October 08, 2015
Travis Pastrana turned 32 on Thursday. And while that makes him a longtime vet of the action sports world, it's almost surprising that he's still so young.
That's because he's been winning X Games gold medals since 1999, when he was just 15 years old. Ever since -- whether it was as a guest on MTV's Jackass, as the host of his own Nitro Circus TV show, through his foray into NASCAR, or because of his countless other death-defying stunts -- Pastrana has remained a star.
On Friday, he'll be bringing his star power back to Philly as his Nitro Circus Live tour performs at the Wells Fargo Center.
Last month, Pastrana sat down with PhillyVoice for a wide-ranging interview that touched on everything from how he got his start to how starting a family has changed his outlook on what he does for a living. You can read my story, here.
But for those interested in the full interview, we've decided to publish the full transcript:
“I think I got into it more because all my uncles rode motorcycles pretty much everyday after work. My dad raced motorcycles; my mom raced motorcycles. So it was something that I always wanted to do. When I was four, I got my first bike. When we went on camping trips, we’d bring motorcycles. When my dad got off work, that’s what we did.
“That’s my family, so — for most kids, they start on bicycles — I rode bicycles, but for me, it was all about trying to hang with the family, I guess. And I was kind of the smallest one in my family, and the only way I could keep up with my older cousins — who all ended up being boxers or all-American in lacrosse — was with a motor or by jumping off of something higher than they could jump off. So I kind of found that I was really durable and that action sports fit me.”
“My dad was a drill sergeant in the Marine Corps. He was always, ‘As long as you get up, do all your chores and work hard and get honor roll, we’ll do the best we can to support you.’ He goes, ‘You’ll always end up working construction here with the family.’ But, you know, he always used that as a tool to help me do everything else. And then, when I was like 15, it was like, ‘Holy cow. This is possible for the future.’”
"Wake up every morning with a passion. Do what you do because you love it; there’s no amount of money worth risking your life for."
“What was really interesting is my parents — not really being those parents that were like, ‘Oh, you have to go fast; you have to race’ — they literally were like, ‘Hey, do what you love. If you don’t love it, do something else. We can’t really afford this, so if you’re not really loving it, do something else.’ So they always encouraged me to kind of follow my heart, hoping that it would lead me out of motorized sports, which would be cheaper.
“I got into X Games, I was only 15, and couldn’t turn pro in motocross. [My dad] was like, ‘Well that would help us pay for the year. If you love it, we’ll do it. And that turned into something, but I kept getting hurt. And every time I would get hurt, I would drive cars or go-carts or whatever. A broken wrist meant you couldn’t ride but you could drive.
“So I started driving a lot, and then had the chance with some of my sponsors from motocross, and they took me over to Europe to drive a world rally car. It’s like a three-quarter of a million dollar car. And Subaru was like, ‘Wow, for 17, you’re doing really good.’ And they took me under their wing and I won there.
“And after that — I always loved monster trucks growing up — I was able to jump into that just, I mean, kind of just for fun. And then NASCAR. It’s the top form of racing in the U.S., and I was always really competitive, so…”
“Everything’s different. And that’s what’s awesome about it. I feel like most of the time, if you’re good enough to do what you love, eventually you no longer love what you do. For me, I’ve been able to mix it up enough where I’m still very passionate about it every day. And that seems to be key in being successful in anything.”
“Just to jump in, monster trucks. Two thousand horse power. You can jump them — never had whiplash so bad in my life — but just in the air, you’re like strapped in. I felt so claustrophobic, but so awesome at the same time. You feel like a man in that truck.
“You got a rally car, that’s zero to 60 in 1.8 seconds, so it feels like a dragster. You can do anything with it. And then NASCAR, that’s the biggest pile of s**t I’ve ever driven in my life, with all due respect. They have a lot of horsepower, but no handling capabilities, and they're super fast. So it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever drove. And it’s silly, because it looks like they’re just driving around in circles. In the rally car, you’re always sideways, your lock-drifts or whatever, so that seems like it’d be more difficult. But the cars are so easy to drive, comparatively, to a NASCAR. So it’s almost that the most challenging was NASCAR, to be honest.”
“The [2003 car crash in which the passenger was severely injured] was the only one not related to sports. That was little bit different. It made me re-evaluate life, in general.
“But, for the most part, every other time is was just myself. Or at least if you’re in a rally car, your co-driver and everybody else knows the risk involved and exactly what the race is.
“So, if anything, that car crash made me think, ‘OK, let’s keep the racing to the track.’ And it definitely made me think — you know, I pulled out of a lot more stunts in the future that had other people. When we’re doing tandem flips in the show, I don’t do them anymore. The other people still do, and I have no problem with it, but I don’t like to be responsible for someone else’s life, unless it’s like a co-driver or something that’s actually ‘in it’ with me.”
