Pastrana gears up for jump

Normally a drive through the desert conjures up images of Hunter S. Thompson. Not anymore. From now on, when we see sand and cars, we'll think PastranaGarth Milan/Red Bull

[Ed. Note: Alyssa Roenigk is a Senior Writer at ESPN The Magazine and the author of "The Big Jump: The Tao Of Travis Pastrana" (2007, ESPN Books)]

For three days this week, in a secret location in the SoCal desert, a guy is jumping a car farther than anyone else has jumped a car. And that's after three testing sessions. Imagine what he'll do on New Year's Eve.

Even without context, that paragraph is dang intriguing. It becomes must-see TV when you replace "guy" with "motocross/rally car/MTV star Travis Pastrana" and, for context, add that Pastrana's jump is the latest in a line of stunts staged by Red Bull and ESPN to celebrate the New Year and that the current record of 171 feet is held by Pastrana's friend, rally competitor and sponsor Ken Block, the owner of DC Shoes.

The context also explains why I was pretty excited to be on the sideline Wednesday for the first day of ramp-to-dirt testing.

The session got started a little later than scheduled — perhaps Tuesday night's premiere of the new Nitro Circus movie at RB HQ had something to do with that — and began with three dirt-to-dirt jumps in the car, which is essentially the Impreza WRX STI Pastrana races in the Rally America series, with modifications to the transmission ratios to optimize rpms at takeoff. "The car I was jumping today was actually Dave Mirra's car from the X Games," Pastrana says. Ahh, sharing.

It is also the second car he has used for the testing so far. The first car was one broken part shy of being scrapped after TP landed short on an attempt at the second testing session a few weeks ago, bounced and rolled to the bottom of the landing. "I had the speed, but I started slowing down in the air," Pastrana says. "There was a lot of wind resistance, and the car just dropped. But I learned a lot from that attempt. I realized we needed a counterbalance and that you have to accelerate through the takeoff or the front end will drop. I love figuring out something there is no precedent for. I never wanted to be the guy who takes someone else's trick and does it better. I want to figure it out first." So, before you start to think this jump is too easy for Pastrana, erase that thought from your mind.

After each jump, a team of folks, including TP and a couple dozen engineers, mathematicians, builders, mechanics and safety crew members met to review takeoff speed, the distance jumped, where and how the car performed on the takeoff, in the air and on the landing and then set up for the next attempt. "More preparation and thought has gone into this jump than has gone into anything I've ever done," Pastrana says. "But it's the least amount of thought by me." Which means he's putting a lot of trust into the people around him.

After the first three jumps, the crew spent several hours moving the custom ramp, which is about five times the size of a motocross ramp, into place for the first ramp-to-dirt jump. (In December, Pastrana will spend three days working ramp-to-ramp jumps in preparation for the final jump, which will take place in Long Beach. The takeoff ramp will be placed on the L.B. pier, and the landing ramp will be placed 100-plus feet away on a barge in the ocean.) The first ramp-to-dirt jump happened in the dark, under a few artificial lights, so it looked cool as hell. But it wasn't perfect — the ramp was perhaps a bit too close to the landing, and Pastrana landed the car pretty close to flat — and well over 200 feet from the takeoff. With three slipped disks from his crash at X Games still causing him a ton of pain, those flat landings can't feel good. As the Subaru mechanics propped Impreza Numero Dos up on jacks and went to work on its front suspension, the crew called it a night.

Check back for updates between now and the jump on Dec. 31.