Travis Pastrana holds twelve world records, eleven X Games gold medals, has won championships in Rally and Motocross but he’s now trying to conquer something completely different than what he’s ever experienced before; he’s trying to make a name for himself in NASCAR. There is no doubt that this racing phenom has the talent and the tenacity to make his way in the most popular motorsport in North America but even a racing ace like Travis Pastrana must work for it if he wants to one day hold his own against the best NASCAR has to offer.
Travis joined up with Roush-Fenway Racing for the 2013 season which happens to be one of the most successful teams in NASCAR history. They have earned over 300 national touring wins and have won seven championships. Despite all of his incredible accomplishments in other disciplines, NASCAR has been a challenge for Travis to adapt to but he’s already shown promise in his short career winning a pole at Talladega and posting a handful of top 10’s this year.
At Watkins Glen, I got the chance to interview Travis; the first major motorsport interview of my professional career by the way. Before I was a member of the media, I was a fan of Travis Pastrana and I remember sitting shocked on my couch as a 13 year old when I watched him perform a double back flip at the 2006 X Games. I cheered him on in Rally and followed him from his early days of motocross back when he was just a teenage kid like myself.
Now, I got the chance to finally shake his hand and talk to the man behind all these incredible feats. I was also soaking wet because I forgot to bring an umbrella to the track….great foresight on my part! Here’s what he had to say about the transition to NASCAR, his season thus far and his plans for the future…
Who in the garage has been the biggest help to you as you try to adapt to racing in NASCAR?
When I first started in NASCAR, Matt Crafton was just awesome, he’s still really taking me under his wing but now with the Roush-Fenway team when we go to test, it’s probably Trevor Bayne just because he’s my Nationwide teammate. When we go to the restrictor plate races, he’s worked with me which is something a lot of people wouldn’t be willing to do…so that’s been really an honor and has been super cool. Carl Edwards has been great at the tests as well. He jumps into me car because we have the same seat. We’re pretty much the same height, same build. At the track, it’s been Stenhouse so really everyone at the Roush-Fenway team.
What, if anything can you take from your experience racing rally cars and apply to driving one of these big, heavy stock cars? Is there anything?
I would have liked to have thought that there was a lot more but definitely car control. I’m really comfortable sliding around but the problem is, that’s not necessarily the fastest way. Especially at road racing; I was thinking, this is gonna be great! In rally, you charge in really, really deep and get back on the gas really, really early.
With these cars, they’re heavier, they’re bigger. They really don’t behave as well. They flat spot the tires real easy. As soon as you start turning in, you got to be off the brakes so you got to get all your braking done in a straight line and then roll it around the corner with as much roll speed as you can but then point it before you get on the gas. So it’s the patience thing. I just want to charge in hard, lock up the tires, get on the gas and slide it off the corners and its just not faster.
Kind of like the old adage; go slower to go faster?
Yeah, it’s just that when you’re not the fastest one on the track, you want to go faster.
You obviously have the talent to race in NASCAR…you don’t just luck into 11 X-Games gold medals and you’ve already had three or four front row starts this year (in NASCAR). What would a win in NASCAR mean to you? Would it be the biggest win of your career?
I think it would be the most difficult from where I came from. My whole life has been geared to motorcycles and then to rally; all dirt stuff pretty much. Even with rallycross, I haven’t done as well as the rally when it was just all dirt. If I can figure out a pavement sport, it would be the biggest success and surprise if you will.
Now that you brought up dirt…would you ever consider running that truck race at Eldora in the future?
The truck race looked like a lot of fun but again, it’s not the dirt I’m used to. I’m used to charging in hard…that’s a patience track. I would have been spun everywhere like come on; I want to go faster and then I’m in the wall! (Laughs) So probably not my forte even though it is dirt.
What do you think you need to improve on personally and your team needs to improve on to take you to that next level? You seem like a solid top 15 driver but what do you need to do to get to be a solid top 5 or top 10 driver?