“For me, I definitely think their mom is more passionate in hoping they take up the action sports lifestyle, but I hope they take the action sports mentality. Wake up every morning with a passion. Do what you do because you love it; there’s no amount of money worth risking your life for. But if you’re so passionate about it — and just to grow up around this Nitro Circus crew, where every single person is just full of life and passion and wakes up every day with a big smile on their face. I hope [my daughters] take that and realize that — if you like desk jobs or you like art museums or horses or whatever — if you love it, that’s what you should be doing.”
“I think people see stuff on TV and it’s like nothing’s real anymore. ... It's so hard to keep up with CGI. It’s hard to keep up with the imagination of the world that we live in."
“It’s funny because Nitro Circus is the best in the world in pretty much all action sports, from motorcycles to BMX to scooters, but people are like, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen X Games. Why would I come to the show?’ I think that the beauty of Nitro is that it is a show. It’s built to entertain. And if you know action sports, you’ll be like, ‘This is so far above and beyond anything,’ because we can build the ramps steeper. Our landings aren’t hard landings like they do in contests.
“Because, at the end of the day, we’re trying to put on a show, and we have to have these guys week in and week out, including myself, not hurt. So we try to make it as safe as possible, which allows them to try stuff they may or may not land. But the excitement of, almost every show there’s someone that lands a world’s first, something that’s never been done before. And that excitement really translate to the crowd. Plus you’ve got the pyro; everyone loves the clowns; everyone loves to see crashes — at least everyone I know does.”
“Yeah. Well that’s the thing. With the safety setup and with these guys, they’re really durable. This is what they do, night in and night out.”
“We take out as many variables as possible. We are as safe as you can possibly get. But at the end of the day, I think people still like Nitro Circus because they know they’ll see the best in the world pushing the limits. It’s always the kids that want to come, usually the boys in the families. But it’s the parents, and even sometimes the daughters, that leave saying, ‘This was so much better than I expected. Definitely come to a show, and see it.”
“The beauty of the shows is that they’re always evolving. What was so amazing that we couldn’t even fathom it, you know, four or five years ago when we were starting, is now out warmup trick. And some of the contraptions that we didn’t think would work wound up working so well that they’ve elevated what we do.
“There’s this guy going down on a penny-farthing bicycle, and we thought, ‘Oh, that guy will never be able to make the jump.’ And now he’s doing front flips on like, you know the little weak rear wheels and he’s sitting way up high. It just evolves.”
What’s the one question that you’re tired of getting asked?
“Two questions. No. 1 — How many bones have you broken? No. 2 — Does it hurt when you crash?”
“I think people see stuff on TV and it’s like nothing’s real anymore. There’s so much in movies and everything that the kids growing up are like, ‘Well I saw somebody do eight flips.’ And I’m like, ’No, that’s CGI.’ It's so hard to keep up with CGI. It’s hard to keep up with the imagination of the world that we live in.
“Or YouTube. They see people crash and fall so many times, they just become desensitized to what reality is.”
“Quite a bit, actually. Most of my friends — it’s funny, we were just talking about it yesterday — almost everyone in action sports, the question is, ‘Where do you go after this?’ And the answer is Hollywood. You pick up stunt work. Especially the car drivers and stuff like that, it’s always huge. Motorcycles too. There’s not a lot of guys out there, anywhere in the world, that do the stuff we do. So that’s a huge thing. And doing commercials and stuff like that. It definitely pays a lot better than the stuff we do, but a lot of the guys wouldn’t go there until later. It’s like, here’s a huge check over here and here’s, you can do this for free, but if you get hurt, you’ve got to pay your own bills and everything. For most guys, they want to go over here [and do it for free] to see how good I can get.”
“That’s pretty much the amazing thing. If I want to find out something about myself, I just go online; it’s been covered. It’s tough. As a journalist, it’s got to be really tough to find a new angle, new story.”
“But at the end of the day, I like that we’re not famous enough — action sports athletes. We’re to the level where most people know of us or it’s ‘Oh, you’re that guy. I’ve heard that name.’ They’ve seen some of the stuff, maybe. But we can still keep a private life too. And that’s with my wife, who is an X Games gold medalist, and our two kids.
“I put up a video of our daughter and it had 6.5 million views in a week and I was like, ‘You know, I probably shouldn’t.” Like, if you’re going for views, that’s great. Everyone on social media was like, ‘Yeah!’ and I went, ‘Yeah, I’m not doing that again.’ I feel like I want to [keep some things private].”
