Travis Pastrana wants to spend more time at home. Really, he does. The problem is, when it comes to thrills, especially thrills involving fast cars and loud engines, he can’t say no.
The 11-time X-games gold medalist, Supercross, U.S. Rally, and World Freestyle champion spent his last year competing in all his favorite action sports, then added offshore powerboat racing and NASCAR into the mix. But after a year that saw Pastrana win P1 races and finish 11th at the Daytona 500, on this spring morning he is taking some well-deserved time at home. “Kids are on the bus at 7:30,” he says, chatting on the phone shortly after he’s returned from dropping them off. “So I’m up early.”
Meet Travis Pastrana
The words could have come out of any suburban dad’s mouth, but you don’t necessarily expect it from the first person to ever land a double backflip in competition. And for the moment, at least, Travis Pastrana seems to be enjoying this little bit of domestic normalcy in his world of nonstop adrenaline. Though he still speaks with the frenetic intensity of a guy who’s about to triple-flip a BMX.
“This last year has been ridiculous,” he says, laughing to himself. “Usually January is our month off, but I signed up for that NASCAR race. Though I got a little bit of a break in March when I broke my back, pelvis, and tailbone, and almost bled out.”
Pastrana describes racing in the Daytona 500, then nearly dying from a traumatic accident, with the nonchalance someone might use to talk about getting their teeth cleaned. You almost don’t believe you heard him right.
But such is life for a man who seems allergic to slowing down, who won the World Freestyle Championships at age 14, and hasn’t taken his foot off the gas—literally or figuratively —since. Now, he’s making an effort to shift gears a little, working with his own children and others, target shooting, and helping veterans with his new sponsors at Black Rifle Coffee.
Travis Pastrana is Actually Afraid
One might think that a guy who’s spent his life racing high performance vehicles at breakneck speeds—and occasionally flipping them for extra points—wouldn’t be afraid of much. But Travis Pastrana has his own fears, which to him are more terrifying than crashing a car going 200 miles an hour. “My goal in life has been to never grow up,” he says. “It’s like the Kelsey Ballerini song “Peter Pan.” I just love playing so much. Dirt bikes, bicycles, side by sides. One day I feel like I gotta grow up, but maybe that won’t happen. I think that’s my greatest fear.”
“A lot of guys who are best in their sport aren’t fearless, they just have preparation and knowledge and confidence in their abilities.”
When it comes to more traditional fears, of things like crashing his bikes or getting thrown from rally cars, he still says fear exists. Fear, he insists, is only fear of the unknown. So if he’s prepared, and knows what’s going to happen, he has nothing to be afraid of. “I’m not afraid of getting hurt,” he says. “I’m just afraid of not knowing what’s gonna happen. Preparation is definitely key in taking a lot of the risk factors out. A lot of guys who are best in their sport aren’t fearless, they just have preparation and knowledge and confidence in their abilities.”
Fatherhood hasn’t helped Pastrana overcome his fear of growing up much, either, as instead of transitioning into an overprotective full-time dad, he’s teaching his kids how to do flips on the trampoline. “We were double-flipping my daughter, she was six years old at the time, and she was just yelling, ‘Higher! Higher!’” he says. “We had support people to catch her, and we controlled the situation. But if we’d have posted that? We’d have had like 100 calls about child abuse. At the end of the day, the biggest thing is teaching them their abilities and letting them make decisions on their own.”
A Family Tradition of Shooting
Another way Pastrana bonds with his children while he’s home is at the shooting range, where he’s sharing his life-long love of firearms. It’s an appreciation he got from his military father, though his early experiences weren’t exactly “responsible.”
“My dad was a Marine, so we grew up target shooting,” he says. “My friend Tommy just really liked to blow (stuff) up, and one day we got like 23 pounds of Tannerite, because we didn’t want to just blow things up a little bit. We shot this .50 caliber rifle from, oh about, 200 yards away, and it was a good shot Tommy got.”
The ensuing explosion knocked the pictures off the wall of a house about a mile away, and within 20 minutes, he had the Baltimore Police Department at his door asking what in the world had happened.
