In Anne Arundel, a Backyard Circus
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Travis Pastrana had driven the car only once or twice before, and now the extreme sports legend wanted to take his brand new Subaru WRX Impreza for a quick test drive. He pulled the car from the driveway of his Davidsonville mansion and steered it down a steep hill leading to his 20-acre property.
He pushed the pedal to the floor, and the car revved to 30 mph . . . 40 mph . . . 50 mph, its wheels screeching around a tight curve. Pastrana kept his foot on the accelerator until the car came within 50 yards of a large shed. Then he jerked up the emergency break, hurling the car into a 300-degree tailspin and a sudden stop.
"Not bad," Pastrana said as he climbed out of the car, "but I should have been going faster."
Pastrana has long lived in defiance of fear and inhibition, and that lifestyle has simultaneously built him up and broken him down. At 22, he is considered perhaps the greatest motorcycle rider ever. His fearlessness has allowed him to draw a seven-figure salary, live in a house featured on "MTV Cribs" and enjoy more than two dozen sponsors willing to reward him for almost any death-defying stunt. He helped push extreme sports and their premier event, the X Games, into the lucrative mainstream of American popular culture during the last decade.
But his audacity also has caused 18 serious concussions, more than 50 broken bones and 11 knee surgeries. He suffers short-term memory loss. At an age that most of his peers start their working lives, he is preparing to make a major transition, from the career that made him famous -- motorcycle racing -- to the relatively safer field of auto racing.
That's not saying that his near-reckless disregard of human limits will change.
"It's crazy," Pastrana said, "but the most exciting stuff happens when you turn off your brain and forget about fear."
Pastrana credits that strategy for much of his success during a landmark career that has made him the preeminent celebrity in a handful of sports. He has excelled in outdoor motocross and arena-based supercross, both forms of dirt-bike racing. He has won 28 of the 30 events he has entered in freestyle, essentially motorcycle jumping.
His fearlessness, though, extends far beyond official races. He built a playground in Davidsonville that allows him to indulge -- and extend -- his thrill-seeking. The house features a pool, a hot tub, a big-screen television and a full gym with a sauna, but Pastrana and his friends spend most of their time outside, on property Pastrana purchased more than five years ago.
A tour of Pastrana's back yard is a long lesson in carnage. There's the massive, water slip-and-slide running from the house to the garage, where Pastrana watched two friends suffer concussions and another incur a crushed vertebra. "It's so fun though," Pastrana said, "that we still use it a lot."
There's the spot on the dirt bike trail where Mike Jones, a close friend, stopped breathing after he landed on his head while trying a back flip on a 220-pound bike. He foamed at the mouth before a medevac crew saved him. "I still don't remember that accident," Jones said, "or anything that happened during the next 10 days."
In the back corner of the woods, there's the junkyard of three cars, one jeep and a bus -- all of which were badly damaged during videotaped jumps done solely for entertainment. The jeep fared the worst. Pastrana tried to fly it 50 feet from a jump to a landing pad. Instead, the jeep fell five feet short and nose dived into the ground. "That was a nasty crash, even for Travis," said Chris Haynes, one of three friends who lives with Pastrana rent-free, "but I don't think he even got a concussion."