Q&A: Travis Pastrana revs up for Red Bull Straight Rhythm
The godfather of action sports will be 31 next week. Various of his joints are fused; he’s missing most of the cartilage in his knees. And while his roots are in motocross, and he still rides almost daily—“for fun”—Travis Pastrana “pretty much stopped racing competitively in 2004,” he says. He has branched out and evolved since then into an all-around adrenaline addict, stunt master and two-stroke Renaissance man. The 10-time X Games gold medalist ended his three-year dalliance with NASCAR last November, but hasn’t appreciably slowed down, racing rally cars, working on an Internet series called Action Figures, and touring with Nitro Circus, a troupe of like-mended daredevils who’ve been filling arenas around the world. Along for the ride: Pastrana’s wife, the pro skateboarder Lyn-Z Hawkins-Pastrana. They are expecting their second child in February.
On October 4, and notwithstanding any rust he might have accumulated, Pastrana will be in Pomona, Calif., for the much-anticipated, first-of-its-kind Red Bull Straight Rhythm, in which the Supercross track is “unwound”—no turns, just a half-mile of jumps and whoop sections. A couple days before he was to take the start in Pomona, Pastrana talked to SI Edge:
Edge: How radical a departure is this concept? What does it mean, that the turns have been taken out of the course? Can you emphasize speed over precision? How strange will it feel?
Pastrana: Oh man, I wish this had been around 12 years ago. In motocross, if someone gets the holeshot [the rider with the strongest start], and the other guys are equal speed, the race is over. In this race, there are no turns for one guy to get in front of the other. It is going to be very tight racing, all the way through. It’s two-out-of-three to get to the next round, so it’s going to be great race followed by great race followed by great race. It’s like the ADHD version of Supercross.
Edge: How are you with this format?
Pastrana: What’s great about it for me, is … a lot of the things, I love whoops [lengthy sections of corrugated bumps]. Whenever there was a long straightaway into a whoop section, I would love that, because you could take your skill, and say, ‘Okay, I can’t do this for 20 laps, but I can sure make up two seconds right now if I shift a gear and pin it.’ In Supercross you come out of corner and there’s just not the opportunity to get up to speed, so everyone does everything very similar. So, the Straight Rhythm is gonna play to the guys who can just scrub a jump, stay super low throw caution to the wind and be aggressive.
Edge: Scrub a jump? Help me out.
Pastrana: Sure. It’s called the Bubba Scrub, and James Stewart was the first one to start doing it, around 2002. As your front suspension rebounds, you get more height. Well, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so James started coming out of jumps and turning the front tire almost flat, off the takeoff. So now his suspension, instead of rebounding up, is rebounding sideways, or sometimes even down and forward, so he’s actually picking up speed. To scrub the jump, and not have the back end come straight over top of the front, is something I haven’t [mastered] so I’m just getting a bike with more power. They’re just gonna stay low and I’m gonna just skip as many jumps as possible [by flying over them].
Edge: Thank you for the handy transition to your decision to go with a 500cc two-stroke machine, where everyone else in your “open” division will be on a 450. Talk about the RM-Zilla.
Pastrana: The 450s now are so powerful. I pretty much stopped racing competitively in 2004. It’s been awhile. I ride every day for fun. I ride because I love it. I know I’m not competitive with Stewart and Ryan Dungey and those guys. I don’t have ACLs in my knees, I don’t like corners, I don’t like ruts, I don’t like putting my foot down. But the beauty of this straight line is that you don’t have to be in great shape, you can be kind of crippled, you don’t have to put your knees out in the corners. It’s a straight line, it’s a half-mile. And for that half mile, I want the most power that I can possibly have, and I want to run a two-stroke. So I’ve got the heaviest bike out there, and I’m going to put the power to the ground and just go.
Edge: It looks like you’ve been touring a fair amount with the “action sports collective” that you founded, Nitro Circus. How’s that working with your wife and one-year-old?
Pastrana: After Addy was born we were planning on [touring with Nitro Circus]. Everyone was like, ‘Why would you take pretty much a newborn around the world?’ But we’ve got all of our best friends, which are like family, who we trust with our lives on a nightly basis. So they’re all great babysitters. Lin-Z gets to skate every day, we all get to be together every day. It’s actually great.
Edge: The way Olympic ice skaters go on to the Ice Capades, do X Games athletes go on to Nitro Circus?
Pastrana: It’s basically a bunch of passionate people who are the best in the world at what they do. We don’t care if you’re on a pogo stick or a scooter or a Big Wheel, there’s just guys just sending it.
Edge: You’re also producing a something called Action Figures. What’s the background there? Is it a series, or a competition?
Pastrana: No, definitely not a competition, although every day it feels like one. I mean yesterday we had Jolene Van Vugt landing a double backflip on a BMX bike over this massive, massive gap. She just said, ‘Well, I’m here to play with the boys.’
Edge: What was the impetus for this series, then?
Pastrana: Free style just wasn’t as exciting, and now they even dropped free style from X Games. I’m like, ‘Guys, you took the “free” and the “style” out of the sport. Let’s get back to innovating ramps and building stuff and doing what we always did, and just trying to do what we always did, just trying to have fun with it again.
Edge: When people asked you why you got into NASCAR, one of the reasons you gave was, basically, that you were tired of breaking bones. How’s your body holding up?
Pastrana: I’m actually fairly healed up. I got a lot of stuff fused. Running is no longer in my repertoire. On the Nitro tour, we’ve got a physio who comes around, trying to keep your shoulders in [their sockets], your knees good, your muscles strong. As long as I stay active, I’m pretty good. And I ride all the time.
Everyone’s been saying, ‘Hey, you’re coming out of retirement’ [for the Red Bull Straight Rhythm]. Well, A) I never said I was in retirement. And B) I’m no further out of retirement than I ever was. I’m definitely not coming back to motocross, but this just looks like too much fun to pass up.