Pastrana and the Return of the Nitro World Games


Travis Pastrana might have finally found the safe landing spot for his action-sports career. The Nitro Circus World Tour shows continue to entertain, and the second-annual Nitro World Games takes the flair of those shows and adds the element of competition—and the promise to create bigger and better stunts and tricks than ever before. Travis no longer has to put it all on the line himself anymore—he’s created the platform for the next generation to jump from.

The Nitro World Games take place this weekend at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, and you can watch them live in primetime Saturday Night on NBC, the big network. Travis used to write a column for Racer X Illustrated back in his racing days, so he always makes time for us. Last week, he called us with a progress report on this Saturday’s show.

Racer X: The show is all about progression, but it’s going to be pretty hard to top, because there were a lot of breakthroughs last year. How do you guys go about that—trying to make sure this thing keeps progressing from the ridiculous levels that you already hit once?
Travis Pastrana: This year we really went to the riders, especially with skate, and said, what do you guys need to do stuff that you’ve never done before? Basically just getting the landings how the guys wanted them, the angles the guys wanted them, and really giving the riders a chance to build the jumps they need to do stuff that’s never been done. I feel like the first year was kind of based off the [Nitro Circus World] tour and on the guys that we had on tour and myself to say, okay, this is what we think is going to work. Then to actually get guys that have never been on tour and guys that are more technical riders or just come from different backgrounds and say, okay, now what do you guys need? So, this year I feel like the level of competition all the way across the board is just going to be even more top notch, if that’s possible. There’s not going to be as many standouts because everyone’s going to be doing bigger and better. It’s not just going to be like the Nitro Guys.

The first Nitro World Games at Rice-Eccles Stadium was pretty well attended for a first time event.
The first Nitro World Games at Rice-Eccles Stadium was pretty well attended for a first time event. Garth Milan

Last year, we knew you guys were trying some stuff at your compound, or maybe in your old shows, but it was still kind of experimental. Everyone was guessing in a way?
Yeah, literally. The freestyle moto landing, at my house, about three weeks before, we took a string to the trees and measured about how far the guys were going, then also what degree of angle they were coming down on. We had it built. The first time the riders ever saw an actual landing for those huge Moto Best Trick jumps was at World Games. We had carpet that we thought was going to work well. We had the bag system that we thought was going to work well, and the landing angle that we thought was correct. But nothing had been tested before! Then you had the BMX guys going out there. Some of the newer guys were like, no, we want a solid landing. The other guys were like, no, we want to be able to try stuff. So all the way up until the night of the event we were still making decisions on what we were going to have. This year the guys had a chance to practice on everything as it will be for World Games three months in advance at the compound.

It seems like there’s both camaraderie here with people practicing together, but it’s also a competition. So, how many tricks might someone be saving in their back pocket that may not be seen until next Saturday?
Obviously, I talk more about motorcycle stuff because that’s my background and because that’s what you guys at Racer X are interested in. So, for freestyle best trick, the takeoff is double as tall and 20 degrees steeper than pretty much anything that is out there. The problem with this is if you don’t have an airbag, if you just have a standard foam pit, you’re dropping literally 45 feet into the foam pit. The only one that’s been able to do it without killing themselves has been Harry Bink, who built his own ramp and just uses his regular foam pit. Every time he lands in the foam pit he knocks the wind out of himself. He dislocated his shoulder a couple of times. Literally, he has probably the four biggest tracks that have ever been done on a dirt bike. He could get first, second, third and fourth with those tricks! So, it’s amazing what he’s been able to do. But the rest of the freestyle moto guys for best trick have been at my house. So, [Greg] Duffy has been practicing all year, using the ramp and the airbag. Everybody got there and the first day everyone’s filming Duffy and analyzing it. He’s like, crap! They learned all the stuff that he had taken a year to learn! That could have been some money if he was the only one doing them and he won the competition, but the best part about it is that these guys work and they help each other moving the ramps and setting up the bags, and the camaraderie. Yeah, there’s a lot of shit-talking for sure, but at the end of the day these guys have pushed each other. Over the last two weeks at my house, the stuff that they’ve been able to do is just absolutely incredible. It’s cool to see. Hey, if you want to win, go race. If you want to do stuff that’s never been done before and you want to push the level of what a human spirit can do and what’s possible and you want to be able to do that, then that’s what freestyle is about.

I feel like that’s always been your style, even in your racing days and then especially in freestyle competition. I think you always welcome working with the other guys even if it wasn’t maybe the best move to win the event.
Yeah. For sponsors, for the future of the sport, there has to be a best, but at the end of the day I’ve always approached freestyle as an individual sport. How do you judge style, anyway? That’s what I was always kind of, maybe not bummed out about, but in contests they’re like, “You slid out on the landing,” or “You put a foot down,” or “Your form wasn’t perfect.” I’m like, who cares? I did something no one else has ever done before! So, I built an event that rewards guys that go big, guys that innovate, guys that try stuff that’s never been done and then we try to do it in a safer way.

