MXA INTERVIEW: TRAVIS PASTRANA TALKS ABOUT HIS TRIBUTE TO EVEL KNIEVEL
By Jim Kimball
Already a motorcycle icon, Travis Pastrana will soon attempt to duplicate the original motorcycle daredeveil Evel Knievel. On July 8th the History Channel in conjunction with Nitro Circus will live televise Pastrana’s attemp of three of Knievel’s iconic stunts. In doing so, Travis will ride a modified Indian Scout FTR750 – far from his typical 250 two stroke, or 450 four stroke motocross machine. During the three hour event Travis will attempt jumping 52 + crushed cars, then 16 grehound buses, before Knievel’s ill fated Caesars Palace jump. Certainly no easy task, if anyone can pay tribute to Evel Knievel’s life it will be the 34-year-old Pastrana. With an incredible 17 X games medals couple with his 2000 AMA 125 National Championship, and 2001 East Coast 125 Supercross Championship, who better to honor Knievel’s legendary career. we caught up with Travis the other day to learn more about his big happenings on July 8th.
TO BEGIN WITH TRAVIS, TELL US ABOUT THIS NEW SHOW YOU HAVE PLANNED. This is just such an awesome opportunity. With Nitro Circus, we are always looking for new fun ways to broaden the Motocross industry, get more attention for the companies that are coming up quick, and of course the riders. So when we started talking with the History Channel, we felt this was an awesome opportunity for us to really get fans like my dad, uncles, and that generation where Evil Knievel was every other word that they spoke. My whole upbringing was brought up around some of his quotes, like “you got to fail until you fail to get back up” or if you say you “are going to do something, you do it.”
So bringing that older generation, and the Nitro Circus younger action sports generation together was the idea. Show the younger action sports generation who he was, and basically how people started jumping motorcycles. To highlight what stunts were a few years back, and then get my dad’s generation to understand what the heck action sports are. It is just pretty cool all the way around.
WHAT I THINK IS PRETTY COOL IS THAT WHILE YOU HAVE BEEN ON MANY NETWORKS, THAT THIS IS THE HISTORY CHANNEL. I felt like this was such an awesome opportunity. When we first thought of History Channel, it was like what could we do that has a story beyond us, beyond me, or beyond Nitro Circus. Stunts have been around forever, back to the Evil Knievel days, so it seemed like a natural fit there. Then we would be talking to a lot of different celebrities that would help host, and over a three hour live special tell how that stunt culture influenced their lives. It is a pretty cool real time live documentary on action sports, motorcycles, and where they started and wherE.
IT MUST HAVE TAKEN A LONG TIME FOR THIS TO ALL COME ABOUT. We have a really awesome team with Nitro and a lot of experience with stunts so it actually comes together quicker than you would expect. They always say in Nitro Circus, be careful what you ask for, you just may get it. We were tossing around ideas like what are some of Evil’s biggest jumps, and what can we do? Some people would say oh the Greyhound bus, some said the 50-car jump, and then many talked about the Ceasers Palace jump.they are going.
So, they were kind of talking about all of it and didn’t know if that is a possibility. So we started working on all of these different things, and we were like well, “how about doing all three?” At the time, I was like “yeah, all three that would be great. Let’s do them all! Then I got on the V-Twin 750 Indian for the first time, and that thing is a beast. You have one-third the suspension travel, double the weight, and I just thought, “What the heck did I get myself into?” A couple of practice jumps in, I broke the swing arm, and after a couple more jumps I broke all the internals in the front forks. They are just not made to be jumped 100 maybe 200 feet. I thought, “It is going to be challenging for sure.”
Be careful what you ask for, you just may get it.
TALK A BIT ABOUT CHOOSING THE INDIAN OVER A HARLEY DAVIVIDSON. We went to Roland Sands and I said, O.K. let’s make an XR 750 Harley. That is what Evil always jumps and he said, “No, Evil jumped everything.” He really did. He jumped just about every bike brand under the sun, including Indian. Obviously that Harley with the #1 and the red, white and blue is what you think of for Evil, but Roland said, “Look, this is a huge resurgence in dirt track bikes that is coming up right now. He said the company putting the most into it, helping the most riders, and the company that is really going after it the most with the most progressive, most modern bike that is the closest to the twin that Evil was jumping was the Indian Scout. He said those guys will come on board and if we are breaking anything on our tests, they are the first people who are going to be there to help you. They are going to be there to support the industry, and the community, so I put my faith in Roland and said, “okay, then lets do it”.
IT DOES APPEAR THERE IS A RESURGANCE IN DIRT TRACK RACING, AND THAT INDIAN IS HEAVILY INVOLVED. Since Indian came out with the new Scout, it has really been dominant. They are putting a lot of time, money, and a lot of effort into Dirt Track. It died off there for a couple of years, but now it’s making a comeback. If you look into it a little deeper, I know there is a lot of technology, and definitely more computers involved. The Action Sports guys, even when they get a little older, they want a vehicle. They want something that they can modify, something they can work on. You can race these bikes, or keep them street legal and still have fun.
WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THESE PARTICULAR JUMPS INTO A THREE-HOUR LIVE SHOW? A lot of factors. Actually, as our family was kind of sitting around the table, thinking what was Evil’s most iconic jump? Everyone had his or her own idea. I definitely think he was known for jumping stuff. Not like Fonzie jumping the shark. So, we kind of said all right car jumping and this is something that we can just visually kind of bring back and there are not a lot of people that jump stuff anymore. They jump distances and they jump whatever. So we were thinking we have to make this as much of a show as possible. Heck, Roland Sands went out and found like this seamstress shop to make the boots or the high-heeled dress boots that Evil wore and got me a set of those and going all out, I got a cape.
Jumping with the cape and his showmanship was what it was all about, so when we started thinking jumps, we thought what is the most visually representative that we can do, so that idea came in. so we will do those two and then literally get a police escort down the strip of Las Vegas, Nevada. And on with the show, that is what Evil would have wanted
We are separating the cars a little further away and we are adding a couple of buses to the bus jump, but it is not to do better than Evil, it is just to try to take this as far as we can with the modern technology that we have, but the bike, it is still similar. It is the most similar modern version of what he rode. You still have to push the envelope of what you can do, and it still has to be crazy. It has to be something that might go wrong. Of course I hope it does not go wrong, but that is the sprit of Evil. He did not do the same thing over and over again. He had to push the battery of the human spirit and we will definitely try to do that with those three jumps.
I AM ASSUMING YOU ARE DOING SOME PREPARATION FOR THIS, BUT YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DO THESE JUMPS UNTIL THE ACTUAL SHOW? Basically that is true, we built all the ramps and then jumped them on a moderate motorcycle, and so I went and figured out the speeds. Obviously a bike that weighs 400 pounds is going to drop out of the sky a little faster than the 450, but at the same time we are pretty close on speeds. So basically we worked with how fast you get up to speed, and how long it took me to slow down the Indian. With that we knew how far the jumps could be or where we needed to set them, so we are pretty confident. The hardest part is having to get to about 70 MPH to make the Caesar stunt jump, and I only have just under 200 feet to do that, just with all the infrastructure around there. So that one scares me a bit
WHAT IS THE MAJOR DIFFERENCEC BETWEEN JUMPING A MOTOCROSS BIKE VERSUS AN INDIAN 750? Definitely it is like a jumbo jet kind of compared to a Cesena. The jumbo jet will go faster, but it takes longer before it really flies. It also needs longer to stop. With the dirt bike, I can get up to 30 or 40 mph pretty quickly, but with the Scout; it is not really made to get up to speed super quick. It is super linear with the powerband, but when it does kick in at about 30 MPH, it quickly will go faster. The landing is going to be the biggest issue. It is not that the take-off feels much different on a Scout as it does on a dirt bike, but the landing is like dropping a tank out of the sky. I am lucky I weigh 200 pounds, because I feel like some of the smaller guys would have a much harder time
ONE VERY UNIQUE ASPECT OF THIS EVENT IS THAT IT WILL BE LIVE, AND THERE ARE THINGS THAT YOU CANNOT CONTROL, SUCH AS THE WIND. That is what scares me the most. Not only am I doing a jump, but also I am representing an icon, definitely a legend, and my hero. When he said he was going to do something, it did not matter, the bike, the ramp, whatever set-up was wrong; Evil still did it. I think that is the scariest part, knowing if it is super windy and we would normally call it off, I got to go. I am not saying that there is no amount of wind that I would not stop or no amount of rain or whatever, but I am really hoping for good conditions. I feel that this is the X-factor, beyond doing three jumps, trying to get this bike to survive all three landings, having the hardest jump at the end, and not missing a shift with the dress high heeled boots is the x-factor. Or it being 120 degrees outside when we have not tested the bike that hot to see if still has the same amount of power. There are a lot of scary factors already with a live event, but weather is something that definitely I am hoping and praying that on the day, that is not going to be an extra-added concern. (Laugh)
OBVIOUSLY YOU HAVE NOT YET DONE THIS EVENT, BUT CAN YOU STILL COMPARE IT TO SOME OF YOUR OTHER JUMPS? Well, at the end of the day, this is a tribute. It is scary, and it is challenging. As far as my dad is concerned, this is the greatest thing I have ever done by a thousand times. But it comes from years and years of working on how to do all this stuff. Having all these great people behind me, and building the bike with so much knowledge helps it. This should be something that is very doable and this is a sport that is going to be kind of bringing a couple of generations together and hopefully will be well received. As far as an athletic feat, it should be something that is within my capabilities as opposed to a lot of stuff that I have done that I have gotten really lucky on, so we will see. Anything can go in any direction. It is a live event, and is nerve racking for sure.