find up-and-coming talent, kind of a scout tour. One is just the motorcycle, kind of next-level tour where we use the bigger ramps and that kind of progress there. The other one is the capital city tour, which we bring everybody in. Obviously, when you sell out the Echo Arena two, three, four nights in a row, the budget you have can be higher for actually bringing in the riders.
At the end of the day, everyone’s like, “Nitro’s got to be a cash cow.” We’re just like everyone else in the world trying to stay afloat. Kind of everything reflects the market. You bring in as many people as you can and you put on as big a show as you can, but it’s a double-edged sword. The guys are getting paid; none of us are getting rich. For one of the capital city tours, we had 60 athletes on tour. That is a lot of talent! We got to make sure we have enough people to fill the seats.
Switching gears here, you are getting older. How is your family doing?
Doing well. We have two little girls, they are three and four. We are based back home in Annapolis, but we seem to be living mostly [out of] hotels and apartments. But yeah, Maryland is kind of where we call home at this point. We had two months earlier this year in Australia for the tour. It was awesome. We only had the weekends basically doing shows, so then the week was really the time we had kind of off. We were on tour, but I had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, usually Thursday morning just at a condo on the beach. It was really awesome. It’s cool just to be able to do that, to be able to travel the world and spend some time with family in different places. It’s been a fun ride, but next year, Addie, our four-year-old, starts kindergarten, so definitely going to try to get off the road a little bit more here coming up.
Have you been following racing at all? Either supercross or outdoors stuff?
Oh yeah. On tour, it doesn’t matter what time it is. It’s even mostly the BMX guys, ironically—Bilko and Chewy and those guys, Beau Bamburg, whatever time it is, whatever time zone we’re on, when supercross comes on, they find a way to watch it. Same thing with outdoors—we are always looking at results and talking about it. For me, and just knowing Ken [Roczen] pretty well and his story, it’s definitely been cool to see him getting back out there. It’s ridiculous what he has done. If it was almost anyone else in the world, he probably would have lost his arm. He’s already back two years later and already battling for a championship. Amazing stuff right there.
Anything else you have coming up that people might want to know about?
Yeah, I think the biggest thing we are doing—we just finished editing literally yesterday Action Figures 2. It’s a little bit more raw than everything else we’ve kind of done and shows a little bit more lifestyle. We wanted to show more on the athletes. But whoever they are, we kind of went into a little bit more of that and get a little more personality. Honestly, I think the best athlete in the world right now, as far as action sports, is hands-down Ryan Williams. He’s got a section that’s three minutes long, and your jaw is dropped the whole time. Just absolutely unbelievable stuff.
What about for you? Any new record-setting jumps?
I did a double backflip, full twist 75 feet off the ground. I somehow landed it the first time. I actually hit so hard I shit myself. They changed the bars on the bike and I kind of got my thoughts together. They were like, “Do you want to go change your pants?” I’m like, “Dude, if I go up again, I will never come back and try this trick again.” So, as it goes, this film was my last film in action sports where I put myself out there. It’s kind of my tribute to a dying breed of stuntmen, if you will, and just how the world has kind of gone in that way. So this is the film that’s the most of me of any film that we’ve done. We’ve put everything out there, and I’m definitely stoked on it!
Wow, that’s a pretty big statement from you! Are you saying you’re basically stepping away from what you’ve been doing? Or are you just going to back it down?
Well, I’ve got another two years of contracts to honor and represent. But we are definitely slowing some of it down for me. I’ll ride dirt bikes until the day I die. I will drive cars, and hopefully continue racing cars, depending on what my girls want to get into and stuff like that in the future. But this was my last film that I was in action sports that I’m in charge of, especially with what happened with Phil. We have even been talking about maybe selling the house. I’ve put every dime I’ve ever made back into building ramps and landings and airbags and everything that goes along with it. I’ve spent every dime I’ve ever made into stuff that will potentially hurt my friends or kill the next generation. I don’t completely agree with that. I feel like it’s helped a lot of people and helped kids kind of chase their dreams, but it depends on where your perspective is, I guess.
Pastranaland will still probably be there, and hopefully go to someone that will have fun with it, but definitely not building any more “world’s first” stuff. Nitro will continue, for sure. I’m just an athlete there. There’s still guys that are going to be pushing the limits on everything. Definitely for me, this was my end of pushing the sport. I’ll just be sitting back there admiring the people that are. Honestly, this year will probably be my biggest year in action sports. There’s an announcement coming—I’ve had a couple setbacks, but it should be coming here in the next month or two. It’s going to be rad. Pretty much this is my last year, year-and-a-half out there. We’ll see, though!