By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
4:37 PM EDT, June 1, 2013
DOVER, DEL. —
The dream was stirred years ago for Travis Pastrana, nearly half a lifetime now for the Maryland-born motocross and X Games superstar who is about to turn 30 and is in the midst of trying his fourth extreme sport: NASCAR.
The reality has come in the past month.
As Pastrana has gone from being a rock star on a motorcycle to a rookie driver hoping to prove he belongs in the Nationwide Series — the equivalent of baseball's Triple-A for stock-car racing — the results have been encouraging but inconsistent. He's had everything from two top-10 finishes in his first three races to earning the pole at Talladega and then crashing 71 laps into the 110-lap race.
Once called "the boy who could fly" because of his big-air motocross exploits, Pastrana has been grounded by his introduction to what he calls "four wheel" racing.
"I've never started so far at the bottom in another sport," Pastrana said Friday morning, sitting in the back office of his hauler before practicing for Saturday's 5-Hour ENERGY 200 at Dover International Speedway. "There are so many great guys that have worked [longer] and some of these younger kids that have been racing their whole life, and they are good, man.
"That's [a] funny thing, coming from the outside, you think, 'They're turning left, how good can they be?' It's amazing how much talent these guys have and how close the racing really is. … I've been able to chase my dreams and do exactly what I've loved to do every day. I take more chances than most people because I believe they will work."
The desire to drive racecars began when a teenage Pastrana was the emerging megastar in motocross. Shortly after getting his driver's license, he qualified for the World Rally Car championships.
"I was 16 years old and they were letting me drive a $750,000 car, it was 'Game on,'" Pastrana recalled with a laugh. "I've always loved racing; competition is what always drove me. A lot of guys who came from the off-road tread racing said that the best, closest form of racing if you're a competitor is NASCAR.
"I didn't really understand the sport, I watched the Daytona 500, but when I did my first pavement race down in Florida, Tony Stewart was at that race and I thought, 'This is so cool!' We ended up on the lead lap. I got my butt kicked, but thought, 'I've got to figure this out.'"
That has yet to happen. Not that Pastrana is discouraged by his recent results, including crashing last week at Charlotte, or is lacking the confidence that made him the most successful and one of the most fearless ever to race, jump or flip a motorcycle.
The same bravado that once gave a Red Bull-fueled Pastrana the nerve to jump out of an airplane without a parachute (he had the ultimate leap of faith timed to join a friend with a chute in midair) allows him to race at more than 175 mph.
"I think for me, I want to be going for a win, and realistically if things fall in place, it's possible, especially if there's a restrictor plate race or where there's more luck involved than driver skill, something like that," said Pastrana, who finished 15th in Saturday's race after qualifying 16th.
"I think it's very difficult to say, 'OK, I'm just going to drive within my means.' I always want to be, 'That guy's going faster. Why can't I do this? It's a car, I should be able to drive it as fast as that guy does.' Every race that I've set out and I have driven within my means, it's been my best results."
The mental aspect has been the toughest part of the transition.
"It's very different in one aspect — everything else I've ever been successful at, you could go out, take a chance and make up time," Pastrana said. "In motocross, you can jump further, you can wheelie into a set of whoops; in freestyle, if you have a trick everyone's kind of thinking about but no one has the guts to try, you can still go for it. You might crash, but that's how you win.
"In NASCAR, it's so precise that you can't really make up any time, but you can lose a lot of time. If you go harder, you'll burn the tires, you can slide too much, you can actually go slower. And that's been very challenging for me. The harder I try to race, the faster I try to go, the slower I go and the worse my results are. It's more a controlled skilled set than a guts thing."
Lyndsey Pastrana, known to her skateboarding fans as Lin-Z Adams Hawkins, said that her husband has "always been very calculated in everything he does," but said he gets frustrated at times.
"I think he enjoys it, but it's also tough for him. It's harder to do better, but because he can't go home and work out harder, it's frustrating for him to feel that there's not as much he can do during the week," she said in a telephone interview Friday night.
As much time as he spends during the week with a simulator or working out or watching tape of his pit stops, Pastrana knows nothing can replace the hours racing — "seat time" the drivers call it.
Lyndsey Pastrana said NASCAR has allowed her husband to focus more on one goal.
"It's more of a real job," she said. "There are so many more people involved. He puts more pressure on himself because it's not just on him. He takes it to heart that if he's not doing well, they're not being taken care of. He's putting a lot more time and energy into one thing instead of a million things."
Still a rookie
While Pastrana being successful in NASCAR might seem as far-fetched as basketball legend Michael Jordan trying to become a major league baseball player, there doesn't seem to be the same kind of skepticism among his peers, at least publicly.
NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon said Friday that Pastrana, whose best finish has been ninth place in Richmond, Va., is not being treated any different than any other newcomer.
"You have to earn your respect, whether you're a young talent that's come up through the field and you've watched and you think he's really talented but when he gets here, he's still going to have those stripes and respect," Gordon said. "In Travis' case, we look at him and say, 'He doesn't have a lot of oval experience but he certainly has plenty of bravery and guts and is trying to learn new things.'"
Gordon said he has been impressed by some of Pastrana's results — "He's done better than I thought he would do," Gordon said — but overall looks very much like a rookie. Gordon said that being part of Jack Roush's racing team that includes Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. "should help his learning curve."
A year after his deal with Michael Waltrip's racing team fell apart when Pastrana broke his ankle at an X Games event, Pastrana said that he has put "in a good bit of money to be on the best team, guys that I believe will help me get to where I'm going, guys that I really look up to and respect."
Pastrana said he has been back on a motorcycle just three times since the ankle injury, in large part because nearly two dozen others on the Roush Fenway team rely on him to stay healthy. But he is still involved in the sport in terms of building ramps and tracks for motocross.
His house in the Annapolis area "is a play land for anyone in action sports — there's people from all over the neighborhood riding the skateboards and motorcycles and bicycles every day. … It's fun to be on this side of it where I can help progress the sport."
'It's a challenge'
Historically, making the transition to NASCAR isn't easy, as evidenced by the lack of success for drivers such as former Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr. and former IndyCar and Formula One champion Juan Pablo Montoya.
Those who have come from Pastrana's former world have met with mixed results in four-wheel cars.
Jeff Ward, the seven-time motocross national champion, won an IndyCar race in Texas in 2002. Ricky Carmichael had only one top-10 finish in the Nationwide Series but has done better on NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series. Others flopped.
"If you ever make it to the top of motocross, that's your whole life," Pastrana said. "I don't have too many friends who went to a high school dance or on their 21st birthday had a sip of alcohol, you're just so focused. Sometimes priorities change."
That is going to happen for Pastrana, since he and Lyndsey are expecting their first child in August. Pastrana also knows there's a timetable, a small window to prove he belongs, perhaps only until the end of this year.
"I have a very good platform to start with, I have a lot of people that are definitely supportive, but I have a lot of high expectations from everyone," he said of the Roush team. But if by the end of the year the results are not there, Pastrana said, "It's going to be very hard to stay in the sport."
Lyndsey Pastrana said her husband is "ever out to prove he can be the best at anything. He enjoys a challenge and this is very challenging for him. He will be there as long as it's challenging him and he can keep progressing."
Giving up motocross and the riches it has brought him for more than a decade has not been easy.
"It's hard because everyone's saying, 'Oh, you're going to NASCAR for the money,' and I'm actually turning down money and a place where I can be the best, or have a chance to compete to be one of the top guys," he said. "I'm doing this because it's a challenge. We're going to learn, but it's not going to be quick."
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