A few months ago Travis Pastrana stunned the Motocross world in only the way Travis Pastrana could: He planned to race the 2018 Motocross of Nations.
On Team Puerto Rico.
The racer turned madman free-stylist has helped turn tricks and stunts, along with an abundance of related injuries, on a dirt bike into an art form. Never mind all the X Games gold medals (he has many), in July, Pastrana duplicated three record-breaking jumps originally accomplished by legendary stunt rider Evel Knieval, in Las Vegas, which was aired live on the History channel. He also helms the stadium-filling Nitro Circus traveling stunt show. Now, he returns to the track all in the name of raising money for an island still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Maria that made landfall a year ago.
Pastrana, the 2000 125 Motocross Champion and 2001 125 Supercross East Champion held the American flag high at the 2000 Motocross of Nations where he helped bring the Chamberlain trophy home along with Ricky Carmichael and Ryan Hughes. No such expectations this time as Pastrana, who turns 35 the day after MXoN, emerges from retirement along with Kevin Windham (2005 MXoN Champion with Team USA and two-time 125 Supercross West Champion) who retired in 2013 and Ryan Sipes, the only active rider of the three. Four-time Team USA Motocross of Nations Champion (84, 86-88) Ricky Johnson will coach Team Puerto Rico.
But first, Team Puerto Rico has to qualify which happens Saturday so they can compete on Sunday for the 72nd annual "Olympics of Motocross" at Redbud MX in Buchanan, MI. And regardless of what happens his latest stunt has already proven successful. Pastrana, who has family roots in Puerto Rico and recently got sponsorship from Wienerschnitzel, took some time out of training to sit down and answer some questions.
1. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that Travis Pastrana is putting together this Puerto Rico team for the Motocross of Nations. Was this on your radar for some time or spur of the moment?
The Puerto Rican team stayed at my house when the 2007 MXoN was at Budds Creek (my closest track) and we have stayed close ever since. My grandfather was from Puerto Rico so there is still a little bit of a connection there for my family. Honestly though, this entire thing was Ronnie Mac's idea. The thought of me riding in another Motocross race this big wasn't high on my list of "good ideas."
2. As far as riders, did you have a list you combed through or you knew who you wanted from the get-go?
It took Mac about six months to talk me into even considering this project. I liked the underdog/old dog/one last chance to be a part of something "story" that I believed we could make. It was going to be a documentary that was like if Kenny Powers actually went to the Olympics in real life with a little bit of a "Rudy" feel and we got to give back to help the Moto industry in Puerto Rico, add some fun to the biggest Moto event on earth and put a few roofs on some homes. There seemed like a lot of positives.
But when we announced Mac was part of the team, the industry went absolutely ape s--t. The fans were beyond excited, and it made a much bigger splash then we expected. Actually got in trouble for "provoking a riot" at Unadilla - the track where we announced the team. I argued that it was just a large excited group of people but they said that was the definition of a riot.
Either way, it was taking too much attention from the event. Both positive and negative but either way, that was not what we set out to do. This was supposed to be a fun project that added to the MXoN so we made the call to drop Mac which is really a shame because he was the driving force behind this from the beginning. But being men of our word, Ricky (Johnson - Team Coach), Ryan and I decided to continue with our mission, a slightly changed mission, but we were committed. I mean heck, we raised $15,000 in the first five days of merch sales online! It was the first time I realized that we had a chance to make a real difference.
So from there I called Ryan Villopoto, James Stewart, Mike Brown and Ricky Carmichael. Stewart never called back, RV was close and I really thought he was in at one point but finally said no. Brown had an event that weekend. Carmichael took a week to think about it which I appreciated but, in the end, no one could get over the fact that it would require training and riding dirt bikes in the biggest Moto event the USA has ever had.
I called Kevin because he is a good friend. I honestly didn't expect much more than a laugh. There were a lot of current riders who wanted to be part of the team but in order for this to work for me personally to accomplish the best outcome for Puerto Rico, I knew we needed a legend. Amazingly, Kevin said yes.
3. What did the process to form the team entail? Did you need to get permission from the Puerto Rican government? The FIM? Cross a sea of bureaucracy and red tape?
Mac and I called Gabby (Gabriel Cátala) who ran Team PR. We were both friends with him and he liked the idea. This would help raise funds so he could rebuild tracks and have the funds to send riders from PR to attend bigger events. Ricky Johnson was a member of the 1986 (Team USA) "Dream Team" and part of the golden age of the MXoN. He had a great relationship with the president of Youthstream. The Puerto Rican MX Federation and the FIM saw this for what it had the potential to be. Even though there were/are concerns, they gave us approval easier than we thought.
4. Are you still competing in the Open Class on a 2-stroke?
I will be competing on a 2-stroke because it's what I am most comfortable riding. I'm not fast enough to contend with the top 10 or so countries anymore and that's really not what this project is all about. I did a lot of testing and a lot of thinking and we came to the conclusion that 30th or 35th position wasn't as big of a difference then having fun, being comfortable and making an impact.
Kevin Windham at High Point in 2011
5. Kevin Windham is a solid choice having raced des Nations twice. Did you have to beg and plead Travis style or was he pretty much on-board?
Kevin is one of the most talented and iconic riders to have ever graced a dirt bike. He was still one of the fastest riders in the world in 2013 but he fell far into retirement. Kevin owns 10 Planet Fitness Gyms but it doesn't look like he has been inside one in quite some time! Kevin agreed to this because we are good friends and knew I really needed him to step up. He also liked the cause and wanted an excuse to be a part of the MXoN at RedBud so lucky and stoked that he agreed to this.
