Our series of NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with one of the newest additions to stock-car racing: Actions sports megastar Travis Pastrana. Pastrana recently sat down with us at Richmond, where he competed in the K&N East Series race in preparation for his Nationwide Series debut in July.
SBN: We usually ask the same 12 questions of every driver each week, but since not all of them apply to you, some of them are going to be a little different.
TP: Uh oh. Is this pass or fail?
SBN: Yep. So the first question is, tell me a race or an event you've done where you thought you should have won but you didn't.
TP: Well, as a racer, you always believe you can win – and when you don't, it's a failure. As far as a championship goes, it would be the 2001 outdoor (motocross) national championship. To have an entire race lead in points – a 47-point lead and you can only get 50 points in a day – three concussions later and voila! I was out for the season. That sucked.
SBN: I've been asking the NASCAR drivers who they wanted to be like growing up. But how about you? Given that you're somewhat of a pioneer in your field, is there anyone you modeled yourself after?
TP: Well, for me there were different guys that did different things. Matt Hofman was a BMX guy – which wasn't even the sport I was into – but I just liked his attitude. In motorcycles, it was Doug Henry and in cars, it was Colin McRae. They all had a checker-or-wrecker attitude. I really liked that Colin would always go 100 percent; even if the team was like, 'All you've got to do is get fifth for the championship,' he'd still go for the win and crash out.
If you look at Mat Hoffman, he pretty much had the competition already won and he tried a 900 – which no one had ever done – and he knocked himself out. After everyone left and he kind of woke up and got his brains back, he stuck a 900 – on that ramp – before they tore it down. For no money, for no fame, for nothing. I just always respected those guys.
SBN: What is something people may not know or understand about you?
TP: Unfortunately I think the Internet knows more about me than I do. I usually look it up to see what I'm going to be doing that next week.
I'm just competitive. Everybody always says, 'You've gotta be crazy to do what you do.' It's not really true. Everything we do, even for Nitro Circus (the hit MTV show), is always about trying to out-do your friends. Trying to one-up, be a little faster, a little better, jump a little further.
Nothing's about taking risks as much as doing stuff that other people haven't done before. Just like in racing, it's not about taking risks but trying to figure out how to be faster.
SBN: Who is someone famous you'd like to meet?
TP: You know, it's funny, but all the people I looked up to and always admired were all racers. And I've pretty much met everyone. It would have been nice to meet (F1 legend Ayrton) Senna, but I'll never have that opportunity. (Skier) Shane McConkey is another one that died that I didn't get a chance to meet.
SBN: If you could switch places with an athlete from another sport and take over their life, who would you want to be?
TP: That's a question I've never thought of. It would be...huh. No, you know what? I'd want to be me. (laughs)
SBN: Do you have any superstitions when you're racing or trying stunts?
TP: No. I've been superstitious at times in the past and figured out that you could do everything wrong and still figure out a way to win or do everything right and still figure out a way to lose. I think it's mind over matter, for the most part.
SBN: Would you rather be known as a great racer or a great person?
TP: That's a tough question. But I'd pick 'person.' Driving is your job, but the person is who you have to live with. I'd like to be a great driver, though – can I have my cake and eat it, too?
It really doesn't matter what other people think about you, though. Michael (Waltrip) actually said it the best: 'If people don't know me, then I don't care what they say about me.' Because they don't know what you've gone through. And everybody has a story that you probably don't know.
SBN: I asked all the drivers last year, 'What's the best time to approach you for an autograph?' But from what I've seen so far in your interactions with fans, there's no bad time to approach you. What's your philosophy behind autographs?
TP: I'm still a fan of the sport. I've been fortunate enough, I guess through changing sports so often and still being a fan of the drivers, to know what it's like.
Michael Schumacher came into the room when I was at the Race of Champions. I'm a driver and I'm there with Jimmie Johnson, but when Michael came in and just took the time to shake every single driver's hand in there before he sat down; even though he was late coming from a flight and was holding up the whole thing, he took that extra little second.
For me, even not having talked to him much for the rest of the week, that made such a huge difference to me. And I'm supposed to be one of the guys that's not supposed to be a fan – heck, I raced him that night and we ended up drawing.
But you just know that there might be one kid who has one time, one chance to ever see you – and it doesn't matter what you're doing, that's his only time.
SBN: That's interesting, because I'd heard from several people that Schumacher was an asshole.
TP: He wasn't to me. And that's the thing – each person makes a judgment call from that one time. You might have just crashed your car, your girlfriend or wife broke up with you or you're walking through the pits and you're late for something.
But they don't know all that. All they know is that you blew them off. So it's hard to say 'no.' But there's times for that, too. Michael (Waltrip) is really good at that, too: He says to do your job first, but a close second is to help the sport and try to help yourself.
I had two years in motocross where I just crashed out all the time. And I still had a ride. It wasn't because of results. (The fans) helped me. It allowed me to do what I do for a living.
SBN: Who do you think is the most talented NASCAR driver, from your perspective?
TP: Just from my experience with the Race of Champions, as far as someone who could just jump in the car and drive everything, it would have to be Jeff Gordon. He jumped in every car and drove everything amazingly well – slightly better than every other one of the best drivers in the world that were there.
Guys like Jimmie and Carl are exceptional when they 'get' something, they can make it work. They can get the feel.
But just as far as sheer getting-in-a-car-and-racing, I'd pick Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. I've never really driven with Kyle Busch, but to see how well he can jump in one car and the next car in a weekend – I was shocked at how hard that is.
SBN: Do you spend much time watching the NASCAR races on TV?
TP: Oh, for sure. Watching them, but also talking with them. I'm fortunate that with my background, a lot of the drivers at least knew about motocross. So when I come in, I can ask them a question and feel like I can get maybe more of a straight answer than your average Joe.
SBN: I'm sure people ask you all the time what's the craziest stunt you've ever done. But I'd like to know the craziest stunt you almost did but had to back out?
TP: It's funny – one just happened recently, but I'm not at liberty to say yet (because of the Nitro Circus 3D movie he's currently filming).
One time we had a jump set up in the hills of central California. It was about 250 feet from one side to the other. And I kind of looked at it while I was scouting and said, 'OK, we can do this.' Usually, your judgment is pretty close.
It took five people four days to shovel, because we couldn't get the equipment out there. I took a run up to it...then I took another and another. And I just had that gut feeling that you just didn't have enough speed. There was no way to get more speed.
The whole crew, we had everyone out there for five days, and I had to say, 'You know what, guys? I don't think this is possible.' It might be possible and be really close, but we can't do that.
It's kind of neat to be in the position I'm in, because if I have an idea, people just go, 'Oh yeah!' (snaps fingers) They just jump. And that's awesome, because we've been able to pull off so much. We've been able to succeed in so many different aspects.
But with the willingness of other people to jump on the bandwagon, you don't have a lot of people saying, 'Oh, well that can't happen.' A lot of those people who are kind of your rationale are kind of like, 'OK, let's do it.' And you're like, 'Well, I was hoping you were kind of going to throw something back at me, you know?'
SBN: So you do you think you would have made the jump?
TP: We'll never know, but I think I have a pretty good idea. I think it would have hurt pretty bad.