NASCAR Media Conference
April 17, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's two‑part NASCAR teleconference. We are going to open with Travis Pastrana, driver of the No. 99 Boost Mobile Toyota for RAB Racing, through a just announced alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing. Extreme sports legend and 11 time X‑Games GOLD MEDALLIST, Pastrana, will make his long‑awaited NASCAR debut at Richmond International Raceway next Friday April 27th.
Immediately following Travis, we'll be joined by Ryan Blaney who will be making his Nationwide debut in Richmond.
Travis, as you prepare for your first NASCAR Nationwide Series start next weekend, talk about what you've gone through this past year to get to this point, the anticipation of the first Nationwide race, and the support from your team sponsors and NASCAR itself?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Well, I mean, we're really excited. We had a lost support coming into NASCAR through Samsung, Boost Mobile, KMC, and a lot of other sponsors that were from a motocross background and had kind of planned on exiting the stage of motocross with the freestyle X‑Games and switching over full‑time to NASCAR.
Unfortunately, everyone pretty much knows with the ankle, I was unable to compete last year. So we started the whole process over again with Matt Crafton, and were really fortunate that the sponsors are, Samsung, Boost Mobile and KMC have stuck with me and agreed to do the same amount of races they agreed to do last year which is huge for me.
And pretty much a second chance to do the best we can, and get in there. Starting with Richmond, which is close to my house, and race as we did last year, and the K&N Series, and we also will do it this year on the Thursday before the Nationwide debut, it's a really good place to start.
Q. Can you talk about the fact that you guys have a deal now with RAB Racing and the fact that you probably won't have to qualify your way in and you'll be able to just kind of focus on the race next week?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Yeah, Robby Benton and Scott Zipadelli have been awesome. We kind of formed an alliance with them earlier this year and just formally announced it, which really helps me to really focus on racing. To be perfectly honest, the qualifying running one fast lap is something that I've been working really hard on through the test.
But the most difficult thing for me has been to get up to speed in the first couple laps. So this will be huge for me as well as, I think it's great for Michael Waltrip and NWR who is fully supportive, which is awesome. So we'll still be able to keep the 99 number and keep the same basic sponsors, and actually my crew chief who was crew chief for K&N Series, and someone I worked with a lot as well. So it's basically crew chief with Scottie.
So that will be really good to have some people that I know. It will be a front carrier on the team, and it's pretty neat we're all getting start at the same time.
Q. Do you feel a delay in your debut? How has that impacted, do you feel, the interest in your debut? Do you feel as much interest now as there was back in July, or do you feel like it's waned at all?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: For me, it's the biggest thing trying to get out there. It's good that the interest has gone away a little bit for me. It allows me to come in and focus on racing. But at the same time, it's still NASCAR is 24/7 with everything else.
All I want to do is drive my car and be in the car. We've gone across a lot of media, and frankly, I'm tired of talking about it, I know the media's tired of talking about it. And all the drivers are like, Geez, are you getting out of here or not.
I mean, that ankle was horrible. But I'm finally getting started. I won't know a lot of answers until I'm getting in the cars. So looking forward to this race.
Q. I guess follow ago long with that, how are you balancing everything right now? How are you learning how to balance it in terms of trying to get everything that you want to learn with some of your other pursuits? What is the main thing you're learning at this point?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: To be perfectly honest, the better you do in racing, the less PR you have to do for the sponsors to be able to back you up. We have a great sponsor base and great fan base, but really I have not established myself as a NASCAR driver.
It's been a balance of trying to figure out how to get the most time at the races, the most time with my crew chief, and learn how to speak NASCAR. It's something that's funny, but I had a different language communication from the Rally stuff. If it's pushing or it's loose or whatever, and the NASCAR guys are a little bit different with their terminology. Even the opposite of rebound. Rebound I learned is the opposite kind of language.
More rebound in Rally and in motocross is you want to go faster and more rebound in NASCAR is you want it to go slower.
So I'm really trying to learn as much as I can about the sport. And the best part about getting hurt, if there is a positive from last year, is I got to watch a lot of racing. I got to understand a lot more how it works and become more a fan of sports. I think that was my first day out of testing, I was actually faster than my last day before I got injured at the same course, so that's good.
But we still have a long way to go. I know it's going to be a long road, and I'm not going to just jump in and take off where I left off in Rally or motocross. I understand that.
Q. Travis, I wonder, the injury you suffered last year, do you ever wonder if it had a hidden benefit to allow you more time to be prepared for the Nationwide Series?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Without a doubt. I hadn't realized it until I got back in the car and started understanding more of what Matt Crafton was explaining things to me and I'm listening. But even Mark Martin or anybody, when they say something, I just wasn't understanding exactly what they were saying. So I think it would have been really frustrating last year, and it will probably still be frustrating this year.
