I think the biggest quality I have is that I’m not afraid to fail or care if I look like an idiot trying something.Actually, it’s neither. “I think the biggest quality I have is that I’m not afraid to fail or care if I look like an idiot trying something,” the 28-year-old Pastrana admits, as he lets out a small laugh. “If everyone is better than me at the track, then alright, game on. It’s okay because by the end, ‘I’ll beat all of you guys,’ is my mentality. A lot of the time it doesn’t happen, but being over enthusiastic and under prepared has been the motto of my life and so far it’s worked out fine.”
It’s with that no fear attitude that Pastrana has been able to rack up trophies as the 2000 AMA Motocross 125cc Champion and the 2001 East Coast Supercross 125cc Champion, in addition to boasting 11 X Games gold medals for events like MotoX Freestyle, MotoX Best Trick, Speed and Style and Rally Car Racing. Not to mention various victories at rally car events since he started his rally racing career in 2003. The way his entire career panned out, it might seem that the overachieving Pastrana always planned to have a multi-action sports career, but it’s really just a result of his ambitious nature mixed in with a bit of ADHD.
“I’m not sure if I found action sports or if action sports found me,” he laughs. “All my uncles were into riding, jumping off stuff and just all about having fun with everything they did. I found out I was a daredevil at a very young age, which was a good thing for my career. As a kid, I was so ADHD and was always doing something. And since I liked every motorsport, it was just something that evolved over the years, but being involved in so many things was never something planned out. Whenever I was hurt because of motocross, I’d jump into a go-kart, which led to my interest in rally racing.”
Growing up as the runt of his family, Pastrana admits that he was the least athletic and would actually get beat up a lot. “But every time I’d get knocked down, I’d get right back up. I think that’s an asset now because as an action sports athlete, when you get knocked down, you get back up fighting harder.”
Because of his tremendous ability to “fight,” Pastrana’s competitive nature has now led him on a new career path as a NASCAR driver. Already familiar with what it feels like racing on four wheels because of his six-year stint in Rally America, he figured it was time to try his hand at what he considers to be “the most competitive motorsport “ in the U.S. According to Pastrana, rally didn’t have the competitive edge he craves since it required you to race against the clock, with no “head-on” competition.
“I wanted to go up against the best and see how I’d do,” he describes. “Many may think it seems so easy given there’s only two turns, but it’s really a complex sport where you have to always be on your mark, as well as your team and crew. Everyone has to work together since it’s a complex system.” Being a team player is still something Pastrana’s adjusting to, admitting how much he “hated team sports in X Games,” but learned to deal with it once he became involved in rally racing and gained a co-driver.
Pastrana’s decision to pursue NASCAR came in 2011 when he partnered with NASCAR team owner Michael Waltrip to form Pastrana-Waltrip Racing. His debut race was the Toyota All-Star Showdown, where he finished sixth. “It was a great experience,” he describes. “I liked how I was able to get more time on the course since it’s usually you show up, get a couple of practice laps and then it’s time for the qualifying race. NASCAR actually thought I’d get bored with the sport, but damn, I was tense and sweating with the first race, and anything but bored. I had a hard grip on the steering wheel the entire time.” After his first race, he then had plans to compete in the 2011 Nationwide Series, until he hit a personal roadblock.
Amped up for his first season in NASCAR, everything went south when he broke his ankle at last year’s X Games, which put him out for the rest of the year. Although he’s sustained multiple injuries throughout his career, his broken ankle was one of his worst to date—not only physically, but also emotionally. “Last year was one of the hardest moments of my life. As part-owner of the racing team, I had a whole bunch of guys working for me who I had to let go because I wasn’t racing anymore. I messed everything up and let my sponsors and my crew down. That’s something I don’t ever want to do again. I was an idiot and choked under pressure and didn’t land that stupid 720 trick on the bike. But despite it all, everybody is still behind me and I’m grateful for that. You don’t get many second chances and I’m going to take it and run with it.”
He’s back this year more focused than ever on becoming the best NASCAR driver he can be and going into each race looking to win despite having misgivings from some about his transition. “I’ve never been criticized so much in my life for switching to this sport. But what people don’t understand is that it’s all about the competition for me and NASCAR is very competitive. I want to get to the top of that sport and it’s going to be a hell of a ride…I hope [laughs].” But his die-hard fans have already jumped on his NASCAR bandwagon and now cheer him on at races, as they did at motocross and rally events—with NASCAR officials elated that he’s bringing in a totally new audience to the sport.
Like in his other feats, getting to the top shouldn’t be hard for Pastrana, who admits that NASCAR has a lot of similarities to motocross, especially how one doesn’t have to worry about how much faster they’re going than everyone. “All you have to do is figure out a way to beat your competition to the finish line and that’s what I’m concentrating on.”
But there is one issue with NASCAR that Pastrana is still wrapping his head around. It’s the comradery of the sport; something that he’s never experienced while competing in motocross. “I’m a bit confused by how nice everybody has been,” he laughs. “I think the other racers are being genuine, but maybe it’s until our first race when they push me up against the wall. You’re not usually as nice to your competition in motocross.”
Pastrana is still enjoying how nice everyone has been (so far) and on April 27, 2012, he made his Nationwide series debut, finishing 22nd at the Richmond 250; not bad for someone still learning the ropes. He’s learning to speak the lingo with the team and adjusting to how to properly drive with precision in mind. Because he’s always “overconfident,” Pastrana knows he’s going to be a fierce competitor in NASCAR. “It’s going to be hard man, real hard,” he confesses, adding that he’s used to being the reckless guy who crashes everything. “I have to really discipline myself and practice some restraint to get my precision driving down.”
This season, he’s scheduled for seven Nationwide events and his performance will be watched closely as he pushes himself to be the best at yet another sport. He believes he can achieve top-10 finishes by next year and come in at first place by 2014, with the goal to eventually secure a spot in the Sprint Cup Series. And knowing how competitive he is, he’s not going to stop trying until he finally becomes NASCAR’s top racer. “I’m a competitor and a fighter, so I’m looking to have a long career in NASCAR. I’m going to go until either I’m good enough to win a championship or I’m bad enough that I lose all my sponsorships.”