If you Google “Travis Pastrana,” the description that pops up is “American Stunt Performer.”
He’d just as soon it say “American Racing Driver,” but “at, the end of the day, as long as it has my name up there, it doesn’t really matter,” he said, via Zoom from his home in Maryland.
Pastrana, 39, hopes that his bonafides will also include “Daytona 500 competitor,” after next month. But before he enters the famed NASCAR race (with Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s team, 23XI) he has some unfinished business to handle first.
First is a trip to Sweden, this weekend, with fellow rally driver and TV personality Tanner Foust. The duo is representing the U.S. in the international Race of Champions competition, a rally race featuring drivers from all different motorsport series facing off against each other. Then it’s back to Calgary, Alberta, for another rally race.
It’s been a busy time for Pastrana, who was just in Trois Rivieres, Quebec, last weekend to honor his late friend, fellow stunt driver and racer Ken Block. Pastrana’s car wore a vintage gold Block livery from 2005 on his Subaru in the Nitro Rallycross series, which Pastrana created.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t take the Block car to victory lane, finishing fifth after crashing with another competitor.
As for the upcoming Daytona 500 NASCAR race on February 19, “It’s been on my bucket list forever. About a year ago I was sitting down with the guys from Black Rifle coffee, my sponsor, and talking about how we can be more integrative, have the most possible fun, and they asked me what bucket list item I’d like to address, and I said ‘Dude, it would be amazing to do the Daytona 500.’
“I got into NASCAR for a few years and I had some pretty good results at Daytona, never at the Cup level though, never had a shot at the Great American Race. ‘Can you get in?’ they asked. And I told them, yeah, we have the credentials to do it, we just need a budget and some luck.”
Forty cars will start the Daytona 500, but there are only four open spots; the rest are filled by teams that hold charters guaranteeing a starting position. Pastrana has two ways in: He must be one of the two fastest non-charter cars in qualifying, or one of the two highest-finishing non-charter drivers in the two Duel preliminary races.
“It took a year to get everything into place, to find a car and a team where we really thought we could be competitive,” he said. It might have been possible to rent a car that has a charter-guaranteed spot, “But I really didn’t want to do it that way—I want to earn my way in. I’m really happy that Black Rifle said look, when we get there, people will know you deserve that spot in the field, that no one can say, ‘Oh, you just bought your way in.’ If something goes wrong, it goes wrong, but it is up to us to put ourselves in the best possible position we can.
“I think we have the car. I wanted to put my best foot forward, and the 23XI team we’re joining up with has Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin as the owners. Those guys want me to be in the mix. They want this to happen. They believe in me and they believe they have a car that’s capable of getting me there. It’s gonna be a really wild experience. I can’t recall when I’ve ever been this excited just talking about something.”
With only four spots up for grabs, “We definitely have no room for mistakes. With the car they’re going to give me, with the team they have around me, it just comes down to not messing up, to getting in and out of the pit box cleanly,” he says. “With a little bit of luck hopefully no one crashes out around us.” He even plans to do some modified racing at night during Speedweeks on the short tracks around Daytona, with friends like NASCAR stars Matt Crafton and Kyle Larson.
Pastrana is still grieving for his friend Block, 55, who created the Hoonigan brand and drove modified cars in the famous Gymkhana videos, receiving millions of hits on YouTube and reshaping the world of automotive media. Block was riding a snowmobile near his home in Park City, Utah on January 3 when the machine overturned and landed on him. “Ken went out with his boots on, riding a snowmobile, but it definitely wasn’t doing something that was very risky. Ken was extremely calculating, nothing by chance.” A freak accident, he concludes, but with no witnesses.
“He helped build rally in North America–he put rally and drifting and hooning on a worldwide platform. Probably the reason that I have ‘stuntman’ next to my name when you Google it is because of Ken.
“It’s just a huge blow. With the American Rally Association, with Ken battling for the championship, he always had his Hoonigan crew come in and video everything. It’s not just Ken who was getting the publicity, it was everyone else who was racing with him. And the fan base he developed was huge.
“I don’t even know where to begin to say how big of a blow it is for the racing and rally-specific community, but for the family, with three young kids who all aspired to follow in his footsteps, it’s going to be a really rough road for them. ” Daughter Lia, still a teenager, is a “phenomenal” driver who already has a YouTube following. “They’ll get a lot of support from the aunts and uncles in the racing community, but nothing will make up for the loss of a father, of a friend, of Ken Block.”