But I think I understand more of the terminology. I understand more how to get feedback. I think in the long run, I wouldn't go as far as beneficial. I'm sure I could have learned more out on the track than I could have from TV. But it was definitely something that I think is going to help this season and help my first race be better. I'm hoping that's the case.
Q. If everything had gone fine in L.A. last year and had you gotten in that Nationwide car last summer, do you wonder how much of a push it would have been from a preparation standpoint compared to where you are now?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Without a doubt. But honestly, we had a lot of timing. I shouldn't say we had less time in the moto stuff, but my focus was NASCAR even before the X‑Games. You know, it's difficult to balance stuff. Now we have the GRC, the Global Rally Cross, and just getting some testing in that.
But I feel like any time testing in the car and talking to the team about the car is beneficial. So I'm going to be in a car 24/7 pretty much either the Rally car or the Nationwide car or the K&N car at the end of Richmond on. So, yeah, it sucks that I got injured, but honestly, I think I'm better off for it at this particular juncture.
Were we rushed last year? No. I felt like we had a good plan. We were prepared and we were ready. Maybe not as ready as we are now, but we'll never be fully ready to compete. So no matter what happens on race day, you always wish you had a little more time.
Q. Travis just wondered what kind of challenges do you think a track like Richmond will throw at you in your first race?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: That's a really good question. Last year I made a complete fool of myself on the Denny Hamlin implication. The first turn I got a little too aggressive. I think for me, the restarts ‑‑ I've been getting crushed on restarts and I've been getting crushed in qualifying, which is always tough to come from the back of the pack, and it's tough to make up time after six, seven laps have gone and people find their rhythm.
So it's just a matter of getting out there. Not getting in trouble, but still trying to be aggressive and not just getting taken advantage of in the first couple of laps.
I think for me it's going to be wanting to get aggressive and go as I've always done, but at the same time think don't crash, don't make a fool of yourself and don't cause any trouble.
I'm looking forward to getting the first race‑‑ I shouldn't say over with‑‑ I'm looking forward to getting in that car in the first race. But after the first race, we'll know a lot more where we sit. We'll know where to improve on, and hopefully we'll make it up all the laps. My goal is to stay and be on that lead lap in the end. If we can do that and not crash, it would really set a lot of confidence for me going into the next round.
If I end up crashing in the first quarter of the race, A, I didn't learn anything this round, and B, all the critics that have been saying I'm going to crash out all the time are going to be right. So that first round is going to be even more stress going into the next one.
I just hope I don't hit a wall, don't hit anybody else, don't make anybody upset, and hopefully we can end up on a lead lap, and I think it will be a really strong goal for me.
Q. You mentioned earlier that Richmond's close to your house. Is it comforting knowing that you're coming to a place that's close, and it's kind of like oh, it's close to home and that kind of thing?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Yes and no. Super comforting. But we were looking at buying tickets for friends and relatives and I've got over a hundred friends and family coming to this race. I'm like, great. If I mess up, oh, it's going to be‑‑ I'll never hear the end of it.
No, it's good. But for me it's just about getting out there. We've done our homework. I've got great people behind me. The whole NWR crew, and the RAB crew. I've been with the crew chief since I started in NASCAR, and I feel really confident with the people I have around me. Even my cousin is on the pit crew and it's just a familiar face to talk to before you get in the car.
I'm looking forward to it. And I think home is good, but there are a lot of people I know in the stands.
Q. You gave the command to start engines at Texas. How are you going to be feeling when you hear that command on pit road at Richmond?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: In Texas all I wanted to do was get in one of those cars, which is really funny. Clint, when he was going by me when I was shaking hands or whatever and walking across the stage, he was like, yeah, what do you think? You want to jump in the car? And I was like don't tempt me, man. I would in a heartbeat.
But it will be exciting when they say start your engines, for sure.
Q. Travis, you're obviously skilled at communications. How has that helped you, do you think, adapt to the NASCAR scene with your crew chief and a crew?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: I think it's really good for me to be able to know how to talk to a team, know what you want out of a motorcycle and out of a car. It all helps. It's just learning the new language every time we've gone to a different sport or I've gone to a different sport, I should say.
In Rally it was one in a co‑driver, and here it's learning not only how to listen to your spotter, which we had at Greenville Pickens, the spotter did a great job, but I misunderstood what he was saying. Just being able to get all of these things in place where you're looking at a tenth or .2 of a second, is the difference of being competitive for a top 5 finish or being outside the top 20.
So there is definitely a lot I've learned in the past that's going to help me. With the sponsors and the people around me, even guys like Joey Logano have gone so far out of their way and Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers who are guys on top of their sport, have helped me in any way they can. Being on a team with Clint Bowyer as well as Mark Martin and Ryan Truex, all of these guys have gone so far out of their way to help. That's just probably from where I came from, and shows respect from any racer to another racer.
