Travis Pastrana is known for being a little crazy as an extreme sports star and a television star on the MTV show “Nitro Citrus.”
However, the 29-year-old gets serious when it comes to NASCAR.
He had to convince car owner Jack Roush just how serious he was about NASCAR before getting the chance to drive the No. 60 Ford in the Nationwide Series this season.
“I told Jack I wanted to drive for him and asked if he had a spot on the team to support me,” Pastrana said. “Jack sat down with me and asked, ‘Are you here to have fun or are you here to win?’ He goes if you’re calling me, ‘It’s not because we’re the most flashy team, it’s because you want to win.’ I told him, ‘Yes sir, I want to be the best and work with the best.’ “Jack was very upfront. He told me if I just wanted to do this a year or two to hang up, he didn’t even want to talk to me. Once I told him I wanted to do it, he wanted to see if I had any speed. That’s how it started.”
Fully committed to NASCAR, Pastrana is excited to race in Saturday’s Jeff Foxworthy Grit Chips 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Pastrana was amazed the first time he drove on the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” last season.
“Bristol was awesome. Everybody told me it was like the gladiator arena,” he said. “You see it on tv, but it doesn’t do it justice. I wanted to ride a skateboard around the top.
“I was actually worried because I get motion sickness a lot. But it was amazing because when you’re in the car and are so focused, going in circles with that many G’s, the adrenaline kicks in and there is no dizziness at all.”
It may seem strange that a man who has done mid-air flips on a motorcycle over 50 feet in the air and set a record time racing up the side of Mount Washington would be somewhat intimidated by the high-banked short track.
But, it’s part of his evolution as a serious competitor. Those who doubt Pastrana can be a top stock car racer, be warned. He’s been successful in every venue he’s tried, even going three straight days at the Rally Greece super rally and never crashing.
Part of it was Pastrana’s willingness to listen to his teammate.
“Rally racing was the only reason I succeeded in racing,” he said. “I was first or last in my motocross career. In rally, I had a co-driver who had a wife and a kid. We hit a few trees and he was like, ‘Look here, man. When I tell you to go right, you go right and when I tell you to slow down, you slow down.’ When I won the championship my first year there, it was because he paced us and I did opposite of what I wanted to do.”
After that experience, Pastrana admits he had a false impression of NASCAR. If you’re sliding a car on the edge of a cliff, then how hard could it be to race in circles on a bunch of oval tracks.
“Every driver who sits on the couch on Sunday thinks he could jump in a car and be successful in NASCAR,” Pastrana said. “I knew that wasn’t going to be the case, but the light bulb went off when I ran the (USAC) Silver Crown race and I’m picking off guys who qualified for the Indy 500.
“But last year, I realized more than ever it’s not something you can come in and just do. I thought one race we would get lucky with the set-up and run up front. I found out it’s going to take everything, myself, the entire team and some good guidance.”
It was been a tougher adjustment than Pastrana envisioned.
He had been used to incredible success as a 10-time X games gold medalist, a four-time Rally America Drivers champion and a two-time AMA Motocross National Champion.
To come into NASCAR and only post one top-10 in two years — and not in one of the three national touring series — it can take its toll on a young driver still learning to communicate with his crew.
“It’s a huge adjustment because I’m like, ‘Understeering off turn 3 and then there’s some oversteering,’” Pastrana said. “They’re like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Even the way they talk about compression and rebound, it’s opposite of motocross. There’s a lot of stuff where I’m giving them the information and it’s the exact opposite. The language barrier is a small thing, but going to the different crew chiefs last year was something. I remember one time getting the yellow and I pulled into the 99 team by accident because my cousin still pits for that team. It’s all the little stuff, but it adds up.”