Travis Pastrana will forever remember 2021 as a landmark year in his four-wheeled career. A multiple-champion on bikes and in cars, he’s no stranger to success. But what he enjoyed last season was unlike anything he’s done before.
As well as winning the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship (his sixth US rallying title) and smashing the Mount Washington hillclimb record for the third time in four visits, Pastrana clinched the Nitro Rallycross championship to cap off a remarkable hat-trick.
In Nitro Rallycross, Pastrana was engaged in a tight duel for the championship against Subaru team-mate Scott Speed and Timmy Hansen, and his rivals were quick to take note of his improved form.
“This was the first year when the Hansens came over and said ‘hey, when did you learn how to drive?’ I think they meant it nicely, but this was the first year I felt like an actual racer. I wasn’t a hobbyist,” Pastrana told DirtFish.
“Obviously I am a professional driver at this point, but I’ve always been kind of the one that was just the entertainter. But with the seat time that I’ve had and a team-mate like Scott Speed, and honestly, even David Higgins had always helped me so much and kept me kind of on my toes and up to pace.
“The only reason I was competitive for this championship [Nitro Rallycross] was because of Scott Speed going out of his way to help me every step of the way, every chance he got and, and vice versa.
“We shared all our data and I think I really helped him understand what works on dirt and kind of understanding that sliding isn’t always slower and that he was having to drive very differently for a lot of the tracks.”
On the rallying side, Pastrana added: “Having Brandon Semenuk, he drives [the] opposite to me. So instead of going with a Chris Atkinson where we go in and we have the same similar style, or even an Andreas Bakkerud, you know, we don’t learn much from each other. They might be better than I am. And I try to do that below, like, oh, that’s about what the car can do.
“And then you get a Scott Speed who drives opposite or a Semenuk who is a lot like Speed, just very smooth and meticulous. And they take out a second a mile out of you through a certain stage. And you’re like, ‘whoa, what the f***?’ but that gives you the chance to go back and learn.
“So me having the exact polar opposite team-mates this past year has just, I can’t even say how much that’s helped me as a driver understanding what the car can do and where I need to be improved.”
This was the first year that I feel like the US rallycross championship got a little bit of credibilityTravis Pastrana
In addition to the push he’s got from within his own team, working on more external projects is another thing that Pastrana attributes his 2021 success to. In 2020 he worked on Hoonigan’s Gymkhana franchise, which afforded him more seat time on a sealed surface with a high-powered, high-downforce car.
“I thank Ken Block for the opportunity, the Gymkhana car with the downforce was something that I hadn’t really experienced much of and the amount of power – I mean, it’s got 280 more horsepower than my rallycross car,” he said.
“So when I got in the rally car, it felt slow and I had a lot more experience with pavement and with just getting out of bad situations, I guess, was kind of what I was doing the whole time through Gymkhana.
“But that allowed me to go to Goodwood and to race those cars over there and experience pavement on wet and then pavement on dry, and you only get a couple runs and you gotta be right on from the beginning.”
Pastrana has always kept his schedule busy, but his slate of activities in ‘21 featured more four-wheeled activities than ever before, meaning that he managed “more seat time than most professional drivers do” throughout the season.
“Obviously there’s other things in the fryer, but almost everything that I did this year was four wheels,” he explained. “I had had a motorcycle race and I raced a flat track event and ended up top 10 at a US national championship flat track, and then broke my leg the next week at a GNCC national race.”
So with Pastrana now at the top of his game on four wheels, his rivals must be properly fearing him in ways unlike ever before, surely?
“Yeah, well, I hope so,” he said. “I mean, that’s not, ‘I hope so’, but this was the first year that I feel like the US rallycross championship got a little bit of credibility and we were able to go and then run with some of the best in the world and the Hansens coming over and Oliver and Kevin [Eriksson] coming over as well.
“There’s guys that have been proven in the World RX championship that we’re battling with and that’s a huge step for American motorsports, especially in off-road motorsports.
“I’m just proud to be one of the ones that’s kind of leading that charge and getting a little bit of recognition going over here for how hard a lot of the top drivers are working.”