McRae vs Pastrana and the birth of rallycross in the US

The story of the X Games' first rally event, and how it transformed into the top level of rallycross in the US


If you look back through the US rallycross family tree, past Nitro Rallycross, Americas Rallycross, and Global Rallycross, you’ll eventually go all the way back to X Games XII in 2006, when a stage rally competition was added to the action sports event for the very first time.

Back then, rallycross was barely on the radar of the US motorsport community, but rallying was booming, with stars like Ken Block, Tanner Foust and Travis Pastrana all in the early stages of their careers and the popular Vermont SportsCar-led factory Subaru team leading the way.

They all took part in that first X Games rallying contest, but they weren’t the only stars at X Games maiden four-wheeled motorsport competition. 1995 World Rally champion Colin McRae, a hero to many not just in Europe but the US too thanks to his on-the-edge driving style and hugely successful video game series, was also on the bill.

After losing his full-time WRC ride at the end of 2003, McRae took on the Dakar Rally and Le Mans 24 Hours, and continued to have a part-time presence in rallying’s top level as well. McRae’s entry in the 2006 summer X Games also marked the first time the Scot had driven a factory-backed Subaru in competition since 1998.


Pastrana, meanwhile, was in the middle of his second competitive rally campaign. He arrived at X Games – a non-championship exhibition event – having claimed four podium finishes in the opening five rounds of the 2006 Rally America season. After X Games, he went on to win three of the final four rallies to take the first of four consecutive US rally crowns (and five altogether).

Despite the recent switch to four wheels, Pastrana was still a megastar on two, and just the night before the final day of the rally he made history by landing the first double backflip in competition to take home the freestyle motocross best trick gold medal with a record high score.

The entry list for the rally boasted 15 cars, but the event was dominated by McRae and Pastrana and their respective co-drivers Nicky Grist and Christian Edström. They swept the board across the nine-stage event, with Pastrana taking the first stage by 8.2 seconds.

McRae fought back to win the second stage, and by stage three there was nothing to choose between the pair. Pastrana returned to the fore for the following two runs, with McRae winning six and seven.

There was another dead heat on stage eight, setting up a dramatic final showdown on the final section of the event at Los Angeles’ Home Depot Center (now known as the Dignity Health Sports Park).

Pastrana ran first, putting in a strong run on the asphalt section around the stadium, an area where he conceded that McRae would better him, before flourishing over the finish in the dirt. McRae meanwhile was immediately quicker as he looked to overhaul the American. However, his tidy run was undone at the final jump as he rolled after a botched landing.


The car looked destroyed but in true McRae fashion, he was able to finish, albeit in second place, little over half a tenth of a second behind Pastrana. The roll didn’t cost McRae much, but it was enough to deny him the gold medal on what was his 38th birthday.

Pastrana’s gold medal in the rally event meant that he took home three gold medals from the 2006 X Games event, following that and his Best Trick win with a Freestyle Motocross gold too. Pastrana became only the third athlete to win three gold medals at a single X Games event, and no other competitor won more that year.

His performance in the rally also caught the eye of McRae who, after years of competing alongside the world’s best, was impressed with the young Pastrana, whom he had taken under his wing and mentored during the competition.

“Travis rode well. Everybody asked if we were hanging back to keep it close, but that wasn’t the case,” McRae said afterwards. “We were pushing as hard as possible. But he drove a great event. It takes a talented guy to do what he’s doing this week.”

X Games’ rally experiment proved to be hugely popular, and it continued to evolve and grow in the following years.


A rally competition returned to X Games in 2007 with a head-to-head format that was won by Tanner Foust and Chrissie Beavis, ahead of Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino and Pastrana and Edström. McRae also returned for what would be his last competitive outing before his untimely passing, but missed out on a chance to claim another medal due to car damage.

By 2008 the rallying competition at X Games had been rechristened ‘Rally Car Racing’ to better suit its head-to-head shootout format . In 2010 ‘Rally Car Super Rally’, which was a rallycross-style event using the same cars from Rally Car Racing, was introduced.

A year later, rallycross joined properly alongside the head-to-head Rally Car Racing competition, which was now being contested with rallycross cars.

Liam Doran won the head-to-head event, beating Marcus Grönholm, while Brian Deegan claimed the honours in the full rallycross contest. That year Global Rallycross, effectively a full-season of X Games-style rallycross, began, laying the foundations for professional rallycross in the US that we have today.

X Games’ head-to-head competition was shelved in 2012, but rallycross remained until 2015, when Scott Speed won the final Rallycross gold medal, taking the first-ever win for the all-conquering Volkswagen Beetle.