Now, Pastrana’s using smaller-caliber weapons—and less Tannerite—for his shooting. His weapon of choice these days is a Factory Tikka T1x, complete with a hand-carved fiddleback maple benchrest stock. He said it’s unbelievably accurate. His older daughter has also taken to .22s and shows some early promise. “It’s been really fun for me, and especially my older daughter, she really likes it,” he says. “They weren’t scared of it at all. She’s nine now, and she’s getting pretty good.”
Working with Veterans Leads to a New Sponsor
Love of shooting brought Travis Pastrana to Tim Montana’s clay shoot, which draws veterans from around the country. And veterans — ones he’s met at the shoot and elsewhere — are Pastrana’s latest passion project.
Pastrana’s father, Robert, worked with veterans at Walter Reed hospital near the family’s home in Maryland after he got out of the Marine Corps. Inspired by Robert’s work, Travis also began working with vets, giving them tickets to Nitro Circus and some of his competitions. This practice caught the eye of Veteran-backed Black Rifle Coffee Company.
“Black Rifle found out we were doing a lot of stuff to bring the veteran community together,” he says, “so we got together with Jarred Taylor, who was always a fan of action sports. And they were just like, ‘How can we help you support veterans in a bigger way?’”
That question led to a Black Rifle sponsoring Pastrana in rally events and ultimately sponsoring him when he raced in the Daytona 500.
Pastrana’s longtime sponsor Red Bull didn’t take kindly to his work with Black Rifle, and seeing the coffee company as an energy drink competitor, told Pastrana he had to choose. For the multi-time Supercross champion, the decision was easy. “Red Bull is more about winning, and Black Rifle is more about community and family,” he says. “And I’m trying to work more towards being with my family and bringing them along for everything. They’re both great companies, but Black Rifle is more about community support, not, ‘How can we win.’ But, ya know, I’m getting old, and this one’s working out a lot better.”
With Black Rifle, Pastrana has brought vets to Rally Ready, a Texas driving school that prepares veterans to compete in live racing events. It begins with teaching them mechanic work, then after three races they move on to an intensive workshop with Pastrana’s co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino, who Black Rifle also sponsors. Veterans sit with Gelsomino for a couple of races, and if they’re still into it, they go back to Rally Ready and prepare to drive in an actual race.
“If (instructors) thought they were gonna be able to drive ok and not kill themselves or the car, they’d put them in to drive for a race,” Pastrana says. “There’s just a lot of these one-offs Black Rifle does, and they never take credit for.”
Pastrana has teamed with Black Rifle for other events, where drivers like BJ Baldwin and Jayo Archer give rides to disabled vets. He has also auctioned off stays at Pastranaland, the action sports playground he built around his Maryland home. Tim Montana even gave a concert.
Passing Wisdom On
The one-time wonderkid of motocross is working with a new generation of competitors now. Pastrana tells of an eight-year-old named Connor he’s been working with, who wanted to be the youngest person ever to land a backflip in competition. Connor nailed it on his first jump, and when his parents rushed over curious to know why such a small child was attempting such a dangerous stunt, the child simply said, “I feel more comfortable doing a flip.”
“He’s back flipping over top of me, double back flipping the first jump, and linking these sections together and timing and everything, and I’m talking to him all day like I’d talk to an adult,” Pastrana says. “Then you talk to him 10 minutes later about math or something, and it’s like, right, you’re a kid, you should be playing in a sandbox.”
“If you’re too afraid to crash, it’s not your sport.” — Travis Pastrana
His advice to parents whose children might be interested in action spots isn’t one of extreme precaution or safety. Nor should it be from a man who separated his spine from his pelvis at age 14. Rather, it’s that sports as extreme as his aren’t something a kid should be pushed into.
“You see so many parents pushing their kids, now that BMX is an Olympic sport,” he says. “But action sports aren’t worth any amount of money that you’ll ever make if you’re not passionate about it. It takes its toll on you, physically, and if it’s not 100 percent what they want to do, it’s definitely not worth it.”
He pauses for a minute, slowing his speech that runs nearly as fast as his rally cars, to gather himself for some sage advice. “If you’re too afraid to crash, it’s not your sport.”
It’s applicable to anything in life. And as one of the biggest legends in action sports starts thinking about his next phase, it seems he could be speaking to himself as much as anyone.
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