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Travis Pastrana looks to make waves at X Games, NASCAR debut

Travis Pastrana does not look back. There's no need. YouTube catalogs his triumphs and failures. He also does not look ahead except to recite his exhausting schedule. Pastrana's focus, instead, is elsewhere.

"I pretty much live in the moment,'' he says, seated in a rare moment of calm where the only motor humming is the one within him that animates his arms, lights his eyes and widens his smile.

Pastrana's proclamation is a common refrain, but he's among the few who actually live that way. It's how he's excelled on a motorcycle and in a rally car. It's how he hopes to excel in NASCAR. Owning more than a dozen Guinness World Records, he has performed feats that are part Cirque du Soleil, Evel Knievel and Bo Jackson.

"Your body can always do more than your mind thinks it can,'' Pastrana says, echoing a proverb from his father that pushes him beyond what one would consider reasonable limits.

Pastrana seeks to reinforce that idea in a dizzying week of stunts packed around a racing debut.

JAMES: Can Travis Pastrana's unique career lead to a new era in motorsports?

On Thursday he will attempt to turn his motorcycle into a gyrating satellite and return safely to earth in the best trick competition at the X Games. He competes in the motorcycle freestyle event Friday before flying from Los Angeles to Indianapolis, where he'll make his NASCAR Nationwide debut Saturday night at Lucas Oil Raceway. He's back in L.A. on Sunday to compete in a rally cross event at X Games and then it's off to Salt Lake City on Monday to complete filming of his Nitro Circus 3-D movie the rest of the week.

While expectations are high for him at X Games, they are not for his Nationwide debut. Limited track time -- because of X Games, his movie and other obligations -- will make a top-15 finish seem like a victory.

Pastrana concedes the challenges in NASCAR are as difficult as anything he's encountered. The comments are to remind fans not to place unrealistic expectations on him during his seven Nationwide races this season, but one wonders if the words aren't intended for himself.

"It's hard for him to not be really good at something and to not have the time to put in to practice and get to a point where he's happy,'' says fiancé Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, a professional skateboarder. "I think that's one of the toughest things for him is not being able to really focus on NASCAR. Once he gets a chance to do that, it will be really interesting to watch and see how he does and how he reacts to it. Is he going to be able to get better? Is he going to stay frustrated?''

Since finishing sixth in his debut in a NASCAR K&N Series car in January, Pastrana has not had another top-10 finish in that series. Earlier this month at New Hampshire, he tried to go three-wide on the second lap and smacked the wall. He finished 22nd.

"I was too over-antsy,'' Pastrana said after that race. "Bottom line, they gave me a good car and I was too aggressive on the second lap ... and really killed our chances to do well.''

Afterward, he emailed co-owner Michael Waltrip about his race and his frustration about what happened.

"If you read the email, you almost want to start crying, and say, 'Dude, I know we've got to live in the moment but we've got to be calm and we've got to be patient,'" Waltrip says. "We're going to make these mistakes and we're going to learn and that's how we're going to get good. I have to lean on him for [patience].''

Pastrana claims his NASCAR endeavor is not something to keep him busy until his next trick. He calls it a passion and wants to be the best. His success in other venues gives him the chance to try NASCAR and it's something he couldn't refuse. Just as he'll have a hard time passing up the IndyCar season finale in Las Vegas with $5 million available to a non-regular driver if he or she wins that race.

"I'd be an idiot not to go for it,'' he says.

While some might view him more as an entertainer, it's competition that drives him. Hawkins has seen it in nearly all that they do together. Even leaving a restaurant can turn into a foot race to the car.

It's Waltrip's job to pair that competitive spirit with the proper equipment and see what Pastrana can become. There are no guarantees. For a sport trying to reach a younger audience, having one of the biggest action sports stars succeed could introduce NASCAR to a new fan base. A successful Pastrana could become a Pied Piper leading more fans and maybe other action sport athletes to NASCAR.

That's the least of Pastrana's concerns at this moment. He's focused on the best trick event Thursday, where he'll attempt a double back flip on his motorcycle with a spin. He's been working on it for about four years.

"To describe the trick I'm going to do at X Games would be like explaining how a rocket works,'' Pastrana says.

Then he dissects the trick, making it sound so much easier than it really is. Just after flying off the ramp, he'll pull his motorcycle into a back flip, then pull the bike as hard as he can into a spin before executing another back flip.

"If you miss any one of those steps any time,'' Pastrana says, "you will be broken.''

Just as he nearly was two years ago when he crashed attempting the same trick at X Games. He damaged disks in his back, badly bruised his elbow and suffered a swollen hip. Pastrana has landed the trick several times in practice but it hasn't always been easy. Falling into a foam pit at his Maryland home, he dislocated his shoulder three times within a week earlier this month. The shoulder was popped back into place and he continued. He keeps going because it's all about doing something that once was thought impossible to do.

"Right now, [if I land] this trick at X Games, I will give every dime I make back to the guys that have helped me,'' Pastrana says. " I will probably throw my medal into the stands. I don't even care. I don't care what you call the trick. You can name it after my biggest rival, I couldn't care less. I just want to do this stupid trick because it's been four years of my life in that hellhole known as a foam pit, and it sucks.''

Should he make it through this week, then he has additional stunts to film to finish his Nitro Circus movie with hopes of it debuting in February or March.

"We took action sports back to the roots when we started Nitro and were trying to push stuff that we didn't know if it was possible,'' Pastrana says of the movie. "Our grasp of what is possible has gotten a lot broader.''

It's opened his eyes to what more he can do beyond action sports.

"Let's shoot for the moon,'' Pastrana says of his NASCAR quest. "At worst, we're a shooting star.''

Dustin Long covers NASCAR for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The Roanoke (Va.) Times and the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. His blog can be found at here.

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