Pastrana recovers while he awaits NASCAR debut
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Travis Pastrana arrived for NASCAR's annual media day last week and has been hanging around ever since.
And he hasn't even gotten into a race car.
Pastrana watched the exhibition Budweiser Shootout from the grandstands, stuck around for Daytona 500 qualifying and even spent two off days living it up in this ocean-side city. Why? Well, the 28-year-old extreme sports star is trying to soak in as much NASCAR as possible before making his much-anticipated debut in April.
Pastrana is scheduled to drive seven races in the Nationwide Series this season, beginning with the April 27 event at Richmond International Raceway. His debut will come nine months after Pastrana originally planned to join NASCAR's second-tier series — a move derailed when he shattered his right foot and ankle in a motorcycle crash at the X-Games.
"No words can really describe the disappointment," Pastrana said last week. "I felt like I let everyone down."
It certainly was a setback for NASCAR and its television partners. They openly laud Pastrana as one of auto racing's rising stars, mentioning him in the same breath as former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and defending Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
They point to his engaging personality, his ability to drive anything on wheels and his strong following among the much-sought-after younger generation. Throw in his boundless confidence — Pastrana has a picture of himself driving a monster truck and crushing the No. 48 car of five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson on his firesuit — and he would seem to be one of the most marketable drivers in the garage.
Pastrana welcomes any and all attention.
It's hardly anything new, either.
Two years ago, on New Year's Eve, Pastrana set a world record by jumping his rally car 269 feet off a California pier onto a floating barge anchored in Long Beach's Rainbow Harbor.
In 2007, he jumped out of an airplane without a parachute over Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and met up with another jumper in midair before finishing with a safe tandem landing.
He also has been an X-Games medalist, raced monster trucks, competed in motocross, supercross, RallyCross, the 24-hour race at Daytona, several international events and starred in an extreme-stunt series called "Nitro Circus." The series has a movie version due out this summer.
"Anybody who is that interesting and brings such a new audience to the racing community has the potential to grow his brand, grow interest in the sport on an unlimited basis as long as he gets it done on the racetrack," said Rich Feinberg, ESPN's vice president of motorsports production. "He's easy to cover.
"All the things that he has touched he has been very successful at. I'm not somebody who looks at him and has a big question mark. He's going to do quite well."
Pastrana's NASCAR venture was supposed to start last summer.
But he crashed during a "best trick" event in the X-Games on July 28, breaking his foot in 40 places after failing to safely land his motorcycle following a flip and spin combination.
Pastrana, who had won medals at every X-Games since 2002, planned to compete in two X-Games events Thursday and Friday, fly to Indianapolis to make his Nationwide debut Saturday and then return to Los Angeles to compete in RallyCross on Sunday. ESPN producers were so enthralled they dubbed it "Pastrana-thon."
Instead, Pastrana ended up in bed for a month and out of commission considerably longer.
"We were disappointed," Feinberg said. "We felt it was a tremendous opportunity, not only for our company and the fans that we serve, but for the sport that we're partners with. He's an amazing personality. He's charismatic. He's fun to talk to and he doesn't set a lot of barriers for himself.
"He's a guy who goes out and gives it his all no matter what he's done, whether it's back-flipping at the X-Games or running his race car. Yeah, it was an unfortunate situation. But those involved recognize the risk associated with what we called the 'Pastrana-thon' that weekend. We can't wait to have him back on the track."
Pastrana had hoped to drive more Nationwide races this season, but sponsorship has been challenging — even for someone who would seem to be an easy sell in corporate America.
"It's been a lot tougher than we anticipated," said Pastrana, who plans to gain experience in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series. "It's definitely a tough economy. But also a lot of the sponsors are just waiting to see if I'm going to stay healthy."
Pastrana was back in a RallyCar days after the accident, but is still working toward a full recovery. He's waiting for total feeling to return in his toes.
With improved health — and some early success — he believes sponsors will follow. And then his NASCAR career will get back on track.
His goal: stay healthy and stay in the race.
"That's kind of the same for anyone," Pastrana said. "I do have a fan base that hopefully will buy me a little bit more time to get in there. Bottom line is you have to do well."