6. I love Ryan Sipes mostly because he returns my emails. Did his well-rounded pedigree as a rider play into his selection?
Ryan hasn't won the Motocross of Nations before but he is the only American to ever win the ISDE (International Six Days Enduro) which is arguably the biggest off road race in the world. Straight off the couch, Ryan shows up on a 125cc 2-stroke and qualifies for a pro national (Tennessee) just this year. He's won a few super cross races during his career and even a dirt track event. Ryan may be the most well-rounded motorcycle rider on the planet and is definitely in the best condition of anyone else on the team. He fit into the plus-30 "old guys" club and knows how to swing a hammer.
Ryan Sipes at Muddy Creek in June
7. How is training going for you?
Training has proved to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. My left wrist probably needs to be fused and it's pretty painful to ride with. It makes every second on the bike a lot less enjoyable then it should be. The grip strength in that left hand isn't very strong because of the pain in the wrist and causes arm pump in my right arm due to compensation. My right knee doesn't have an ACL or a PCL and has been swollen and sore since I started training. It makes me very hesitant in right-hand corners and I usually elect to fall over instead of putting my leg out in fear of my knee completely blowing out. This really backfired because I had a really bad hematoma in my right quadriceps a few years back and it filled back up.
The massive swelling has prevented me from testing, training and riding for the past two weeks and it's doubtful I will be able to ride again before the event other than on tour. That plus racing cars, promoting events, trying to be a father and a husband, competing in the world games, building the track at the world games, and having to go to Oklahoma because a Hurricane came through Maryland on the one week I had to ride. Other than that, it's been going really well. I was down about 15lbs since I started training and my shoulders feel a lot stronger and haven't popped out yet so that's a plus.
Pastrana shared a photo of his swollen knees on his Instagram page last week
8. Have you had to re-learn anything?
The simplest answer is "everything." My speed isn't bad compared to where it was half a lifetime ago but the bikes and riders are so much better it's really not the same sport!
9. You're raising money for Puerto Rico and the hype around the team should provide the results you're looking for. But you're a competitor. And you're also 18 years removed from your 125 Championship and since then have had, shall we say, some injuries. When the gate drops will we see the year 2000 bar-banging Pastrana?
I am doing everything I can to get my swelling down and my injuries to play as small a role as possible in my race. Having said that, if the race was 2 weeks ago I would have been fairly confident that I could have put up a fight for mid pack but I'm less optimistic at the moment. I think all of us have to go to the race and remember the goals - have fun, raise the entertainment value, hang with the fans and raise money for a good cause. At the end of the day, this will probably be my last race on a motorcycle. It is also going to be the biggest race to date in the USA. No matter what the result or how much pain I'm in, the only way I can fail is if I forget to enjoy it.
10. Realistically, you won't beat Team USA or a number of other countries but do you hope and plan mentally to qualify and race on Sunday? What I'm asking is can we expect a full throttle effort or are you mostly pleased with bringing attention to and raising money for Puerto Rico?
Full throttle. If you don't show up to claw for every inch and every position, you shouldn't be there.
11. Your grandfather is from Puerto Rico. Did you have a close relationship with him?
My grandfather died when I was 5 years old. My only memories of him were sitting down at the family table in the summer and him opening crabs for me until we were the only two left at the table.
12. How is fund-raising going? And I understand you're giving all proceeds to a Motocross track there or do you plan to distribute it elsewhere?
Originally, we planned to give 100 percent of the proceeds from sponsorship and merchandise sales to the Puerto Rican motorcycle federation in an effort to help rebuild the Moto industry in the area but three things happened since then. One - The movie idea died when we pulled Ronnie Mac off the roster, so all of our funding went away. In other words, the three riders would be about $30,000 out of pocket to do the event. Even knowing that, Kevin and Ryan never hesitated or faltered on their commitment but now some of our sponsorship money will go back to help us cover some of our expenses. We have the support of our sponsors including Wienerschnitzel and are grateful for that. Two - A lot of our ramp builders, carpenters, and construction friends offered to volunteer their help to rebuild homes and distribute food and water to areas that are still in need. We are going down just before Christmas and I'm taking my girls. Lynz (Travis' wife) and I told them that this year for Christmas we aren't getting gifts but we are giving them to kids who normally don't get to celebrate. It wasn't an easy sell but now my girls are pretty excited to give out gifts while we are down there. Three - We sold twice as much merch as we expected so we think we will be able to make a much bigger difference then we thought originally even with the movie idea going down the drain.
13. Tell us how to donate and contribute to Team Puerto Rico.
Go to teampuertorico2018.com and get a shirt or cow bell or sticker or anything you think is cool. This way you will be supporting the team and our efforts. If you are feeling generous, go to the Global Disaster Outreach Facebook page and make a tax-free donation. It is a small organization but they have been down to PR a few times since the hurricane. They are going to help us with resources, manpower and information that will allow us to make the most of our time!
Watch Team Puerto Rico take on the world in the 2018 Motocross of Nations on Sunday at Redbud MX in Buchanan, MI. Watch live on MXGP-TV.com or on the CBS Sports Network which airs Race 1 (MXGP & MX2) at 10 a.m. (PST), Race 2 (MX2 & Open) at 11:30 p.m. (PST) and Race 3 (Open & MXGP) at 1 p.m. (PST). Check out past articles on the Motocross of Nations including a history of Team USA riders and how they fared.
Written By: AndrewT