That’s a great question…you know, the team is working really hard. They’ve got great stuff. I have a lot of notes from past champions…I mean we are the winningest Nationwide team of all-time and I need to get that win. At the beginning of the season, we worked on consistency. We got that; we had the three top 10’s in the first six races or seven races.
Then we got to Richmond and I said okay, I’m not fast enough. I’m not qualifying well enough. So we started pushing and I could get that single lap to fire off. I was getting faster in practice, we got to where I could get the car to run one lap quick. We were fastest in practice for a couple races, got a couple 2nd’s in qualifying…a 5th, a pole. Like we were doing good but I couldn’t race the car setup like that. Now I know what the speed’s like; how how can I keep that speed and figure out how to race it.
Most drivers have a time table of where they want to be five or ten years from now in their career. What’s your time table, like where do you want to be in five years, 10 years; you want to be racing in Cup?
My bucket list; why I even started was to try to race Cup in the Daytona 500. That and the Indy 500 are pretty much the two biggest races that as a American, you could just be a part of. Now that I started racing, you don’t just want to be a part of it, you want to do well in it. You have to figure out how to get better, get faster.
If you’re looking five years down the road, I need to look at what I need to do to speed up this learning curve whether its racing more ARCA races and Late Models or spending more time in the shop and learning more about the car. We’re kind of in that spot now where I’ve got Rally, I’ve got Nitro; I’ve got all this other stuff going on and I’ve always been able to balance that.
You hate to say its a job, it’s an awesome job but I got to be in the shop more. We got to figure out what I need to do to structure the rest of my life and now with a kid on the way and to be a good friend to my friends at Nitro but to really, focus on this.If we’re going to do this full-time, if I want to be here in five years, I need to figure out what it’s going to take and I need to do it now.
Now that you brought up the Indy 500….I know you’re focused on the task at hand but would you ever consider running Indycars or doing some more endurance races in sports cars?
All that stuff is awesome but for now, I got to figure out NASCAR.
Fan Question – Laura from Vancouver, Canada Asks: What has been the most challenging track for you this year?
A lot of them, I thought I was going to do well like Iowa; it’s my best K&N track and I don’t know the difference between K&N and Nationwide. Even last year in Nationwide, we didn’t have a great setup but I felt like we were competitive and this year, we were just well off. I think the biggest challenge hasn’t necessarily been a single track but it’s figuring out what I need in practice to race well. I mean, the team can do exactly what I say and I’m wrong 90% of the time. (Laughs)
What is something interesting about you that most fans don’t know?
What most of the fans don’t know is that everything about me and even stuff I don’t know about me is on the internet. (Laughs)
And that’s not necessarily a good thing! (Laughs)
No! (Laughs) If I want to know what I’m doing this weekend, I just look on the websites and see what they say. Oh, he’s probably doing this and I’m like oh, that’s a good idea!
After taking a step back, how would you assess your first full-time season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series so far?
At the beginning, we started off better than I thought…we found more speed in the middle that I thought we were going to find. At this point, slower than I anticipated. I was hoping to be consistently top 10 driver and working on some top 5’s but it hasn’t been the case.
Travis Pastrana may not have a win in NASCAR yet but he’s got three big things going for him right now and that’s a great team behind him, a great attitude and the most important attribute of all; he’s got the raw talent to get the job done. All he’s lacking is experience in NASCAR and that will come with time.
I believe that we will see Travis in victory lane by this time, next year and his dream of racing in the Daytona 500 will one day come to fruition as long as he keeps fighting to make it a reality. We all know Travis isn’t a quitter, it took a broken leg to finally stop him from attempting the Rodeo 720 at the 2011 X Games and I don’t see him giving up on NASCAR until he accomplishes what he came here to do and that’s win.
He’s led laps, won a pole, and finished in the top 10 on multiple occasions in just his first full-time season in the Nationwide Series which is really impressive for someone with little stock car experience. There is another guy that came to NASCAR with little stock car experience and with a background primarily based on dirt and with dirt bikes…he posted six top 10’s, no top fives and failed to win a race in his first full-time Nationwide season which is almost identical to how Pastrana’s season is going. His name is Jimmie Johnson.