As a NASCAR driver, Maryland native Travis Pastrana settles down -- sort of

After soaring through the world of motocross and extreme sports, Maryland native turns to NASCAR

  • Travis Pastrana waits by his car as his crew does major suspension work to try and find the speed needed for a good qualifying spot for Saturday's race.
Travis Pastrana waits by his car as his crew does major suspension… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
June 01, 2013|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

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.

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