Travis Pastrana is human. That might seem obvious, but as the excitement of Pastranathon weekend built over the past few months, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that the larger-than-life image splashed across TV commercials, billboards and the side of Staples Center was attached to a 27-year-old athlete built of flesh and bone who was saddled with a superhuman amount of pressure and expectations. In all the excitement, his fans forgot. His sponsors forgot. It's possible, at times, even Pastrana forgot.
Then, Thursday night, "We got hit in the face with reality," says Michael Waltrip, co-owner of Pastrana's Nationwide team, Pastrana-Waltrip Racing. That night, as Pastrana crashed his second of two 720 attempts and his dirtbike came crashing down on his golden right foot, the foot that was supposed to power his Nationwide debut Saturday night, the conversation about Pastrana's record-breaking weekend turned to what should have been. Thing is, nothing this weekend was ever guaranteed.
"We knew the trick Travis picked for Best Trick was difficult and there was a risk that came along with it," Waltrip says. "We just assumed, Travis being the star he is and having the jumps under his belt, that it would all work out. We were eagerly anticipating this weekend, and it is disappointing." To no one more than the guy on all those posters, who woke up Friday morning feeling a ton of pain and even more disappointment.
"The first thing I thought was how horrible I feel for the team, all the teams," Pastrana says. "I feel bad for my trainer and my friends and everyone who sacrificed so much to help me work on that trick. I feel bad for the fans who watched and thought it was no closer than two years ago. To choke that badly on the first one and be zero-for-three in pressure situations, which I pride myself in, it's heartbreaking. People are going to think the trick is impossible, but it's not. It is possible. And it has to be done. I know the NASCAR team doesn't want to hear that, but it comes down to passion, and I still have a big monkey on my back. If I don't land that trick, it will be the biggest regret of my life."
In the weeks leading up to the event, Pastrana had been landing the 720, dubbed the TP Roll, into his foam pit and a mulch pile about 80 percent of the time, and felt confident enough to promise his Nationwide team, crash or no crash, that he would be in the No. 99 car Saturday night. "I crash like 50 percent of the time on my first jump," Pastrana says. "So I was prepared for that. I told my NASCAR team, this is a risk worth taking. I haven't had an injury in years the doctors couldn't fix. I can deal with pain. 'I promise you I will be in that car,' I told them. If I get hurt, they can fix me."
After much discussion with his doctors Thursday night, Pastrana realized this was an injury the doctors couldn't simply tape up and splint. "They said, 'You've shattered your leg,'" Pastrana says. "'You can't race.'" When the call was made, Pastrana sent an email to Waltrip. "He said he was sorry and expressed his sadness about not getting to race in Indy this weekend," Waltrip says. "He talked to me about the fact that now he can focus totally on cars because that event is over. His attitude and enthusiasm are still high, and that's what we love about Travis."
The script this weekend was supposed to read like this: Compete in Moto X Best Trick on Thursday night and ride away from the first TP Roll, a trick Pastrana has been working on for four years and crashed attempting at the 2009 X Games. The 720 was supposed to mark the end of Pastrana's competitive motocross days. Then, on Friday, he planned to land an even more ambitious run in Moto X Freestyle that was to include a double backflip, another 720 and a couple of more surprises. Then he would hop a red-eye to Indianapolis, make his Nationwide debut at Lucas Oil Raceway on Saturday and take another late-night flight back to Los Angeles for a Sunday afternoon RallyCross race. It was a mentally and physically demanding schedule that seemed impossible to pull off -- for anyone, of course, except Pastrana. But he's not superhuman. And as he lay on the dirt Thursday night gripping his leg in pain, that reality slowly began to sink in.
"Before his run, I heard Travis say, 'I want to land this stupid trick. It's been bugging me for four years,'" says freestyle rider Robbie Maddison, who made the decision Wednesday morning to pull out of Best Trick due to a back injury. "He said he was scared as hell. If he had been aware of what he was saying and really listened to himself, he would have known he didn't have the confidence in that trick. I know he wanted to get the monkey off his back, but he's accomplished so much, he didn't have anything to prove. I wish someone in his camp would have said, 'Travis, you don't need to do this.' It's great to think he's invincible, but he has to realize he's only human."
As he recovers from this injury, it's tough to think that realization won't strike him again and again. According to Todd Jacobs, Pastrana's trainer, the breaks in Pastrana's leg are severe. "He has longitudinal impact breaks," Jacobs says. "Meaning the impact came from straight down, and instead of cleanly breaking his bones, he has cracks, fractures, bone fragments, spiral fractures up his tibia. His ankle is a mess." On Monday, Pastrana will fly home to have surgery to insert pins and plates into his ankle, leg and hand, which he injured on his final day of practice in Maryland last week. It will be two months before he can put weight on his foot and at least that amount of time before he can reschedule his Nationwide debut. "This is just a delay," Waltrip says. "Now we'll just have to figure out how to make the next Pastranathon as fun as this one was going to be."
Thing is, this one might not be over. On Friday afternoon, Pastrana's Subaru team began working on a hand-controlled contraption that would allow him to race in Sunday's RallyCross event. "The doctors told me if my foot is below my heart for more than 30 minutes, I'll pass out," Pastrana says. "But RallyCross is a short race. It's going to hurt, but if it's possible, I have to try." If one thing about Pastrana is superhuman, it's his heart.