News & Media


Back behind wheel, Pastrana resumes NASCAR lessons

February 08, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

JEFFERSON, Ga. -- The things Travis Pastrana can do with a motorcycle seemingly defy gravity. Now he's working on perfecting the skills necessary to harness momentum, centrifugal force and friction.

Pastrana's day-long NASCAR K&N Pro Series East test session Tuesday at Gresham Motorsports Park, about an hour northeast of Atlanta, was a thinly veiled real-life physics lesson. And the professor was veteran driver Matt Crafton.

"In hindsight, I messed everything up last year. ... So I'm ready to go."

--TRAVIS PASTRANA


_______________________

"He's getting it. ... Nobody realizes how hard driving these race cars is."

--MATT CRAFTON

The assignment? Understanding how to carry momentum in the corners without having the luxury of using the accelerator -- in essence, maximizing the car's roll speed. Pastrana admits it's not only harder than it looks, but it's almost counter-intuitive for an inexperienced driver who is repeatedly told that cornering is all about being "slow in, fast out."

"But it's not really slow in," Pastrana said. "It's 'come in, get the car slowed down just enough to where it's sliding and you're on the edge, on the edge, on the edge.' But from the time you get in the corner to the halfway point of the corner, the car still has to be on the edge, which doesn't make any sense in my head."

Sitting in a plastic folding chair in the coolness of the tech inspection garage, Pastrana poured over the results of his five morning runs. In between bites of pasta, he reached for a paper representation of the half-mile speedway -- broken down into eight segments -- and used his index finger to point at the places on the track where he's struggling.

"You have to come in [to the corner] hard enough to where the car's kind of sliding up the track, so maybe I was coming in a little harder but I was braking too hard," Pastrana said. "So the roll speed -- this area from here to here -- I was losing literally like two-tenths. And if you're two-tenths slower here, you're also slower coming out."

And that's where Crafton comes in. He took the black No. 99 Toyota out early in the day to not only shake it down and refine the setup, but also to provide Pastrana with a baseline. When the laps for the two drivers were compared later, it showed that Pastrana is as quick -- or quicker -- than Crafton under acceleration.

"He has plenty of speed," Crafton said. "He has no problem getting into the corner hard. He just has some habits where he thinks he has to charge the corner and use a lot of brakes to get the thing to set and then stand on the gas. Now it's just the roll speed that he's trying to get used to."

Roll speed is critical because once you've lost time in the corners, it's almost impossible to make it back up on the straightaways. And it's the one concept that goes against everything Pastrana has learned about racing up to this point.

In motocross and rally racing, being aggressive and charging the corners can pay dividends. That's not the case with a heavy, powerful stock car, as Pastrana is figuring out.

"NASCAR is not about how much you're willing to go," Pastrana said. "The fans are like, 'You've got to be crazy to go 200 mph.' But it's not really how crazy you have to be. It's not even like a road course where you can be a little aggressive here or there.

"There's only a certain amount that these tires will take. The car is very heavy and very high-powered. You have to be able to get the car set right so you can get on the gas right. And there's only two turns to do it."

Pastrana has no lack of talent, but he does lack experience. Unfortunately, breaking his right foot and ankle in an X Games stunt this past summer also stunted his progress, as he hadn't climbed into a stock car until Tuesday. Pastrana hobbled back and forth between the car and the hauler, showing the injury hasn't completely healed.

It was a hard lesson learned for a guy who says "it's never been about the rush or the adrenaline. It's always been about pushing yourself to try and do something other people can't, to try to be better.

"In hindsight, I messed everything up last year -- so it might not have been the best thing to keep being who I was and try this. A lot of people lost a lot by me not showing up. I've watched more SPEED and ESPN than a man should, sitting on a couch. So I'm ready to go."

He's enthusiastic about making the transition to stock-car racing. But enthusiasm can only do so much. That's where testing -- and beginning to master things like roll speed -- are so important to Pastrana's gradual improvement behind the wheel.

"You have to be very exact every single lap," Pastrana said. "Before, I'd get lucky one lap -- and I'd say, 'Oh, I can do a lap like these guys.' And then you'd have two good laps and two crap laps. But you can't make up three-tenths of a second. It'd take you half the race."

And Pastrana is getting better at this. For not having been in a stock car for seven months, Pastrana showed immediate improvement Tuesday.

He not only ran several tenths of a second quicker than he did the last time the team visited Gresham, but he showed that he's capable of putting together a series of consistently fast laps, something that impressed Crafton.

"He's getting it," Crafton said. "That's what's really good to see is that he's getting it. This winter, I don't know what he did, but he ate, drank and slept it, and figured it out."

So much of driving, according to Pastrana, is not what you do in the car, but what you take from discussions that you have once you climb out. He and Crafton have talked about racing nearly every chance they've had to get together -- and that's helped significantly.

In addition, Pastrana's tried to write down every piece of advice that he's been given in the short time he's been in NASCAR.

"I've got a pretty good notebook, actually," Pastrana said. "At the end of every race and every test, we sit down and write everything down. On the way back, we'll have a lot of talking.

"It's funny, a lot of times -- as you think about it more -- you kind of pick up more the next day or the next week. When we were first doing testing, one day didn't seem to do a lot. It was when you went home and talked about it that night, and come back the next day, your second lap around the track -- after the tires warmed up -- was faster than any laps you'd have run the day before. And you'd be more consistent."

Drivers in the garage area are definitely impressed by what Pastrana has accomplished in extreme sports. But when he gets on the track for his Pro Series East debut at Greenville-Pickens Speedway at the end of March, nobody will care that he's landed a Rodeo 720. He'll just be another car they have to pass.

"I've talked to Ricky Carmichael and Travis," Crafton said. "They talk about how hard this is. Nobody realizes how hard driving these race cars is. Everybody thinks you just go out there and jump in them and go fast. There's a lot of technique and a lot of skill involved in it."

And Tuesday, a physics lesson with a final exam as yet to be determined.