Freestyle motocross athlete Travis Pastrana followed in the tyretracks of his hero, Evel Knievel to land three spectacular, high-consequence ramp jumps at Caesars Palace this summer. He flew a heavy, Indian Scout FTR750 with no suspension 143ft over 52 crushed cars, then 192ft over 16 Greyhound buses and finally 149ft clear over the Caesars Palace Fountains. It was this jump that Evel crashed on in 1967, crushing his pelvis and femur and putting him into a coma for almost a month. The Nitro Circus star exclusively reveals to RSNG what it meant to finally land the stunt that almost killed the legend…
RSNG How did it feel to complete your Evel Knievel tribute jumps?
TRAVIS PASTRANA, ATHLETE ‘More than anything else it felt an honour to be able to recreate those jumps. You know, he was a complete leader, a pioneer, and so much of what he laid down has influenced riders today. The stuntmen of the 1960s and 1970s probably don’t have enough respect from the wider entertainment world but these guys were really setting out on a path no-one had taken before. So for me it was a real honour to be able to replicate these jumps.’
RSNG Which one made you the most nervous?
TP ‘In retrospect the bus jump was the most nerve-wracking because I knew I was coming into the landing with the back wheel further down than I’d have wanted. It was a pretty brutal impact on a bike that, in this day and age, wouldn’t get anywhere near a jump track. The Indian is a great machine, but so heavy and with no suspension, and that took a lot of getting used to when I was preparing for the race. And I wasn’t really sure how that wheel was going to react when I could feel it dropping.’
‘But of course the third jump made me more nervous than any other because it was the one that eluded Evel, and to have the opportunity to do that, and to nail it, was very special. It was a big moment when I came to a stop with my family at the top of the ramp – it was a big rush for me.’
‘Any hesitation is potentially a death sentence – that’s what I love about jumps’
RSNG You’ve jumped out of a plane without a parachute so that another skydiver could catch you. So, how much of your stunts are down to trust, both in your own abilities and of those around you?
TP ‘Ultimately it’s all in yourself. Yes there are people around you but you put the trust in them, and if they can’t do their job then you would know about that long beforehand. I totally believe everyone around me is on it, all the time, because a skydiver not doing his job might actually be no more dangerous than a mechanic not doing his job, so I have to trust in everyone.’
‘Past that, when you’re actually doing it, it’s about following through and pushing past at the very moment when you feel you want to hold back. That’s the worst thing you can do – hold back – if when I know I need speed on a ramp, any hesitation is potentially a death sentence, and that’s what I love about jumps; the fact you have to go all-in on every jump, because the second you let doubt creep into the picture, you are gone.’
‘That’s a message I like to bring forward into other aspects of my life. Follow through at every point and don’t doubt yourself, because the second you begin to do that the whole thing will unravel in front of you.’
RSNG Evel was all about showmanship – is that something you’ve paid more attention to in the last few years?
TP ‘I said at the time it was an honour to live a day in Evel’s footsteps – showmanship in that era was very different to what it is now, and by that I mean it was new, it was right on the edge of death, because these guys were really setting out into the unknown. You have to remember too, Evel was an unknown when he went for the jump at Caesars Palace in 1967 – he was looking to make a name for himself so that he could live a life of fame and fortune. I was coming at it from a different angle – the showmanship these days is the bike and the pyrotechnics; back then it was a very real chance not just of injury, but death.’
‘Much like a lot of motorsport, we have reconfigured our understanding of it. Sure, the dangers are still there, of course they are, but safety has come into it so much more that I think a lot of the showmanship can look false. Now it is about human ability and breaking records – then it was about staying alive, although I can’t say there was no showmanship when I’m dressed in leathers, boots and a cape!’
RSNG What’s been your proudest moment on a bike?
TP ‘Jumping at Caesars was the coolest thing ever. Evel was my hero growing up and to have the chance to replicate that was something I always wanted to do. The Nitro shows have all pushed us to extremes, and playing at places like Madison Square Gardens was insane, but Caesars still tops that.’
‘My spine was compressed right into my pelvis – I should have been paralysed for life’
RSNG What’s your mindset when you’re going into a new trick or challenge? Do you quiet your mind?
TP ‘It’s a combination of knowledge and belief. I take the knowledge of the bike, the trick, the environment, my body and what I’ve achieved before. I put all that together into one package and that gives me the faith, belief, courage and confidence to think I can achieve, physically and mentally, what’s in front of me.’
‘Preparation is everything in this sport. It doesn’t matter what’s been going on in your head or in your life, it’s there and then it that moment, and yes, you do have to block everything out. At that split second you have to do what you do – you have to go through with it.’
RSNG When it all goes wrong do you have to be ready to make hard decisions in a split second; like ditching your bike?
TP ‘It’s all automatic. You know that moment right from when you’re a little kid and you fall over in the yard? You put your arms out, you aim to soften your landing as much as you can – it’s all the same thing.’
RSNG Is there any room for second thoughts doing a run up to a jump?
TP ‘No – once you’re in, you’re in. You cannot unring a bell. My father always told me to be a man of what I was going to do, and that means no second thoughts – it means following through on the promise you have made and putting your foot down.’
RSNG What’s the worst injury you’ve had?
TP ‘Definitely when I suffered my spinal injury at the age of 15. I lost half my blood in the first week, so had multiple transfusions and my spine was compressed right into my pelvis. I was in a wheelchair for several months and in all fairness I should have been paralysed for the rest of my life – the fact I wasn’t is pure luck.’
‘What that did teach me though, is that when you’ve suffered enough pain you pass out, and I’ve certainly not suffered any pain like I did that day.’
RSNG Where do you feel like you truly belong – halfway through a backflip or feet on the ground?
TP ‘Actually when I started doing more NASCAR I had a real thing that perhaps being behind a wheel was more me, haha! I feel I belong anywhere where there is excitement, ambition and a small amount of fear.’
‘Confidence can only be built through preparation, knowledge and repetition’
RSNG How do you manage that fear?
TP ‘To manage fear you have to recognise what it is. Is it fear of dying, fear of failing, fear of regret. These at some point will all start messing about and overlapping each other, so there is never an escape from fear, and you can only manage it to the point of realising that what will happen, will happen.’
‘For me, fear is comprised of what is rational and what is irrational. The irrational stuff I can’t control, like worrying that my family are safe; the rational fear I can control 99% by making sure I prepare well for every jump or race. At the end of the day I know what my body does and I know what my motorcycle does, so there isn’t that much fear for me to come to terms with in that.’
‘Now if you were to talk to me about other people, or animals – that is the fear of the unknown because you have no idea how someone or something else will react. That is real fear. I don’t like animals, haha!’
RSNG How important is confidence and how can we build it?
TP ‘Confidence can only be built through preparation, knowledge and repetition – it’s as simple as that, and I have spent my life obeying those rules to ensure that I can achieve everything I want to.’
RSNG How important has training for strength and conditioning, as well as prehab, been to you career?
TP ‘Staying in basic shape has always been good for me. Most of the fuel is coming from your fuel tank but you have to feel fit to feel confident, and perhaps that’s something today’s motorsport guys have as an advantage over those in the past.’
‘A good regime and a good routine in fitness is essentially exactly the same thing as a good process in life – it’s all a practice. How you approach health and fitness is going to be the same as how you approach work, and how you approach record attempts. You are feeding the same thing all of the time – success is a habit; do whatever it takes to win, in every aspect of your life.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Travis Pastrana honour the legacy of his hero, Evel Knievel at Caesar’s Palace…
Travis is touring with Nitro Circus and will be in the UK this year, beginning in Birmingham on November 20, 2018