By John Basher
Photo by Flo Hagena / Red Bull Content Pool
Travis Pastrana reached rock star status long before I had met him. He was the “Next Big Thing” in motocross, and he delivered. Pastrana won the 2000 AMA 125 National title and followed it up with the 2001 AMA 125 Eastern regional Supercross crown. Of course you know the rest of the story. Factory Suzuki ride, blown out knee jumping over a fence at Castillo Ranch, and a professional racing career that deteriorated like his ragged body.
Motocross purists look at Travis Pastrana’s career as a waste of talent–a sad ending to such promise. For a while those people were right. And then, like he has done so often before, Pastrana reinvented himself. Here’s where a comparison to a phoenix rising from the ashes can be drawn, because Travis is the embodiment of the mythical creature. He became heavily involved in freestyle motocross and ruled the sound waves in 2006 when he landed the first ever double backflip at the X Games. In short order his name was rolling off the tongues of young kids, dreamers and believers. Anything was possible after Travis landed a double backflip. He bended the laws of physics, as Tony Hawk before him. The dorky kid from Maryland, who used to ride with a stuffed animal zip-tied to the back of his chest protector, became otherworldly to those who know fear–which is everyone.
I could go into great detail about my encounters with Pastrana through the years–going to his house, sharing meals, having him call my brother-in-law to wish the kid a happy birthday–but it’s not necessary. Travis is good people; that much will be known to the many who have been fortunate enough to share a brief moment with Pastrana. However, I did have a grand adventure with Travis back in 2007, thanks to my friend, Jordan Miller, and energy drink company Red Bull.
“MOTOCROSS PURISTS LOOK AT TRAVIS PASTRANA’S CAREER AS A WASTE OF TALENT–A SAD ENDING TO SUCH PROMISE. FOR A WHILE THOSE PEOPLE WERE RIGHT. AND THEN, LIKE HE HAS DONE SO OFTEN BEFORE, PASTRANA REINVENTED HIMSELF.”
The Red Bull X-Fighters Dublin round was set for May 26, 2007, at Slane Castle. The massive freestyle motocross course was set on the grounds of the historic castle. Built in 1701, Slane Castle has housed Irish royalty. In 2007, it welcomed the best freestyle motocross riders in the world. By that time Pastrana was engrossed in freestyle, because his racing career was kaput. It was perfect timing for me. Travis’ venture across the pond trapped him. He couldn’t do anything, other than wait for the Irish rain to subside so that he could ride. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to spend time with perhaps the most famous action-sports athlete ever.
In the photo shown at the top of the page (shot by Flo Hagena / Red Bull Content Pool), Pastrana wowed an energetic crowd with tricks like a massive backflip nac-nac. Unfortunately the rain dampened the action, causing Red Bull to cancel the final match-up between Pastrana and Swiss rider, Mat Rebeaud. Travis won the event, due to his better placement during Friday’s qualifying session.
Darkness consumed Slane Castle as Pastrana and the rest of the freestyle riders partied into the night. I still remember Irish socialite and model, Katy French, hopping on Pastrana’s bike while he popped a wheelie through the pits. French would pass away six months later. The toxicology report showed a drug overdose. It was a tragedy that made big news in Ireland.
I tagged along with Red Bull press relations whiz, Jordan Miller, as he arranged a small group to travel up to Northern Ireland and ride around Belfast. First, we stopped in a hospital in Drogheda to visit Robbie Maddison. Maddo destroyed his lower leg during the contest. I could tell a whole separate story about my experience in an Irish hospital, but I’ll refrain in case anyone is reading this “One Photo & One Story” on their lunch break. Suffice it to say that Pastrana and I ran out of Maddison’s hospital room at one point to keep from gagging.
Afterward, we pointed the rental van northward towards Belfast. I passed the time by bench racing with Pastrana and some washed-up freestyle rider by the name of Ronnie Renner. The trip brought us to Harland & Wolff’s shipyard–site of where the Titanic was built. Pastrana rode in the shipyard, and then he ran up the countless flights of stairs to the top of a crane. Surely he was thinking about BASE jumping off the top. We also went to the Stormont Parliament Buildings, where Pastrana and Mat Rebeaud had a wheelie contest. Rebeaud won, because Travis can’t do a wheelie. Once our time in Belfast was over, Pastrana flew back to the U.S., while the rest of us continued on to Switzerland. And that, folks, is another story for another time.