I've got to take advantage of that, and learn the sport as quickly as I possibly can. It's going to take time, but I think we have everything in place to do it right.
Q. If I could ask you about fans. Sometimes a lot of them sit up in the stands and never really feel what it's like to actually do something. You've done so many really thrilling and exciting stuff. How would you explain to a fan that you've changed from what you've done in the past to the NASCAR stock car?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: I've never been criticized more, I don't think. Maybe going from racing to freestyle in the original when there were no (indiscernible) or anything around. But I've been criticized a lot by the fans who honestly don't understand how you can come from doing back flips and Nitro Circus to racing in a circle.
What they don't understand is this is the most competitive, most intense form of racing that I've ever experienced. There are so many guys that are so close, and it all comes down to not only driver's skill, but all skill. Every driver out there that qualifies is amazing and they're really good at what they do.
But talking to the crew chief, making the right decisions, having good communication with your spotter, there is so much to it that it just makes my head spin. But I love it. As a competitor, this is what I love to do.
And as a fan, anyone that's gone to a NASCAR race, understands it. But just trying to get the action sports guys to actually come see a race, witness it, understood what this is about and kind of see how competitive it is. As much as we do crazy stuff or whatever, it's all about competition. It's all about trying to do something bigger, better, find a creative way. Find something that no one else has tried, and it's exactly the same mindset that's in NASCAR.
So for me having all these other experiences I think is a very good thing. Just trying not to lose that fan base by coming over here to chase my dream of racing the best drivers in the world.
Q. Your willingness to step away from freestyle is something you've done so long, to focus on stock car racing really speaks volume to the commitment you have to your team and your sponsors. But you're also a guy that's known to throw a TP roll down the mega ramp on a mountain bike. So I'm curious, how concerned are you about your own abilities that kind of control yourself and not do those things anymore and try not to get hurt anymore, or are you really going to be the same Travis? Forget the X‑Games, freestyle motocross stuff, but are you still going to do some of this crazy stuff? What's going to happen to you in the future on that?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: No, it's funny you say that, because literally I can't play in my own backyard. I've got a skate park, a mechanical bull, a foam pit and supercross tracks and there are always people out here. I had someone do a trick that's never been done before just last week trying to get ready for X‑Games. And there is still a part of me that says that looks like fun.
But to tell you the truth, having to go to my team and go to Michael or the team I'm part owner of and basically tell 10, 15 guys that, hey, there is no paycheck coming in the rest of the year. Thanks for being with me, thanks for backing me up, but I don't know how you're going to pay your rent this month for you and your family, that's something that as bad as the injury was, it paled in comparison to the feeling of letting so many guys down.
Not just letting fans and friends and family or whatever, that is what it is. You do the best you can on a daily basis. But when it's someone's livelihood that's at stake, and NASCAR is something that is a sport that I want to do, but at the same time by making this commitment, I'm not just making it to myself anymore.
It's not like motocross where you have one mechanic and maybe one team manager. You've got a crew from the fab shop to engineers to your whole pit crew. I don't want to let those guys down again.
I'm not saying you won't get hurt, you won't have fun, you won't do whatever. Motocross and motorcycles are part of what I am. I love riding. For a workout, I love going out and riding. I can't really do it yet, thank goodness, because my ankle's still messed up. Hopefully that will buy me at least six more months. And then, honestly, my focus to get to the top of NASCAR, it won't be quick. It won't be in a year or two years, but that competitive nature is what's going to keep me off of everything.
Q. It sounds like that might be your biggest disappointment as a professional athlete is having to walk in the room and have that conversation with those guys. Was it?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Without a doubt, it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was the first time I ever actually felt like I was an adult. I felt like I was in a position‑‑ I mean, my parents have always backed me on everything I've always done. Like, hey, if that's your passion, follow your heart.
But the first time I got hurt when I was doing freestyle with Suzuki, and they signed me to race and I blew out my knee. Shattered tib, fib, femur, knee, everything. It was the first time I've ever been disappointed. It was like, hey, look, you made a commitment and you've got to follow through.
Not a lot of people were hurt the same way this year. But going to Roger and telling him I was going to miss supercross that year, and going to Michael Waltrip Racing and telling those guys they didn't have a job for the rest of the year. Seeing how many of them stuck around to still be with this program, when they had options to go other places. They still believed in me, and trusted me, and gave me a second chance I don't want to go through.
Q. I know I've only asked you this about ten times, but how is the ankle? Have you had any sort of surgeries or anything done to it in the last month or so?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: No, I'm in physical therapy. I've been good since New Year's, which is excellent. Is it a hundred percent? Absolutely not. My walking is horrible. But hundred percent in the car, for sure. I probably would have done a little different on physical therapy had I been coming back for motocross.
