LOS ANGELES CA - JANUARY 21: Travis Pastrana attends the Pastrana-Waltrip Racing announcement of the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide partnership on January 21 2011 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for Waltrip Racing)
There are few challenges Travis Pastrana has faced in his motorsports career in which he as not succeeded, and the list of his accomplishments in motocross, X Games and Rally are impressive to say the least.
But now the 27-year-old is about to begin tackling his biggest challenge yet: NASCAR.
This weekend, Pastrana will be the busiest man in racing as he travels back and forth from Los Angeles and Indianapolis in what has been termed the "Pastranathon," competing in a series of X Games events and Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park – his NASCAR national series debut.
Yet for someone who is used to doing backflips on motorcycles, driving monster trucks and base-jumping, Pastrana is up for the challenge. The action sports superstar is ready to commit his future to NASCAR racing.
"I could just do what I'm doing and be fine, but this is a new challenge," he said last week at a media lunch. "This is what I want to do because this is the biggest challenge I could possibly undertake right now. It's going to be a long ride to the top, and I know that. People either really want to see me succeed or really want to see me fail.
"Honestly, it's going to be somewhere in that middle for a very long time. It might be closer to the failing end, but to me it's not failing if I continue to learn."
Among the most difficult challenges he has faced so far in stock cars – he's run several lower-level events in the K&N Series – is communicating with the team about what the car is doing and how it needs to be changed. Comparing himself to the Days of Thunder character Cole Trickle, Pastrana said he is a racer at heart and knows how to wheel a stock car, but learning the lingo has been a challenge.
While learning all this, he'll be attempting a debut under a huge spotlight in one of the most competitive races of the year. Pastrana will have to endure the beating and banging of short-track racing while trying to stay on the lead lap and keep the fenders on the car.
With no real expectations, Pastrana admits he will be a mid-pack car and that a top-20 finish would be a positive start.
"If I drive like I normally drive, I might be competitive for 10 laps and then I'm going to be five laps down before we go to the first pit (stop)," he said, displaying his typical honesty.
What may help Pastrana is his previous experience racing motocross. While it may not appear as rough and tumble as short-track stock car racing, Pastrana said he has plenty of practice beating and banging with rivals on the track.
"In motocross, you're going down the first straight and you elbow their brakes, you hit their clutch, you do whatever you can to get any advantage you possibly can," he said with a smile. "With NASCAR it's going to be the same way. I'm really excited to get back into that mindset."
At first, some action sports fans reacted negatively to the news Pastrana was moving to NASCAR, questioning his motives and assuming he was in it for the money. He encountered some of this backlash when he changed from motorcross to freestyle Moto X, and even when he decided to drive monster trucks.
Despite the criticism, Pastrana is firm in his decision and believes anybody would do the same.
"Anyone given the opportunity to drive in NASCAR would be (there) in a heartbeat," he said. "I don't care what they say. Having said that, there's a lot of guys that are like, ‘Oh, you're doing it for this, you're doing it for that.' I'm doing it because it's a challenge – it's going to be the biggest challenge I've ever done."
For some of his devoted fans, Pastrana's transition to stock cars will be difficult as he learns and adapts to the intricacies of the sport. Unlike his past endeavors, going hard and fast and on the edge of recklessness will not work in NASCAR.
While he understands the learning curve will be long and things may not come easy, Pastrana is not ready to rest on his laurels and say, "Well at least I tried."
"That would kill me," he said. "That would haunt me to the day I died. We're going to figure this out."
With a massive fan base, the hope is Pastrana's freestyle attitude and extreme sports background will attract a younger audience. His legions of fans – as well as his sponsors – have followed him throughout his action sports adventures, and he is confident they will eventually understand the technicality and competitiveness of NASCAR.
Some of that hope is starting to come forward, though, as Pastrana said it is encouraging to see eight-year-old ‘skater punks' excited about watching NASCAR with their dads.
What may help keep those young fans engaged in NASCAR are Pastrana's plans for next season. Once he has completed this arduous week of X Games and his Nationwide Series debut, along with promoting the upcoming 3-D movie based on his Nitro Circus TV series, the action sports star will turn all of his focus to stock car racing.
Testing, getting seat time and working on his communication with the crew are among Pastrana's top priorities as he continues the transition.
"Starting (in) February, March of next year, there's nothing on my schedule except NASCAR – and that's going to be a first for me," he said.
Do not expect Pastrana to be one of those non-traditional racers that attempt to break into the top rung of NASCAR and leave when they struggle. Unlike many others, Pastrana has been gaining experience among the K&N Series, through lengthy test sessions and by taking a humble and realistic approach. By doing so, he is gaining the respect of his fellow competitors and NASCAR fans alike.
As he said, it will be a long road to the top, but if his history and commitment are anything to judge by, he will be in it for the long haul.
"Failing would be in two years to give up," he said. "Failing would be not getting the results you wanted and quitting before you ran your course."