“Not totally. You get it like — like my wife won’t go out in public with me if I have a Red Bull hat and, usually, a DC or Nitro Circus shirt on. Because we’re just at that level where people may or may not recognize you, but they see certain things and they’re like, ‘Oh! Hey!’ … which is fine. But again, it’s a respect thing, because most of the guys who know me are around my age, maybe a little bit younger, and they give you a handshake or a little nod, and keep on walking away. We haven’t reached ‘that’ level, thank goodness. It’s perfect.
“You can walk into a bar and someone might buy you a beer, but they’re not going to hound you.”
“I definitely grew up in a family of traditional sports, mostly lacrosse and football. Lacrosse is obviously harder to find on TV, but football is probably my favorite non-traditional sport. [Laugh] I mean — sorry, non-traditional for me — traditional sport.”
“You know, it’s hard because I’m a diehard Redskins fan and it’s just … I’m trying, man. I’m trying. The Ravens are so close, and I’ve been to a few Ravens games. Liked the atmosphere at the Ravens. I know that’s probably not — don’t write any of that around here, with the Eagles.”
“And plus, with the Joe Gibbs thing, and being a huge NASCAR fan — I know he’s not the coach anymore — back then I had that tie to the Redskins. Plus, the Ravens weren’t always there.”
“[Laugh] I’m a country guy. I like being in the manure. I do like the stadiums here though. They’re easier to get to. You don’t have to necessarily go into the city.
“To be honest, any city that you can bike through or like has nice parks and green spaces like you guys do. I just get really claustrophobic in cities. I grew up on motorcycles, driving cars in the woods, just building dirt jumps, shoveling stuff, construction — you know, we always had equipment. Anywhere where I can’t go and get to dirt, I feel really claustrophobic.”
"If you stay on the bike, you’re like, ‘I’m going to break my neck; I may die. But if I jump off and do it like this and do this and do this, I’ll only break my ankles.’ And most people can’t make that decision..."
“I feel like in racing — the secondary question — you are on the ground before you know it. You’re usually super tired at the end of the race. You run an average heart rate of 195. A lot of that’s adrenaline, but still, to run 195 for 35 minutes in 95 or 100 degree weather, you’re depleted by the end. So you’re tired, and we have what we call ‘arm pump.’ You can’t really feel your hands, you can’t really hold on to the bike, and if you’re pushing, your brain’s just not working fast enough. When you’re going 60 MPH, stuff happens fast.
“But in freestyle, it’s totally different. You know right when you take off if the snap was right, if the pop was right. Sometimes you’ll have three and half or four seconds in the air. And that four seconds, you remember every smell, every sound — nothing else in your life matters. If anyone’s ever been in a car crash, they know that time slows down. Your brain, when it focuses solely on one thing, it’s — there’s books and stuff on how people say you can slow down time without it, but I need the adrenaline, personally. But it’s a wild feeling; a second lasts a lifetime. The double backflip was the only time I had that, at X Games, when everything slowed down. Sounds, smells, I still remember everything like it was yesterday. And it felt like a 30 second jump.
“Usually when that happens, people panic; they freeze up. For anyone that’s made it in action sports, that’s a beautiful feeling. Because when you’re in the air, you go, ‘Ok, here’s where I am, and this is what I need to do.’ And you have to make a decision on how to make it hurt the least, which is really fu***d up for most people. If you stay on the bike, you’re like, ‘I’m going to break my neck; I may die. But if I jump off and do it like this and do this and do this, I’ll only break my ankles.’
“And most people can’t make that decision — they can’t make decisions when the outcome's always bad. But you have to make tough decisions, when time slows down like that, to make it the best they can be.”
“I always thought I would have been done a long time ago. But knowing what I know now about some of my older friends, and some of the guys who retired many years ago, they all love to ride still. They might had a bad injury and put the bike away and said they were done. As soon as the injury heals up, they’re like, ‘I miss it. That’s part of my soul; that’s who I am.’ And you see it in other sports with all the football players and basketball players that go into retirement and then come out. And you wonder why they would do that, because they had such a legacy. And everyone’s like, ‘What do you think about your legacy?’ Or, ‘What do you want to be remembered as?’
“I don’t really care about that. I want to do the best I can for my family and for the people around me. I don’t want to kill myself or be too hurt to play with my kids when they grow up. But I want to have the most fun and be the most passionate about life that I can and if that includes riding — even if it means people telling me, ‘You’re not the best anymore’ — I’m alright with that.
“Right now, my job is to make the ramps bigger, safer, more fun. And I’ll go out and play with the guys while we’re on the airbag. Then they’re like, ‘Someone’s got to take it to dirt.’ And I’m like, ‘Have at it, guys.’ That’s where I draw the line.”