Interview: Travis Pastrana Talks Nitro Circus Live and the first-ever Superman Indian Air Front Flip

It’s hard to box motorcross star Travis Pastrana into one specific category. From NASCAR to  motocross — and even making a mark as a reality TV star on MTV’s Nitro Circus — this guy is pretty much a modern day Renaissance Man in the world of motorsports. Recently, he’s taken his show on the road with the non-stop, no hold barred tour that is Nitro Circus Live. Don’t expect any clowns or trapeze artists though. Think more along the lines of over 40 riders in skate, BMX, freestyle motorcross, roller blades, and more performing stunts that defy the law of physics and make for an amazing live experience.

While bringing the tour to Madison Square Garden for the first time, we chopped it up with Pastrana and got him to reveal the next record-breaking stunt he plans to land, what it’s like to finally bring the show to the states, and that one stunt he strongly recommends we don’t try at home.

Can you give us a rundown on the history behind the Nitro Circus brand?

Nitro Circus started out with the foam pit in my backyard. Everyone from Danny Way, who was preparing for the Great Wall of China jump, to all the top guys would come to my house to learn the new tricks. At the time, it was a new thing that no one else had access to, so we filmed everything. Then we started putting it out on DVDs. We got a big following really quickly, and we had a lot of fun with it. We got picked up by Fuel TV, and then Johnny Knoxville saw it and asked if we wanted to take it to the next step at MTV. We started developing a good relationship with them, and that got us on the network. After being pretty successful there, it took us about two to three years to agree [to bringing the show on the road] because we weren’t sure there were that many people who were into what we’re into — or who believed that we could do it in such a confined area. After going over to Australia, we saw it as an expense-paid vacation to have fun with all our friends. We ended up selling out every arena. It was just awesome. Slowly, we found more people to join the crew, and now we’ve got 40 guys touring the world. It feels like one big family.

Did you always envision Nitro Circus going on the road, or did the show’s success lead to how big it’s become now?

My whole goal since I was a kid was to ride motorcycles for a living. Most of the guys on the tour are just really passionate about what they do, whether it’s scooters, big wheels or BMX. For us, it was never really like, “Yeah! Let’s travel the world and do a live tour.” However, I always wanted to see the world. My wife [Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins] is a skater, and always wanted to go to nice places. We didn’t think we’d have that opportunity because action sports were really small when we were growing up. Now, it’s a pretty common thing. There are so many kids and families that are involved. It allows us to really have fun for a living. It’s been a huge blessing.

For every successful stunt we’ve seen, there have been some equally crazy wipeouts. From your perspective, how do you prepare yourself if you know a stunt is about to go downhill?

The difference between the people that make it in action sports and people that watch action sports is more in the mentality. We all have a lot of confidence — we practice hard and train just as hard. We always think we can make the stunts we land. When you’re in the air, and everything’s going bad, even if everyone told you it was bad and you’re like, “Oh, they were right,” it comes down to making the decision to say, “If I jump off now, I might sprain an ankle. If I stay on, I might break my neck.” It just choosing which pain is going to be worse. [Laughs]

This is the first time you guys get to set up shop in Madison Square Garden, which is easily one of the most monumental spots in the world. How does the Garden compare to other venues you guys have visited on this tour?

The coolest part about Madison Square Garden is that about three quarters of the crew are from the U.S., yet we’ve never been able to tour here. No one thought it would be this successful. We figured it might work in New Zealand or South Africa more or less because they’re really open to this action sports stuff. In big cities like New York, not that many people are even familiar with the X Games. When we can go to arguably the most respected venue in the United States and sell it out — even having friends who came and were met with standing room only — it just made us proudly look at ourselves and say, “Man, this really worked.” There are actually people [stateside] that are into this stuff. It proves that it’s getting bigger everyday, and it’s an honor to come and perform at place like [Madison Square Garden]. The crowd was constantly on their feet, and it felt really cool for us.

What’s been your most memorable “Don’t Try This At Home” moment on the tour?

You know what? It’s so fun to do a stunt by yourself, but there’s so many guys that want to come with or volunteer from the crowd. It’s like, “We can’t do this!” It’s pretty funny. Even though 99.9 percent of the time it goes right, we should never take anyone for a ride. I don’t care how willing they are. Most of the guys in the show are really good athletes even if they don’t look like it, but we know the risks. Our first show on the tour went really bad with Bruce Cook. He’s an awesome rider, as well as an awesome friend, but sometimes you just land wrong. He’s out of the hospital now, but it’s tough to see your friends get hurt during stunts. Overall, I’d rather take the chance doing this while traveling around the world then to work a desk job. For me, it’s just worth it. It’s such a great opportunity for all of us involved.

Is there a stunt you haven’t done that you’re still prepping yourself to try out?

Yeah, I’m kind of on a “one big stunt a night” program, and I just haven’t made it to the hardest one of the tour yet. It’s supposed to be a Superman Indian Air Front Flip, which has never been done on a dirt bike. I know it’s possible since I’ve done it in the foam pit, but I haven’t really been successful with the Tandem Front Flip, but hopefully by the end of the tour I get a chance to try it. Everybody on tour has that one trick; they’ve got that unicorn. It’s cool because everyone will land their stunt at a lot of the shows. I never thought I’d be the type of guy to think of it as spiritual or involving energy, but when the energy is good, everybody lands. When it’s bad — let’s just say we’ve had some bad nights where the crowd will call us out on our mistakes. It’s not like Cirque Du Soleil where everything’s planned out, man. If you see someone do something [before your stunt], it’s like, “Okay. I’m stepping up tonight.” Sometimes it goes right, and sometimes it doesn’t.

With the show entering its fourth season on MTV2, what’s the biggest thing you think will keep people tuned in this year?

When we got this new investment from The Raine Group, we were able to put on events. The first season was just about us at the tour and how we started it. The next two seasons were kind of an extension of that. This season is all about the fun stuff that we can do outside of the tour. It’s reality TV for people who like action sports, stunts and having fun by pushing the limits. There’s not a lot of crying on Nitro Circus Live, or a lot of drama in general. When we did the MTV show, it was funny because they said to us, “One of you has to start dating [Motocross champ] Jolene [Van Vugt].” Don’t get me wrong; she’s an awesome girl — one of our best friends. But I’m like, “Dude, we’re not going to pretend anything.” Knoxville actually told me the best, “If you fake one thing, everything you do after that is questionable. You have to be true to yourself. No matter what the ratings are, if it’s not true to your character, it will fail.” That was pretty good information from him.