In this series on thecheckeredflag.co.uk, we take a look back on the first five seasons of Red Bull Global Rallycross, shining the spotlight on the star drivers that helped catapult the fledgling series to international fame and success.
First up is Travis Pastrana, a man who can do pretty much everything. The action sports legend has an incredible nine X Games gold medals in various motorcycle events, making the Maryland native the third most decorated motocross rider in the annual competition’s history.
But it’s not just on the bike where this man is a superstar. Like a modern day John Surtees, Pastrana is equally at home on four wheels as he is on two.
With multiple Rally America titles, plus numerous NASCAR races under his belt, as well as starts in the Daytona 24 Hours, Stadium Supertrucks, World Rally Championship, hillclimbs and more, Pastrana is easily one of the world’s top drivers. Despite his impressive motocross CV, it might come as a surprise that driving came before riding for Pastrana.
“At two my Dad built a go kart. It didn’t turn very well, didn’t go very well but I rolled it and then he built a roll cage on it before I turned three,” Pastrana said. “So I’ve always been driving everything that I could but obviously the motorcycles were a lot cheaper”.
Once the money, sponsorship, and fame, that came with Pastrana’s motocross career allowed him to get back behind the wheel, he did.
“I always had an eye on the WRC,” he said, “I actually had the chance to come to Sweet Lamb when I was 17 with Alpinestars and Subaru and kind of kept the ties open from there so that’s kind of how I got my foot in the door there.”
After finishing his début Rally America season in fourth place, Pastrana took four consecutive titles between 2006-2009. In between his Rally America domination, he claimed gold medals in the Rally Car Racing event at the X Games in 2006 and 2008.
All of this was to be the precursor to a move into what was to become one of the fastest-growing racing series in the world. Alongside his growing Nitro Circus commitments, Travis Pastrana was one of the star names in the early days of the new Global Rallycross championship.
A far cry from what was seen in Europe, rallycross in the US stuck to its action sports roots, having tracks dominated with massive jumps early on.
“Rallycross really started from the X Games in the US where it was head-to-head but not against everyone on the course,” he said. “When it started we had really huge jumps, a lot of cars were broken, including my car, but we had a lot of fun with that and I think the crowd really liked the over-under jumps and it was a pretty Americanised sport.”
In Global Rallycross’ infancy strong manufacturer involvement was sparse, unlike today. However, Pastrana was one of the very first drivers to get behind the wheel of a manufacturer-backed entry – the Dodge Dart.
“The Dart was definitely too big for rallycross,” Pastrana said. “It was a pretty decent car, we had a decent motor, it could get some good starts, and it was hard to pass because it was really big”.
Despite its size, and the fact that he wasn’t competing in a full campaign either, Pastrana was able to get a sole victory in the Dart in New Hampshire in 2012, drawing on his motocross experience to come out on top.
“We were able to get the one win on the course that had a bunch of these little bumps that all of the other cars were going nose down and the Dart was so big it would just sail these jumps!” he said, “it had one 70-foot jump that was at the end of a really long straightaway so everyone was coming down and hitting the brakes, getting their speed right and the taking off. Well from motocross I’d lock the brakes up all the way off the take-off and before I got to the top I’d let go and hit the gas and it’d pop the nose up and the Dart, it flew so well because it was so much bigger.”
Although a race-winning car the Dart’s time in GRC saw the series divide it’s time between NASCAR venues and temporary, purpose built facilities – those of which hampered the Dart.
“It was definitely more difficult on the parking lot races,” he added, “I feel like a lot of our races were, especially in those couple of years. We were trying to fit in the NASCAR venues, trying to fit in venues that were really good for exposure, but very difficult racing spots.”
Since the big Dodge was withdrawn at the end of the 2013 season, Pastrana has driven for Subaru Rally Team USA, making sporadic appearances alongside Sverre Isachsen, Rally America rival David Higgins, and fellow X Games alumni Bucky Lasek. But does he envisage making a full title-tilt in Global Rallycross? Perhaps not just yet.
The 32-year-old took part in another full Rally America championship in 2014 and plans to head back to the stages again when he can, although he isn’t ruling out making future GRC starts.
“I love rallying, I love driving in the woods but I do like rallycross, I just haven’t had the time,” he said, “the guys are very, very close. They’re very, very good. I enjoy it but I’d rather be in the woods. I only have maybe six weekends off of Nitro Circus so I try to, if possible, find a woods rally.”
As for his views on the sport as a whole, Pastrana believes rallycross in America will only get bigger and bigger.
“I think rallycross is definitely where it’s [motorsport] going, it’s getting much more popular, and the courses are getting better,” he said, “I’m looking forward to taking a note out of the Europeans’ book, even though when they came over they cut all our jumps, which sucks, but they did make the racing better.”
The writer’s full interview with Travis Pastrana can be found here