Travis Pastrana, take a bow. If there’s anybody on planet earth who knows how to make cars fly, it’s this guy. Eight at a time? No problem.
The Nitrocross season opener in Oklahoma took sports entertainment to another level. If the world doesn’t see TP’s point now, it never will.
DirtFish driver Fraser McConnell took a stunning win in the Group E final, landing his second success in the series’ premier category, but last weekend’s season opener at MidAmerica Outdoors was about more than one driver.
Unless that driver was Pastrana.
Just seven days earlier, DirtFish was talking to Pastrana at the Southern Ohio Forest Rally. The chat was typical of any conversation with him: a hundred miles per hour. He was excited to be celebrating 50 years of American rallying alongside fellow champions and heroes of the sport at round five.
But he was distracted.
“I was digging dirt until four o’clock in the morning,” he said. “We had some weather come in and we had to work on the track.”
Pastrana leads from the front, it’s his way. A week later, he would have a 1000bhp FC1-X in his hands, but on that Saturday, he had a shovel and was crafting and creating the most unreal circuit ever.
Did he succeed?
Kris Meeke grinned at the question.
“It’s unreal,” said the Northern Irishman. “It’s the most insane track I’ve ever seen – big congratulations to Travis and the team.”
Off the line, it was different. Off the line, the crews were tipped into a ridiculously steep, 150-foot descent. It was straight out of a skatepark.
“That start? It was like dropping off a cliff,” said McConnell.
And once you’d dropped in, guess what? Jumps. You bet. And some of the biggest berms ever deployed in rallycross. I know we don’t call it rallycross anymore, but it’s still the crossover from rallying, so it kind of works.
Watching the silent Group E cars being fired out of the banked bends, silent save for the transmission chatter and the machine gun rat-tat-tat of gravel being fired in every direction, was special.
Pastrana: “I love rallying, you know I’ve always loved that sport. But I always felt there was more. I thought we could get more out of the sport, we could get more from the cars side-by-side and more from the cars. This is it.”
And it doesn’t stop there. There’s the NEXT category where Lia Block starred on her Nitrocross debut.
What did you expect? It’s been at least a week since the 16-year-old has had headline writers reaching for superlatives. Groundhog day. Again.
Block won the final and laid down lap times which simply couldn’t be lived with by those around her. Ultimately, she lost the win after the stewards deemed her re-entry back to the circuit (after going off on turn four of lap one) ‘unsafe.’
Check back with DirtFish for more from Lia later in the week.
Lana Vacala finally took the NEXT win, having finished third seven times last season. Oklahoma local Kainan Baker won the side-by-sides.
But what about the big one? The final everybody came for?
“That was mad,” said Meeke, after going from fourth to second in the first corner. Sadly for the World Rally winner, a rear link broke and kept him back in sixth. Consolation for him? His initial lap times were three seconds a lap quicker than anybody else.
Pastrana himself overcame a sizey shunt with Kevin Eriksson to make the final and land fifth, with his Vermont SportsCar team-mate Conner Martell fourth.
Eriksson was third with defending champion and fellow Swede Robin Larsson second behind the Jamaican hero.
Andrew Coley – the voice of rallycross – called it right as the DirtFish-liveried FC1-X flashed across the line.
“Fraser McConnell has arrived,” said Coley. “There’s no way we can keep talking about him as up-and-coming. He’s here.”
As for McConnell himself, he was delighted.
“I’ve been working towards this,” he said. “It’s so good to get it. It’s all about self-belief, positive affirmation and hard work.
“I came to this season so hungry. The field is so packed, everyone is so good – but they were going to have to fight me to take it from me.”
And fight they did. But nobody could wrestle the win from ‘Frazz’.
The good news? This was round one of 10. Next time out Nitrocross heads to Utah for a doubleheader in August which comes complete with an over-under jump and, of course, a 100-foot gap jump.
How good is Utah?
“That place is Nitrocross,” said McConnell. Underlining his point, his phone rings and the screen lights up with a shot of him flying through the sky just outside Salt Lake City. Utah Motorsports Camp is the spiritual home of the series.
And home time can’t come soon enough.