15 Dec 2018
Travis Pastrana is a man that’s done everything. He’s raced bikes and cars, leapt through the air on literally anything that’s got wheels – and some things without, and even jumped out of a plane without a parachute.
He is also the ringleader of Nitro Circus Live, a ground-breaking action sports arena show which has been touring the world for almost a decade. Ahead of the show’s recent visit to Manchester, Pastrana and I caught up at his hotel where we sat down to discuss a number of elements of his varied career.
In the first instalment of this four-part feature, we focus on Nitro Rallycross, or NRX, which is a revolutionary take on the 51-year-old motorsport discipline that debuted earlier this year.
The event was part of the Nitro World Games action sports competition and came at a tumultuous time for Rallycross in the US. Global Rallycross was wound up following the 2017 season and rising from its ashes was the IMG-led Americas Rallycross series.
During the winter of 2017-18 NRX was rumoured to be coming along as a spiritual successor to GRC. In fact, it was that series’ demise that seemingly forced Pastrana and Nitro’s hand, bringing it to life earlier than planned to help fill the rallycross-shaped void in America.
“We were hearing rumours around Christmas last year, ‘I said let’s try and get something out’,” Pastrana said of Nitro Rallycross’ birth. “We had planned on doing it next year (2019) to give us a bit of time to figure out what was going on, but a lot of the manufacturers were interested in seeing it this year.”
“I would have liked to have postponed it until this year, but we did want to show proof of concept and we were in a spot where we felt that we could get some teams over there because everyone wants to see rallycross, especially in the US, be successful,” he added. “The ARX championship was a good step but we still didn’t have that X Games or [Nitro] World Games and that was something that I thought we could bring to the table.”
The idea for NRX, so Pastrana told me, was to give rallycross in the US a place where the 600 bhp supercars could have the opportunity to show fans on the other side of the Atlantic what they could really do.
“Unfortunately, when we go to race it’s always parking lot races – or even COTA where they have this amazing facility but the rallycross is a complete afterthought,” Pastrana said. “I’m glad they have it and I’m appreciative but what if we could come up with something and show what these cars can do? At the moment I still think the tracks can be a lot – I’m not saying better, but different.”
For NRX Pastrana designed a course at the Utah Motorsports Campus near Salt Lake City. The track, while being built at an existing facility, was an all-new circuit. The NRX track was mostly dirt, more like the rallycross tracks in Europe as opposed to the temporary facilities used for rallycross in America since the sport went professional over there in 2011. However, unlike traditional rallycross tracks, it also incorporated banked turns – or berms – and a ginormous gap jump.
The 130-foot leap was unlike anything else from top-level motorsport, and it did cause some doubts among the international cast of drivers, despite ultimately proving to be safe.
“The jump, honestly, would have been safer if it was taller, because that would have given more of a run-up,” said Pastrana. “We were still developing it, so we were probably two degrees too steep for the first practice.”
“Honestly, if it’s built right you can have a 200-foot jump that’s safer on the cars and for the drivers than a little technical jump,” he continued. “It’s just math and figuring out the numbers.”
While the jump worked out for almost all the drivers, the track was designed with multiple configurations and layouts, meaning that drivers could opt for a route that suited their own individual cars, and therefore avoid the jump entirely.
“The Ford, especially with that platform … Ken was so disappointed because they only had four inches of suspension travel,” Pastrana revealed.
“So the day before I went around with every manufacturer and driver that was there and we said ‘this is the Ford section, this is the Subaru section, this is the Audi section … it was kind of cool seeing everyone kind of working together to say ‘look, let’s build a course that’s competitive, where each thing has its little bit, and let’s go out there and see who can drive better’.”
“What was interesting about the course we built was it wasn’t great for racing, but every driver said it was the most fun they’ve had in their car – you have Mattias Ekstrom and Scott Speed, that have driven everything, say ‘this is the most fun I’ve had in my car in my entire life’,” Pastrana added. “For me, that’s huge – as we’ve found with Nitro Circus, if the riders are passionate, if the riders are excited and they want to be there… when you go out and race COTA, and again I’m not trying to come down on COTA, at the end of the first lap I’m not excited as a driver.”
“I’m excited to race, I can’t wait for competition and I think it’s great they have the race but it’s not exciting on its own.”
Pastrana felt the inaugural NRX event was a resounding success, but that it also highlighted areas for improvement for the concept going forward.
“I feel the course showed what could be done,” he said. “It definitely did, but I would’ve liked to have been where we were at the end of the weekend a month before the event – we definitely had some dust issues; the berms weren’t as high as I wanted; the jumps, I hadn’t even jumped the jump until everyone was there – I would’ve liked to have had that finished and completed many months before hand just so we didn’t have the car damage that we did. A couple of the lines came together [too].”
With the debut album now out of the way, attention for Pastrana and the Nitro Circus clan is now turning to developing the concept into a fully blown series in the future, with a clear development ladder for drivers.
“With these courses we believe we can start with even the [Polaris] RZRs or something like that that,” Pastrana said. “So, you have these feeder series that work all the way up so you’re starting with a 30 or 50 thousand dollar vehicle as opposed to a 150,000 dollar vehicle for the Lites. I believe we can make it so it gives something that’s attainable to get there.”
“For me next year is kind of a building year on a couple of fronts, stepping away a little bit from the touring side and building up – more promotion, more course design; you won’t see a lot of me, but I’ll be doing a lot of stuff to hopefully build Nitro Rallycross for 2020 going forward,” he continued.
“I feel like this can be its own sport. In the US you’re looking at NASCAR, [and] you see all these big courses, all these big things and you say ‘what’s the next NASCAR? What’s the next big sport?’ and I feel that when GRC started, a lot of the NASCAR teams, a lot of the NASCAR tracks were thinking ‘this could be it’ and it never really materialised.”
“I really honestly believe that this sport could be huge, especially as a US platform – not that it couldn’t go over to Europe and everything but Europe is more about the racing whereas the US is a lot more about the show, and I think that we can get it off the ground more as a show and as it succeeds then hopefully the racers will want to be a part of it.”
“Right now my biggest passion is trying to get rallycross to a point where I feel like I’m excited about it, and I feel that if I can get excited about it, I feel like everyone else will be as well.”
“There’s definitely going to be Nitro rallycross next year. It will be at world games 100 percent,” Pastrana confirmed. “Right now, we have some really big meetings with a bunch of big players.”