Travis Pastrana Comes Home to Rally Racing Where ‘You Can Really Err on the Side of F— It’
Travis Pastrana is an extreme motorsports competitor and stunt performer. His boundary-smashing career includes motocross, rally racing, powerboat racing, and NASCAR. He has won X Games gold medals in multiple sports, founded the Nitro Circus TV show, and starred in Gymkhana drift videos.
Pastrana owes much of his success to his ability to battle through injuries and setbacks that would sideline a lesser athlete. In February 2022, Pastrana had a base jumping accident so severe that he broke his pelvis. Though he’s had 60 broken bones throughout his career, the 40-year-old athlete’s latest injury took over a year to heal. And in that year, he lost his longtime team manager (who he refers to as a second father) to a dirt bike accident. Then his longtime friend and rally rival Ken Block died in a snowmobile accident.
Pastrana said, “It’s been a really, really, really tough year.”
The driver and athlete was able to spend some time with his wife and daughters. He also reflected on what was really important. He said to himself. “Look, I’ve been spread thin to where I’m not doing everything with full focus. And that’s when you get hurt.”
He chose to back off sports such as the powerboat championship. He focused his energy on founding an all new sport as he builds a network of Nitrocross tracks where drivers can perform motorcross-like stunts in rally cars.
And he also chose to return to one of his first sports: rally racing. I watched Pastrana race at the first rally event of the season, Michigan’s Sno*Drift last weekend. And there’s an interesting reason that he considers rally one of his best sports, and chooses it to have fun.
What is stage rally racing?
In the U.S., at least, rally racing is a relatively niche motorsport. Competitors run off-road cars on remote courses, often too narrow for multiple vehicles. So instead of starting as a pack, they start at 60 second intervals and race the clock.
Every car has a driver and a co-driver who calls out directions and warnings to the driver. Classes include two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive. The manufacturer team to beat is the Subaru-sponsored Vermont SportsCar crew.
Is Travis Pastrana the rally racing champion?
Travis Pastrana won the America Rally Championship in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Pastrana races for team Subaru and has won 19 events total, second only to David Higgins. That is even more event wins than Ken Block (16).
When Sno*Drift was part of the American Rally Championship, it was one of Pastrana’s best races. He claims that the limited traction of snow suits his unique driving style. Pastrana has often said he is not very talented, but excels at taking risks.
Pastrana adds that this is why he does better at rally than NASCAR. “With dirt racing and rally, it wasn’t about how much car knowledge you had, it was simply about getting out there and driving and making the best of the worst-case scenario. And I do that pretty well.”
While Pastrana has rallied 2WD cars, he prefers his AWD Subarus. “What’s cool and I’ve liked about dirt, and I’ve liked about all-wheel-drive is that you can really make up time with aggression. And if you slide a little bit too much, yeah, it’s not quite as fast, but you’re not going to lose what you would in a pavement race or in a rear-wheel drive race. You can really err on the side of f— it.”
Did Pastrana win Sno*Drift?
Sno*Drift is one of Travis Pastrana’s strongest rally races. He was the overall winner in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2021. Though he’s not competing in the overall championship, he chose to return to compete in Sno*Drift in 2024.
Sno*Drift isn’t just the opening of the rally season, it is also one of the most festive on the circuit. Because it’s in the winter, race organizers allow spectators to light bonfires along the course. The final stage is nicknamed “bonfire alley” because crowds (over 2,000 people in 2024) line the course, standing by huge fires, and blasting music. Some of the slower drivers even take a quick break to do some donuts during the final stage. Most of them at least honk at the crowds.
This year, some unseasonal weather turned Sno*Drift into “Mud Drift.” Teams struggled to find the correct tire size and car setup. For the first two stages, Pastrana lagged behind his teammate, Subaru’s Brandon Semenuk who won in 2023. But by the third stage their times were neck-and-neck. Though Semenuk won overall, it is obvious that Pastrana got his groove back.
Pastrana has said of the 2024 rally season, “I’m not committing to the whole championship. I’m just going to do it for fun if there’s time.” I, for one, am happy Pastrana found time to come to Sno*Drift, and certainly hope he had fun.
Next, see Ken Blocks’ surprise final Gymkhana video, or watch Travis Pastrana prepping for Sno*Drift 2024 in the video below: