Travis Pastrana has a busy summer ahead. By August, he will have brought his Nitro Circus Live show to the U.S., filmed for a 3-D movie full of first-time stunts, competed in Moto X Best Trick and RallyCross at X Games 17 and made his NASCAR debut in the Nationwide Series. And we'll have chronicled it all here, in a weekly(ish) column by Alyssa Roenigk, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and author of The Big Jump: The Tao of Travis Pastrana. So much for a summer vacation. Or sleep.
Several times during the past week, those closest to Travis Pastrana used the same analogy to describe the discrepancy between how this weekend's Pastranathon will appear to the public and what will actually be required to pull it off. "It's like a duck swimming across a pond," says Ron Meredith, Pastrana's longtime moto team manager. "Up top, he looks all good and calm. But underneath the water, it's pure chaos."
Later this week, Pastrana will be propelled and kept afloat by his sponsors, managers, mechanics, trainers, family and friends. These will also be the folks who will uphold the perception that Pastrana simply shows up, flashes a few thumbs-ups and wins gold medals. Thing is, that couldn't be further from the truth.
"Travis puts more work and effort into everything he does than anyone," says his business manager, Travis Clarke. "That inspires everyone around him to work hard so when he shows up, everything runs smoothly."
Beginning on Wednesday, Pastrana's days are scheduled down to the hour and it is Clarke's job to make sure he sticks to that schedule. That means arriving -- and, more importantly, departing -- sponsor appearances and autograph sessions on time and knowing precisely when to arrive at each practice session, meal, hotel check-in and flight.
That's easier said than done. "It's my job to keep the show rolling," Clarke says. "X Games only happens once a year and Travis likes to make it special for his fans and give them his time. But he can overdo it, get distracted and worn down. It's important to remind him when he needs to take a break."
The success of this entire four-day sport-a-thon essentially hinges on Pastrana pulling off one trick, the 720 or "TP Roll," in Moto X Best Trick on Thursday night. (And again Friday in Moto X Freestyle.) Until his wheels are safely back on the ground, that trick will weigh heavily on everyone's minds. But the real trick is for those around him to keep it from weighing on his.
"My challenge is to make sure everything is perfect before he gets there," Meredith says. "That the right parts are on the right bikes and the right bike is at Best Trick. And it has the right graphics, spare parts, fuel and oil. I don't want any question in my mind of whether everything is perfect because Travis can't have that question in his mind."
Once the event begins, Meredith's job becomes more that of a coach. "The biggest challenges will be the ones taking place in his head and part of my job is to make sure he knows he's got this," says Meredith, who shares bike duties with Pastrana's mechanics, Hubert Rowland and James Coy. "It's important for all of us around him to rid his mind of any doubt. It should feel familiar, like he's jumping into his foam pit at home. That way, the trick will be automatic."
If Thursday night goes as planned, the challenge then becomes managing Pastrana's seemingly endless supply of energy. "I'll be there to make sure that when he has time to rest, he takes it," says Pastrana's fiancé, Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, a professional skateboarder who knows all too well the demands of X Games week. "Sometimes he doesn't rest much at all, so I'll be there to say, 'Remember, you have all this other stuff all weekend. Maybe you want to just chill for a second.' And I'll be a companion. Sometimes, even with as many people as he'll have around him, it feels lonely when you're running around like a chicken with your head cut off." Reducing the headless chicken moments is the job of Pastrana's trainer and longtime friend Todd Jacobs.
"In order to pull this off, he needs to have peak mental agility and all his synapses firing perfectly," Jacobs says. "That means keeping him rested and giving him time before events to visualize, calm himself and slow it all down. Sometimes he will literally forget to drink water, so I have to make sure to stop him and put a bottle of water or supplements in his hands."
Jacobs will also help Pastrana manage injuries, including those from the past. "Travis carries about 20 percent of each injury with him to this day, so I am constantly monitoring how he feels orthopedically and making sure he doesn't wear himself out and get sick," Jacobs says. "He doesn't take anything stronger than ibuprofen, so we manage pain with ice, treatment and rest, which will be important this weekend. When I describe Travis, I say his ambition exceeds his flesh-and-bone reality. My job is to help facilitate his ability to do what he dreams."
After competing in Freestyle on Friday, Pastrana and a small group of folks, including his mom, Debbie, Hawkins and Clarke, will board a red-eye to Indianapolis, where he will arrive at 6 a.m. and begin his first official day as a Nationwide driver. At that point, his NASCAR team takes over.
"I'll be watching Thursday and Friday on TV and my hope for Travis is that he has fun at the X Games and is the best TP No. 199 he can be. Then he comes to Indianapolis and runs competitively," says Michael Waltrip, co-owner of Pastrana-Waltrip Racing. "I hope this is as successful as his debut in the K&N series last fall. But all we hope is for him to run laps and get comfortable behind the wheel."
Heading into the weekend, Waltrip knows his driver has many obstacles that could prevent him from even making it to the race. But he says it's worth navigating them to have Pastrana on his team. "You can put an 'if' in front of anything, and with Travis, that is an 'if' with a capital I," Waltrip says. "But his sponsors know the risks and they want to be a part of it. I feel the same way. I would never ask him not to do something because then he wouldn't be Travis Pastrana. We think he is going to be a real game changer in this sport and we just want to support him."
Once in Indy, Pastrana's first goal will be to qualify for Saturday's Kroger 200. Then, that night, he will make his official Nationwide debut at Lucas Oil Speedway. "Physically, NASCAR is the least dangerous and least physically taxing thing he'll do all weekend," Jacobs says.
Mentally, that's another story. "Part of my job this weekend is to play psychologist," Waltrip says. "And say to him, 'This is hard for a reason. The best in the world have a hard time in NASCAR and we all know you can do it.'"
After Indy, Pastrana will board another late-night flight and arrive back in Los Angeles around 1 a.m. He'll then tack on a few more hours of sleep and head back to the STAPLES Center to begin preparing for that afternoon's X Games RallyCross event. At that point, his Vermont Sportscar rally team takes control of the pedals.
"Travis tests with us Tuesday and Wednesday and then we won't see him again until he arrives Sunday morning at 9," says Clint Fast, team manager for Vermont Sportscar. So it will be the job of Fast and his 37-member team to take what they learned during track time with their other drivers, Dave Mirra and David Higgins, and apply that to Pastrana's practice sessions. "Travis has this unique ability to show up and switch from one activity to another without being distracted," Fast says. "It looks crazy from the outside, but in his mind, once he gets in the rally car, it's as if he's spent all week in that seat."
Even if that couldn't be further from the truth.