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Monday, July 11, 2011
Updated: July 30, 6:14 PM ET
Part 5: Switching course

By Alyssa Roenigk
ESPN

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.

One of many stunt cars used to film the "Nitro Circus 3D" movie, on location in Utah in June.

Two weeks ago, at Pastrana's home-slash-playground riding facility in Davidsonville, Md., he talked excitingly about the trick he was working on for Moto X Best Trick at X Games 17 -- essentially a double cork 1080 (yep, three rotations) -- and a bus stunt he planned to film for the "Nitro Circus 3D" movie the following week. But plans change.

In the days since that conversation, Pastrana's best friend, Jim DeChamp, was injured badly in a stunt-gone-wrong during filming for the movie, production on the film was shut down for a week, the bus stunt was put on hold and time started to run out on the 1080, which Pastrana says is no longer in the plans for X later this month. For a group of athletes who push their bodies -- or a car, four-wheeler, mountain bike or motorcycle -- past their previous limits, a lot can happen in two weeks.

So, let's start by going back. Two weeks ago, Pastrana was planning his second-to-last stunt for "Nitro Circus 3D," the "bus jump," which was scheduled to take place the following week. The stunt involves eight members of the cast buckling into a bus and attempting to break the current distance record in an automobile, 332 feet, which was set by Tanner Foust in a trophy truck in May. But not just any bus. "We had a $20,000 budget for the stunt, and I knew that wouldn't do," Pastrana says.

He called up his Waltrip Racing team and told them he had two weeks to build a bus that could jump approximately 335 feet -- landing and driving away optional. "It was amazing to see a high-tech NASCAR facility working on a bus," he says. "It's got an LS7 motor, turbocharged, over 1,000 horsepower. They took it from 14,000 pounds to 10,000. We went to the military and told them what we needed suspension-wise and signed a non-disclosure, so the suspension is top-secret. It has a wing on the back. And they did all of this in two weeks of working overtime. No other NASCAR team would possibly allow this. But they have a lot invested in me and they want to help preserve me."

FMX rider Jim DeChamp broke several vertebrae during filming for the "Nitro Circus 3D" movie on June 29.

Pastrana said his favorite thing about the stunts in this movie is that they return to the roots of the Nitro Circus. "Nitro 1 was a crash video," he says. "It was about pushing ourselves. The MTV show was about moviemaking and having success and feel-good endings. Now we're back to where we started: trying things that haven't been done and pushing ourselves, and there is a lot of carnage because of that. But we've been lucky. I've had two concussions, Jim's been banged up, Jolene had shoulder surgery, but nothing too bad. After the bus stunt, I have one more stunt that's much scarier. If I live through that, I'll be happy."

The week after speaking those words, DeChamp was injured badly while attempting a car stunt involving a ramp -- one Pastrana says wasn't considered especially difficult. "Jim thought he needed more speed than he did, the ramp didn't work and the roll cage broke," Pastrana says. "When three things go wrong, that's never good." With too much speed, DeChamp overshot the landing and flipped the car (Streetbike Tommy was in the passenger seat). The cage above Tommy held up, but the car flattened enough to dent his helmet. The cage above DeChamp gave out and crushed his helmet. "I saw the car and thought they were both gone," Pastrana says. "There was a lot of screaming. Everyone was rattled."

DeChamp was taken to a nearby hospital, where he spent most of the week. He is now out of the hospital and recovering from surgery to fuse three vertebrae and from a head injury, but Pastrana says aside from some memory issues, "he's Jim again."

With Nitro Circus Live, one-upmanship and trying new stunts is the whole point of the show. Here: athletes take the plunge down the MegaRamp drop-in with whatever's available.

Production on the film was halted to give the cast and crew time off to deal with the accident. "It was tough on everyone," Pastrana says. "I don't know if the sound guy will come back. These guys are used to filming Hollywood stunts -- not stuff like this. They don't know what to expect, but we know what a mess-up entails. We've lost friends. We know the risks and, to us, it's still worth it. Most people have lost friends who were driving cars and they still drive because it's worth it to them. This is worth it to us."

Footage of the accident will be included in the film because, Pastrana says, "Jim would kill us if we didn't use it. He'd think he did it all for nothing. And we're pushing ourselves farther than we ever have. We have to show both sides of that." For now, the bus jump has been put on hold until August, after X Games and Pastrana's Nationwide debut.

Also on that day two weeks ago, Pastrana said the 1080 seemed possible, even given the short amount of time he had to learn it in time for the July 28 event. He'd been over-rotating the 720, a trick he's been working on for several years and crashed attempting at the 2009 X Games, and believed taking the trick one more rotation would correct his errors. He was going to X with a trick that would either, "win or take me out for the rest of the weekend." But attempting the 1080 into foam was becoming increasingly dangerous. "After my last attempt, I told the guys from Red Bull, 'I'm going to die in there,'" Pastrana says. So, the following week, folks from Red Bull added ramps and an airbag system to his facility in hopes of providing him with a softer, safer landing. But after a few attempts, he realized the airbags weren't enough.

"It looks really soft, but no matter how you hit it, it feels like a belly flop into a pool," Pastrana says. "You can't land on your head or your face, and the bag doesn't allow your body to penetrate far enough to protect you from the motorcycle landing on top of you, pounding you into the bag and breaking your back." Work began on an upgrade to the system, "but it won't be finished until next week," Pastrana said on July 7. "Given the time frame, it's unrealistic to think we can get the 1080. The 720 is close enough and I think that's more realistic."

Close enough, indeed: Spoken like someone who had a recent reality check.