Travis Pastrana Interview: From Pastranaland to Nitro Rally Cross

Travis Pastrana is undoubtedly one of the most famous motorcyclists in history. He won the 2000 AMA 125cc Motocross National Championship and the 2001 AMA 125cc East Supercross Championships. Concurrent with his racing career, Pastrana competed in the X Games, winning the inaugural MotoX Freestyle title in 1999 and famously celebrating by ghosting his Suzuki RM125 into San Francisco Bay. The authorities, including ESPN, didn’t like it, but the stunt was a turning point in Pastrana’s career—he became a mainstream public figure at 15 years old.

Travis Pastrana Interview: Pastranaland

After semi-retiring from motocross and supercross, Pastrana concentrated on freestyle motocross and the X Games before expanding into Rally America (where he was a four-time champion from 2006 to 2009), the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, among countless other endeavors. Currently, the 37-year-old Pastrana is co-founder of the Nitro Circus brand.

As a Red Bull Athlete, the naturally likable Pastrana sat down with a Red Bull interviewer after a tour of his Pastranaland compound to talk about his latest activities, and a revealing glimpse into his private life.

Q: You recently let the cameras around Pastranaland, which is some backyard. Where’s the inspiration come from?

Travis Pastrana: Thank you. That was the goal for one of a kind. [1990 AMA 125cc Motocross National Champion] Guy Cooper had Cooperland with a go-kart when I was growing up, and I guess I never grew up. It seems to be an ever-evolving site.

Travis Pastrana Interview: Red Bull Athlete

Q: What’s next to be created?

TP: It’s not actually that much land. It’s always changing with whatever we need, and we build what we build. It helps my dad being in construction. In fact, it’s just a bunch of us rednecks in the backyard!

Q: You’ve had quite an extensive resumé. How do you define yourself?

TP: Without a doubt, it’s been varied. Motocross was where I wanted to go, but my dad and uncles drove motor cars. One was into drag racing, so we always had things like Bobcats to go charging around in – that was me from three years old. So, we’d get a shovel and dig out jumps or drive go-karts around the shop. So, I just wanted to try everything.

Q: A lot of people are defined by just one thing, but you’ve been a jack of all trades, haven’t you? How and why have you got into so many different things?

TP: My uncle was quarter-back for the Denver Broncos, but he got injured and came back to working in construction. Dad said he was the greatest athlete out of our town and state and didn’t make enough out of turning that hobby into a career, so every day that you do something, make sure you love it. Coming in with that mentality was awesome, as I never did anything for the money. I did it because I loved it.

Travis Pastrana Interview: Nitro Circus

Starting, we didn’t have much growing up. My uncles would chip in to pay for gas, and the local dealership gave us a bike. My parents sold the boat, the Harley, and had two mortgages on the house, so I’m aware money was a huge deal. But my dad wanted to make sure, if doing a hobby, that I can do it, and if that makes another hobby, then just do it.

Q: What would you like to be remembered for at the end of your career?

TP: I hope to be the guy who people think gave everything he had and always brought it. He brought fun, and I feel like I’m the best gentlemen driver. Okay, maybe I’m fighting for that with [FIA World Rallycross driver] Ken Block. We show we can mix it up and beat the best in the world on a good day. But we’re not [nine-time World Rally Champion] Sebastien Loeb or one of the Formula 1 guys. But it’s fun, and we’re good enough to live our life exactly how we want to and find ways around the norm.

Q: Your latest venture is Nitro Rally Cross. What’s that involve?

TP: We were all set to kick that off, and then COVID hit, so that crushed us. But it’s kind of good that we had more time to work out deals with more tracks. There’s going to be five tracks in year one—special purpose-built courses, and I’ll either build them myself or else help with the guys. The goal is to make it exciting for fans, but drivers too. There has to be options that different cars and manufacturers have the chance to do well at one, and another at another, so we’ll mix it up.

The drivers are really excited, and they’ll be scared when they get there. The best time in racing is the first couple of years when you’re really still learning what works the best. Our goal with that is continue to mix it up and, when the drivers think it’s figured out, we’ll change it up.

Q: Is feeling fear important in what you do?

TP: On fear, I think I do better with calculating risk—that’s my real talent. But things are a lot safer now. No one in NASCAR is afraid of hitting the wall. Take Formula 1, they’d have 20 drivers on the grid in the 1970s and end the season with 18, so they’d lose like two a year. That’s gone. With Nitro Rally Cross, it’s my job to make it safe and to have zero injuries, but you have to have something where you can mess up a jump or hit a jump with big consequences, so that really plays into what you’re willing to do.

Q: It’s fair to say you’ve had a few injuries of the years. Do you ever feel bad for what you’d done to your body?

TP: [laughs] I just hope that we can learn from the mistakes that we’ve made and then push the boundaries out there as safely as possible. If I had to go back through the injuries, it’s not worth every dollar in the world, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s all mind and body and keeping on pushing, and your body will heal. You have to think about what you’re putting into your talent.

Q: The list of stunts you’ve done is pretty impressive, from jumps across the Grand Canyon to the River Thames. Can you pick a favorite? Is that like picking a favorite child?

TP: The funny thing with that Thames one in London was that it was one of the more dangerous stunts, but it didn’t look that dangerous or scary. But as I’m taking off, I’m thinking, “I’m sure this ramp isn’t going down,” and Mike Metzger got pretty beaten up when he tried it. So, when it goes right, everyone’s like, “That was easy.” Take the one out of a plane without a parachute. That was difficult to find the right people to do that with, but it wasn’t necessarily that hard of challenging. What I did find out is that’s against the law, so there were a lot of legalities around that. But all the matters is it’s cool when you do something people can relate to.

Q: What’s the thinking behind a stunt?

TP: It’s less about the stunts and more about the competition, even if the competition is just with yourself. I love when someone says it can’t be done then figuring out how it can be done. Take the backflip Superman. People said it wasn’t possible with gravity, so we welded brackets on the clutch levers so the arms would hit those levers and pull you down. That was a pretty cool little knickknack. So, there’s a lot of stuff like that which makes stunts seem easy nowadays.

Q: Your wife’s an X Games champion in her own right. Does that make for a competitive household?

TP: Very competitive. We don’t overlap in our sports, thank goodness. We are competitive with everything we do. Lyn-Z [Adam Hawkins] was thinking about trying to get to the Olympics as skateboarding went in, so she won the World Championships in 2019, which was I was so proud of her for. But she enjoys being a mom and, even on the podium, was sad as she’d missed two weeks with the kids. I’m just glad someone in the family grew up! She does a great job with everything.

Q: As a parent, has that diminished the risk you’re willing to take?

TP: No. At the end of the day, I want kids to see their parents see how hard they work and do something that they love to do. So many friends leave for work before their kids get up and get home when it’s dark. Something I’m fortunate to not have to do. I’m gone a lot, but when I’m home, I’m with the kids. I like to show them the passion and working on stuff. I hope that that’s one thing that they take is do anything, but you have to work at it.

Photography by Monte Isom