- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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Travis Pastrana has a busy summer ahead. By August, he will have brought his Nitro Circus Live show to the U.S., filmed for a 3-D movie full of first-time stunts, competed in Moto X Best Trick and RallyCross at X Games 17 and made his NASCAR debut in the Nationwide Series. And we'll have chronicled it all here, in a weekly(ish) column by Alyssa Roenigk, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and author of The Big Jump: The Tao of Travis Pastrana. So much for a summer vacation. Or sleep.
After spending several weeks abroad performing in Nitro Circus Live shows and filming for the upcoming 3-D film, Pastrana and crew returned to the U.S., where he will fill the remainder of the warm months. His first stop: Southern California for three days of NC Live practice before the show hits the States this weekend.
On May 28, Pala Raceway, the site of NC Live practice, was looking little like its usual self. Fred Grzybowski, a 23-year-old known as Pogo Fred, was warming up on an industrial-strength pogo stick. World record holder Dusty Wygle was warming up on a pit bike alongside skateboarder Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, who was dressed uncharacteristically in red-and-white riding gear and seated atop a full-size dirtbike. Several riders were carrying BMX bikes and Razor scooters up an endless staircase leading to a 50-foot-tall structure called the Giganta Ramp. Supermoto racer Derek Costello was toting a pink tricycle. And everyone was trying something they'd never done.
It became quickly obvious that here, circus is more than a word in a show name. It's a mentality. "I keep thinking there are not a lot of people like us," Pastrana says. "But the more places we go, we always find some guy who is doing stuff no one else is doing. Nitro is not about being the coolest. It's about pushing yourself. We keep finding more people who fit the mold."
Today, the entire crew of regulars and guest stars, along with several athletes hoping to make the roster, is practicing for the first stateside Nitro Circus Live show, which takes place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday. "Vegas is going to be our toughest setting yet," says Pastrana, who spent the day swapping between a dirt bike and a BMX bike. "Here, everyone's either seen it all or knows some guy who's done it. People here are hard to impress and they're going to pick the show apart. But I think we have a good enough show that they'll be entertained."
In this one-night, one-off performance being filmed for the crew's 3-D film, Pastrana and his pals plan to land at least 10 first-time stunts, including a four-man double backflip train featuring Pastrana and FMX riders Cam Sinclair, Scott Murray and Aussie rider Josh Sheehan, who has never landed the trick. "The double back is weird," Pastrana says. "Cam won gold at X Games with it, but he's crashed two of the last eight times he's done it. If one of us leading the train go down, the other guys will go down with us."
Pastrana also has two BMX tricks planned, one he has never landed and one he says has never been landed before. "We'll have to see how much practice I get in when the wind calms down," he says. "That's going to decide what I try on Saturday."
The show will also feature a handful of guest stars, including skateboarders Ryan Sheckler and Bob Burnquist and BMXer Daniel Dhers, who hit the Giganta Ramp for the first time in Saturday's practice session. Aussie BMX rider Andy Buckworth, known for his front flip variations, planned to land the first triple frontflip at the show, but winds limited his practice attempts. "It's been hard to practice, but in front of that many people and with all my friends around, who knows what can happen," he says. "I'm really excited about the show."
After Vegas, Pastrana will continue to film for the 3-D film (more about that in future posts) and log as much seat time as possible before his July 30 Nationwide debut, switching between the regimented world of NASCAR and the less-so world of Nitro Circus. "What's good about our team in NASCAR is it's extremely regimented and we want to do well, but Waltrip Racing is all about having fun," Pastrana says. "With the other drivers -- Ryan Truex and Brett Moffitt -- it's not so different from being here. It's the same camaraderie. I'm not going from Nitro Circus to Hendrick."
And while he's missing from the circus, his fellow performers will use those days to, well, take a nap. "We're just as amazed by Travis as anyone else," says show regular Jolene Van Vugt. "We're all so tired just from everything we're doing with the live show and the movie, and then he throws NASCAR on top of it. He has endless energy. I don't know how he does it. But he sure is fun to watch."
Check back next week for a recap of the first Nitro Circus Live show to hit North America. We promise, what happens in Vegas will not stay there. We might even bring a camera.