BRISTOL — What do you get when you bring together an extreme-sports legend, the son of a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, two standouts from the NASCAR diversity program and 26 other aspiring racers?
On Monday, the answer was a K&N Pro Series test session at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The test session, which featured a diverse group of racing talent including former Formula One driver Nelson Piquet Jr., was headlined by Travis Pastrana, an extreme-sports legend who will run 18 NASCAR races this season. Driving a Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, Pastrana is scheduled to run seven Nationwide Series races and 11 races in the K&N Pro Series.
The 26-year-old has 16 gold medals in the X Games, including supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross and rally car competition. For two seasons, he was also the force behind the “Nitro Circus” television show on MTV.
Still, driving on the high banks of Bristol presented a different type of challenge than flying 20 feet in the air on a motorcycle or sliding around rally cars.
“It’s a challenge getting the car around the course,” said the 28-year-old Pastrana. “I almost lost it on lap 2, so I had to back it down a little bit.”
Instead of running wide-open, Pastrana has found driving stock cars much like the movie “Days of Thunder.” In three previous starts in the K&N Series, his biggest mistake was running too hard at the start.
“Where I have a lot of experience with rally cars and drifting, driving a loose car or a car which feels out of control isn’t much of a problem,” Pastrana said. “My problem is finding the limit and not going over it. I have a tendency to slide it a lot, and it works well for 10-15 laps, but on a 30-40 lap run I’m dropping off.
“It’s like the Cole Trickle syndrome where the tires are done. Our best finish came in my first race when I just cruised around the track and tried to stay out of trouble. I had a race car which was driveable and made some good laps at the end. In these cars if you go over the edge one lap, you have to back the pace down. If you go over two laps, you’re done.”
It’s a lesson also being learned by 16-year-old Chase Elliott, the son of 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, along with other teenage racers, Dylan Presnell and Blake Jones from Sevierville.
Overall, there were 31 drivers making fast laps on Monday, including Darrell Wallace Jr. and Sergio Pena, two of the most successful products of the NASCAR diversity program.
Wallace was the most experienced of the group with two top-five finishes in three UARA Series starts at Bristol. The 18-year-old from Concord, N.C., became the youngest race winner and the first African-American winner in K&N Pro Series East history, when he won at Greenville-Pickens (SC) Speedway in 2010.
Wallace, who drives the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, is a big fan of racing at Bristol.
“I love this place. It’s fast and it’s fun,” Wallace said. “It’s all driver here. You have to manhandle it and get up on the wheel.”
The 125-lap K&N Pro Series race will be run March 17 following the Ford EcoBoost 300 for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The prospects of racing in front of a big crowd with Lance McGrew, the former crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., on his pit box had Elliott excited.
“A Saturday afternoon at Bristol is hard to beat,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be a tough one, a lot of fast cars out there.”
Wallace, who has five wins in 22 K&N starts, is looking forward to the challenge of beating and banging for 125 laps.
“It will be a good race, a fun race,” he said. “I just want to take everything I’ve learned from the three previous races here. Being at Joe Gibbs Racing, the car is great and the crew is great. It’s up to me now to put it in victory lane. There should be no reason we shouldn’t go out there and try to win every race.”
Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.