Interview with Travis Pastrana
Story & Photos by Eddie Graveline
Travis Pastrana has been a large blip on the American Motocross radar screen since before he got into high school. A regular in jump videos since he was 13-years-old, Travis’ talent has never been questioned. With an undefeated record in Freestyle Motocross plus 125cc National and Supercross championships to his name, he’s about as diverse as they come. Diversity, though, is what some people feel to be Travis’ biggest flaw. A not-so-silent group of critics and journalists have argued that if Travis would just focus on racing, he would be even more successful than he already is. They point to examples like him jumping and doing a back flip into the Grand Canyon for a video and going to Europe to drive a rally car this fall as deterrents from success on the track. The more you talk to the 18-year-old from Maryland, though, the more you begin to understand him. Racing is his life. All of the other stuff is just fun. Like any teenager should, Travis spends a fair amount of time having fun. Unlike a lot of other young pros, Travis doesn’t take himself or life so seriously that he can’t enjoy what he’s doing. When you think about it, that may be what makes Travis such a refreshing presence in the pits. No matter how you view his time management philosophy, there’s no arguing his progression as a rider. Once considered wild and too aggressive, Pastrana has matured as a rider and established himself as a legitimate contender wherever he races. His first few performances of the 2002 Supercross season back that statement up. I talked to Travis just before Round 3 of the series, where he led a good portion of the 250cc main and eventually finished third. I got some insight from him on all of the above subjects.
Q: Travis, I know that the 2001 racing season didn’t end the way you wanted it to. I also know that you did some really cool stuff during the off-season. Was that an effort to sort of relax, clear your mind and re-motivate yourself?
A: “No, motivation was never really lost. Heck, by the last outdoor national, I was back training 100%. I really didn’t take too much time off. I took two weeks off to learn how to skydive and then the next week, so three weeks was all of the time off I had this off-season. This last month I’ve done nothing but eat, sleep, ride and train. That’s it and I mean nothing, no nothing. I know I’m in good shape. I had some bad luck in the first race, but hopefully I’ll be able to turn it around.”
Q: So actually it might have been more of a focused off-season than you’ve had in the past?
A: “Definitely, it’s probably the most focused off-season I’ve had. You see a lot of the stuff in the magazines and it seems like I just mess around, but heck, in San Diego, the fastest lap anyone turned the whole week was my 20th lap in the main event. I feel like that shows that I can run the pace the whole time.”
Q: What’s more fun, driving a rally car or skydiving?
A: “Driving a rally car is more fun than skydiving, but jumping a motorcycle into the Grand Canyon, base jumping and doing a back flip, that was a quick rush, but it was the best thing in the world.”
Q: Now, there’s this guy named Andy Bell (Travis starts laughing) that keeps whining on the Internet about you getting him hurt all of the time. What’s up with that? (Note: Andy Bell is a fellow FMX rider and a riding buddy of Travis. He’s recently been complaining that Travis is to blame for many of his injuries.)
A: “Let’s stop these rumors. Andy, he can never be outdone. So whether it’s paintball or whatever, he always sets himself up to get hurt. You can’t lay down when someone’s got a paintball gun, shooting at you. So he just lays down and calls it quits, but anyway. Going through the desert, we’re going wide open, we’ve never seen any of this stuff and he passes me. Two corners later, he wads up and blows out his leg. Hey, I was leading and he had to pass me, so I had nothing to do with it.”
Q: Do you have any idea why he goes by the name “Nakedman” on the Internet?
A: “Unfortunately, yes. I think everybody does. We’ll be randomly doing this big 150-foot jump in the middle of the desert and he’ll just go around the dunes and everybody’s like, ‘where’s Andy?’ The next thing you know, he comes out fully nude with boots and a helmet, just launches the jump and does heel clickers and superman seat grabs. That’s got to hurt if you miss the pegs or something, I don’t know.”
Q: Okay, back to the important stuff. I’ve heard you admit in the past that you’ve tended to ride a little bit wild and overly aggressive and it’s caused some crashes. After last year and your decision to pull out of the Nationals, do you think you’ve taken some big steps toward riding for championships and not risking so much just to get to the front of the pack in one lap?
A: “I’m definitely hoping I’m going more that way, but at the same time, like in San Diego, I made a lot of mistakes in the first half of the race. In the second half, I was following Vuillemin. He’s a phenomenal rider and he was just schooling me out there and was just perfect. With five laps to go, I still felt really strong and I know I could have charged a little sooner and a little harder, but I said, ‘you know what? This is the best I’ve ever done. I’m in second place in a 250. I’ve never done this well, so let’s try to get the result.’ Whereas, maybe last year or the year before, I would have just gone for the win and maybe crashed myself out. At the same time, you have to win races to win a championship. If you win races, the championship will come. I’m not thinking championship yet. I’m thinking about winning races.”
Q: Compared to the first few rounds last year where you rode a 250, there has been an obvious change in your riding and comfort on the bike. Have you made changes other than the mental stuff to get to that point?
A: “No, I still have a long way to go. Second place is far from winning. I really hope to do that this weekend. Really, I’ve been riding a lot, but everybody always criticizes me for doing too much other stuff and not focusing. But if you lived my life, you’d understand that this (racing) is my life. That’s all I do. I eat, breathe and sleep motocross. If I have the opportunity to do something else when I’m not training, or after training, then I’ll go ahead and do that, but this is all I do. I live for this.”
Q: Did the fact that Carmichael and McGrath got off to slow starts create an opening for you and some other guys like Vuillemin that you didn’t expect to get?
A: “Yeah, coming into the season, I was hoping for top three. I thought that Jeremy and Ricky were going to be really hard to beat just in consistency and speed. I still think that they are going to be, but I’m ahead of both of them in the points. You know, Carmichael had a concussion in the first round. We have to capitalize on this right now while those guys aren’t doing things to 100% of their potential. Until they get their confidence up, now is the time when we have to go. I think this is going to be a year for guys like LaRocco, who are consistently up on the podium every weekend. Also, if I can get up there and mix it up a little bit, I think I have a shot at it.”
Q: Based on the start you got off to, what result will you be happy with for the season?
A: “You can never be happy with anything but first, but I’ll be satisfied with top-three in any particular race. If I get second in a series, though, I’m not going to go home and go, ‘yeah, I just won second in the series. It’s like, ‘alright, I was the first loser this year. Let’s see what we have to work on for next year’. It’s good, and I’ll accept anything I get, but at the same time, I don’t want to do anything but win.”
Q: Finally, if it was guaranteed to get you a win, would you have No Fear whip up some pink gear for you?
A: “Heck, it’s working for James (Stewart).”
Q: Alright, good luck this season.
A: “Hey, thanks.”