But just last week I started being able to go up my tail and do tail raises. So I'm still months away from being able to ride a dirt bike, which is probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. It makes it easy to be focused.
When it's a nice day outside, I'm still on the phone with Matt Crafton or talking about racing, or watching a race, not being tempted to do the fun stuff that I've always loved to do.
Yeah, is my ankle a hundred percent? Heck no. Will it ever be a hundred percent? Probably not. But is it a hundred percent for racing NASCAR? Yes, no worries.
Q. Have your goals for your Nationwide races, have you adjusted those at all based on the performance in the east races?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Yeah, it's definitely not giving me a lot to be super optimistic about. But last week at Greenville Pickens, qualifying got rained out. And starting up front I was able to run the fastest lap time of the race. I was running never outside the top three until I think lap 75 or so, and just miscommunication with the spotter and came down on somebody, and it bent the rear tire completely out of alignment. From that point on we dropped back like a brick.
I think we can run the pace, it's just a matter of trying to qualify the best we can and learning really how to communicate with the team. When we come in for pits, to be able to make the right adjustments and make the right calls. That's going to take time. But, no, I still believe that we can do this, so we'll see what happens.
Q. How much more stock car seat time do you figure you've had since you've been back in the car after the injury this year?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Quite a bit, actually. Probably double from what I had before. Everything we did coming into Indianapolis last year for the first Nationwide race. We've kind of gone over and redone all of it with a much better understanding of the sport and with a few more races under my belt to kind of understand what I need.
I was actually running‑‑ like lap times, I can run one lap as good as anybody. But the problem is I drop off. Like Matt Crafton will drop one tenth of a second every ten or 12 laps and I'll drop double that. So by the time the tires are worn out, I'm just completely going backwards. I'm learning when to be aggressive and what is important. I'm just trying to make game plans that help me race better. In practice, everyone looks good in practice, and we can turn in some good lap times. It's just a matter of being consistent.
Yeah, I think this year is definitely good to get more seat time this year, and really understand what I needed to work on. Because you can go test every day, but if you're by yourself and not sure what you're doing wrong, you're just going to enforce bad habits.
Q. How many races are you scheduled to run in the Nationwide Series this year? What are some of your short term goals that you like to accomplish by the end of the season?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Well, the schedule is still tentative, and only because you have to basically qualify through the NASCAR ranks. Still have to meet certain requirements in every stop to be able to run the bigger tracks. But definitely excited about starting at Richmond.
My goals, honestly, are to finish every lap of the race. If we can be on the lead lap every race and try to qualify better. My qualifying is horrible. I cannot put in that when you have two laps to go out there and usually only one of them's going to be your better lap, depending on the tire temperature or car temperature or how the track is that day. So just being able to go out and put in that best lap, even though you haven't maybe driven all day long and you're not warmed up and you're just getting comfortable there.
Goals for the season, finish, learn, and make improvements every race.
Q. Do you think there is anything from your past, like X‑Games or your Rally car background that can help translate to success in NASCAR, or is this something that's going to be totally new and a totally new learning experience for you?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Yeah, for sure. I think anyone that's been at the top of any sport understands what it takes, and that is total passion and commitment. No matter what you think someone's doing, if they've made it to the top of their sport at one point, they eat, sleep, and breathe that sport. You have to only think about that sport, you have to only do that sport.
For me, this is something that I know it. I've been there before, and I think I can follow those cookie crumbs back to the top. It's a completely different beast. All wheel drive cars, all about aggression. Motocross, all about aggression. Rear wheel drive car, there is a lot of roll speed. There is a lot of weight. You have to set the car right up on entrance. You can't overbrake it, you can't overslow it. You have to have it not so much that you're running off the tires. When you get to the gas, it's got to be all at once and just allow that car to shoot out of there and be a half tenth or tenth of a second quicker.
So there are different techniques, but the same mindset. So I think we're coming to play, and it's going to be good. So it's good to have that back‑up.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Travis. I have one last question for you. You're obviously very in tune with the young demographic. Can you talk about the young talent like Ryan Blaney that you've competed against in NASCAR and what that holds for the future of the sport?
TRAVIS PASTRANA: The K&N race was a very humbling experience. You look and there are so many guys out there, and people say NASCAR is an older demographic and this and that. I've gotten my butt kicked by 15, 17, 18‑year‑olds that kill me on a weekly basis.
So there is definitely a lot of young talent coming up, and I'm super excited to kind of learn with them, even though I've been always one of the younger guys in everything I've done. Now I definitely came in and I'm one of the older guys for sure.
It's cool to see that there are this many kids and that many youth, especially in the U.S. here that are coming up and going to be controlling the ranks of NASCAR.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Thank you for joining us accident, and we all wish you the best of luck next week as you race for the first time in Richmond.
TRAVIS PASTRANA: Thank you.
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