Motorsports Legend Travis Pastrana Is Bringing His Nitro Rallycross Event to Phoenix This Weekend

If you hear a lot of engines revving in south Chandler this weekend, it's just Nitro Rallycross, a racing series founded by motorsports icon Travis Pastrana. He brought his event to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, and you've got one more day to check it out.

We recently caught up with Pastrana and asked him about what makes Nitro Rallycross so fun, what else he's been up to lately, and more.

Tell us about the Nitro Rallycross event this weekend in Phoenix.

Well, it’s a new racing series, basically motocross with a roll cage. We’re talking all-wheel drive, 700-horsepower cars that are literally based on cars you’d just drive around  —Subarus, Fords — that go from zero to 60 in under two seconds. We’ll be flying; there’s three jumps that are over 100 feet. We’ll be doing one jump that’s about 140 feet. Well over 100 miles an hour into turn one. It’s all dirt, which is going to be the first course we’ve ever done for Nitro Rallycross that didn’t have some or a good portion of pavement. So this is going to be quite fun.

Wild Horse Pass has a lot more elevation than I thought, so it’s going to be a great technical track. We’ve got the best drivers in rallycross, and right now Scott Speed is tied with the world champion for the points lead. I’m sitting in fourth, which is pretty fun. But what we’ve learned from Nitro Circus is that if the kids don’t want to come, if the family doesn’t have a good time, the racing doesn’t matter. We’ll have freestyle motocross out there, vendors, all kinds of fun for the family.

How did NASCAR driver Kyle Busch get involved with the series?

You would have thought he wanted to take some time off after running like 40 races, but he’s a racer and he said, "Man, this looks like a series that’s challenging." He goes, "You get to most NASCAR tracks and the racing’s unbelievable in that series, the competition’s amazing, but this looks like fun." … There’s not a lot of racing that, once you’ve done it for a while, doesn’t feel like a job. It brings us back to that youthful exuberance of being scared. Not just of winning, but being scared of the jumps and testing yourself as a driver.

click to enlarge Pastrana flies through the air in the Team Subaru car. - TRAVIS PASTRANA
Pastrana flies through the air in the Team Subaru car.
Travis Pastrana

What's the craziest thing you've seen at a Nitro Rallycross event?

There’s been mostly good experiences. In the second round this year, we had one of the guys, he was racing side-by-sides — it’s like a lower-version vehicle, it doesn’t have as much horsepower — and he hit the jump way too fast and literally landed on another vehicle, bounced off, and kept going. Both the guys are fine, but I think that’s pretty exciting when you hit the jump and you look over and there’s just wheels next to you and you’re like, "Wow, I’m off the ground."

I think that’s what’s really unique about it. Usually, it’s just corner, straightaway, corner, straightaway, but you’re not thinking about timing a jump or setting up the angle of a jump. The coolest part about even the crashes in rallycross is that the car’s maybe barely off the ground, but when the car’s not on the ground, you can’t decelerate or accelerate. So you can’t brake, and you can’t throttle, and it makes really great passing opportunities and you have to always be thinking, “How can I get this car back on the ground as quickly as I possibly can? How can I set up my car so that when it's in the air I’m traveling in the right direction and not like a golf ball aiming for the wrong hole?”

What else have you got going on these days besides Nitro Rallycross?

We’ve been doing everything from judging America’s Got Talent Extreme to there’s a bunch of riders always at the house, learning new tricks — last week we had an 11-year-old girl learn a backflip on her dirtbike, which was completely amazing. It’s great seeing this next generation come up. Trying to be the ringleader of Nitro Circus. Working on being the promoter of the series as well as driving, which is a slight conflict of interest, but it’s been fun.

How can someone get involved in this world? Are there other opportunities besides being a driver?

Absolutely. There’s 43 people on Team Subaru, and only three of them are drivers. There’s technicians, there’s spotters, you’ve got PR people … If you love racing, no matter what your skill set is, you can get involved. Everyone thinks racing is awesome, and it is, but you spend a lot more hours for a lot less doing what you love without a doubt. But if you love it, you never work a day in your life.

Nitro Rallycross. Noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, November 14. Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, 20000 South Maricopa Road, Chandler. Tickets start at $34 for general admission.