As crazy as it may seem, this trick is pretty standard at the Nitro World Games.
As crazy as it may seem, this trick is pretty standard at the Nitro World Games. Garth Milan

Do you have any theories as to why if you’re from Australia or New Zealand you’re just awesome at freestyle? What is the deal with these guys? Is there anything that they have in common? Are they just crazy?
I do have a theory. When Streetbike Tommy walks down the street in any little village in New Zealand there’s literally grandmas yelling, “Streetbike Tommy!” So, it’s interesting. We have an over 85 percent recognition of Nitro Circus in New Zealand. We’re real close to that in Australia, whereas in the U.S. we’re right around 15 percent. Fifteen percent of the population knows what Nitro is, which is still not bad, but it’s that culture over there, they’re so into it. In New Zealand there’s something like you can only sue for $10,000. So you go up and you see a hill somewhere and you’re like, “Man, we want to ride that. That would be awesome.” The place will look like Castillo Ranch. You go and you knock on their door and ask if you can go ride it. They’re like, hell yeah! Can we watch? It’s just a little different attitude in general. Scooters were accepted over there before they were accepted over here. They’re still not really accepted in a lot of places. The scooter world, they’re crushing it.

Then there is the American, Gregg Duffy, who won last year even though he had virtually no freestyle background whatsoever, right?
Yeah, well, he had grown up at Pastranaland, but yeah, it was as little as possible. He was racing basically. But what’s interesting is these ramps now. Freestyle started with Mike Jones and Mike Metzger and Cary Hart, guys that raced supercross and were good, all-around riders. When it was muddy or rutty or whatever and there was dirt takeoffs and every time you got to X Games every jump was different and the distances were different. They could handle all of that. In 2002 when the ramps started coming out, and as Metzger said, ramp kids, they really got good in the air but didn’t have that same motocross background, if you will. We didn’t have the skillset of just being able to ride everything. So, these jumps that we’re building, all of a sudden now you’re hitting ramps at 50, 60 miles an hour, you’re G-ing out, you’re compressing, it’s a lot more like jumps on an actual motocross track because they hit the takeoff so hard. The front flip kickers, you hit a curb. If you can tire tap a whoop, if you can wheelie across the top of a supercross whoop section, you have no problem hitting this front flip kicker. But if that’s something that you haven’t done before, when you hit it your feet go—when Ronnie Mac hit it, he just straight over the bars, complete eject. He did a double front flip tsunami to face plant with the bike on top of him. It was great! But that’s the kind of reaction we’re getting from the freestyle guys. They’ll say, “What the hell is that and what’s going to happen?” Duffy looks at it and goes, “Oh, so it’s like hitting a curb at the top of a ramp.” It’s like a big kicker bump, like the ones you get at the local tracks when the guys start doing the big triples. They leave that little stupid bump at the top. That’s all it is, basically. So, we’re finding that the racers now, the ones at my house, are like “This is the coolest, biggest jump I’ve ever hit. I’m in the air for four and a half seconds. This is great. And I’m landing on airbags, so who really cares?”

So, that’s where Duffy was able to shine because he came out and was hitting everything. His first day doing a front flip it was raining. It was muddy up to the takeoff. His bike weighed literally 50 pounds more from the mud. He was sliding all the way up to it. It literally just stopped raining, the ramp’s still wet, and he does a front nac on his first ever front flip to dirt. He’s like, “Yeah, cool. That was good.” Now, if you try to get a “ramp kid,” for lack of a better term, to ride in the mud, it’s not going to happen.

I guess this just all adds to the mystery of how it’s going to go and what’s going to happen, because you’re starting to go back to having these diverse backgrounds and what the guys’ skills are, and a lot of these things are still relatively new. I guess when the event kicks off, who knows who’s going to win or who’s going to pull something big? It’s kind of diverse again in a way.
Instead of everything being 75 feet, exactly the same takeoff, we have two different lifts for 75 feet. We’ve got a 120-footer. We’ve got a 45-footer. We have two different types of front flip ramps. We have a double backflip booter that’s so good you literally you could warm up with the double backflip then you could ride into double backflip kiss-of-deaths and stuff like that. Every jump has a different degree of difficulty on it for what tricks you’re going to do. It has been really cool to bring in old school guys like Drake McElroy. As much as I’d like to make the degree of difficulties and stuff, that’s not my place, we have some guys like that that want to help. I just got a call last week from Mat Hoffman and he’s like, “How can I be involved?” We’re like, “Dude, come on down! Get on the floor and announce this thing.” Even to our announcing crew, you’ve got Tony Hawk. You’ve got Todd Richards who is an Olympic snowboarder. TJ Lavin is back. He was floored last year, and that was awesome to see. Someone that’s been involved with BMX his whole life. He was like, “What the hell is going on?” That’s cool. That’s what we want. There’s just so many guys that want to be a part of it. Just the progression, it’s been cool.