Travis Pastrana won Rally America's season-opening Sno*Drift Rally this weekend. It was single-digit cold, the roads were covered in a thick sheet of ice, and Ken Block's brand-new Ford Fiesta broke. Sound like fun? Of course it does.
I met Travis Pastrana once. It was a sunny summer afternoon in Maine, the kind of hot, muggy day that makes you both love and hate New England. He was limping around the Subaru service area at the New England Forest Rally, one leg dragging behind the other and a thick grin on his face. I had to interview him for a magazine story I was writing on Ken Block, and as a result, we spent about fifteen minutes crouched underneath an EZ-UP and talking about rallying.
I mention this not to name-drop — Pastrana is an affable guy, and the people who have gotten close to him at a race could fill a book — but because of what happened at the end of the conversation. As we finished the interview, I noticed that he was rubbing one of his knees. It was the size of a pregnant grapefruit. As he went to stand, I offered him a hand up. He refused, saying he was OK, and gradually got up.
"Travis," I said.
"What the hell did you do to your leg?"
"Oh, that? I [Something Something Random Weird Stunt Injury*] last week when I was [Something Something Cheating Death**]. It hurts a little."
"Well, maybe more than a little." He grinned. "The doctor says I'm not supposed to walk on it for a month."
With that, he shook my hand, hobbled away, signed a bunch of breasts, and then proceeded to climb in his STI and rip one of its rear wheels off (boulder impact at the top of third gear) in the middle of a stage. This is Travis Pastrana in a nutshell. He makes the rest of humanity look like a bunch of neutered poodles.
I did not meet or talk to Pastrana at Sno*Drift — I was there less as journalist and more as crew for the world's most ass-backward rally team — but I did get out to a couple of stages to watch him run. The man is an animal. He carved out a commanding early lead over the rest of the (admittedly small) Open class, sliding and drifting his way across roads covered in so much ice that you could see your reflection in the apexes. Watching him dance and arc and flow across the landscape while almost everyone else struggled was nothing short of hypnotic.
The rally itself was pretty entertaining. A surprise thaw and refreeze the week before coated the roads in a hefty jacket of ice, and the mercury rarely climbed out of single digits. Bonfires were built in the woods; people crashed a lot and purposely hooked onto/pinballed off of snowbanks in the interest of self-preservation. Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard finished second overall in their Rockstar-sponsored Mitsubishi Evolution X, and Ken Block's Ford Fiesta (in case you missed it, Block recently switched from Subaru to Ford) retired early on the first day due to a suspension problem. Former Team O'Neil rally school instructor Chris Duplessis claimed a first-place win in the two-wheel-drive class in his 1990 Volkswagen GTI, often carrying more speed than his all-wheel-drive competition. (If you get a chance to see this cat rally, take it. The man can drive.) The complete results can be found here.