March 23rd, 2010
With four straight Rally America National Driver’s Titles under his belt (2006-2009), its easy to forget that Travis Pastrana only started rallying in late 2003 when he did a private test session with Vermont SportsCar at the Team O’Neil Rally School and then entered his first rally in early 2004. Today we’ll revisit that seminal moment in Pastrana’s rally career.
The story begins with Vermont SportsCar learning about Pastrana’s “interest” in rallying after Alpinestars (a long time sponsor of Pastrana’s) hooked-up Travis with a test drive in a Subaru World Rally Car as a gift for winning the AMA 125cc Outdoor National Motocross Championship in 2000. Nice gift I’d say. Travis got to whip around in the Subaru WRCar on a short gravel test course with 2001 season Subaru Rally Team USA Driver Mark Lovell sitting shotgun giving some pointers. Travis had commented that it was one of the most fun things he has ever done in his life and would love to do more rallying one day.
Almost two years passed, Travis was busy competing in AMA Supercross, and clearly nothing had really progressed with regard to his rally interests since that day. So your humble scribe thought it would be a good idea to maybe give Travis another go at rallying if he had some spare time. The idea was to offer him some real rally testing and then ultimately help him actually compete in a rally here in the USA. The sport at the time could really use a personality like Travis while Travis seemed to really want to try rallying. A perfect match.
Internally here at Vermont SportsCar we made the decision to try and get Travis to a proper test and bring in some some quality instructors and see how he does. Vermont SportsCar team boss Lance Smith commented a few times, half jokingly, “who is this motocross kid again and why are we doing this?”
We scheduled the test in the summer of 2003 at the Team O’Neil Rally School. And as for our quality instructors? We flew in multi-time british champ David Higgins (who also helps run a rally school in the UK) along with John Buffum, the most successful American rally driver in history, if you didn’t already know that. Of course we also brought along a few of our rally cars including a 2001 Group N Subaru STI. Joining Pastrana was his friend Kenny “Cowboy” Bartram, an extremely accomplished Freestyle MX rider himself and equally interested in rally.
In an odd twist of fate, future Subaru Rally Team USA driver Dave Mirra was briefly scheduled to attend the rally test session as well but got injured in a BMX competition just a few weeks prior. We wouldn’t again cross paths with Mirra for another few years when we did a test session with him in late 2007.
Higgins was tasked with giving some instruction to the young and eager Pastrana while at the same time giving us the inside scoop on whether Pastrana could drive or not. Pastrana jumped in the Subaru, with Higgins riding along, and instantly began to blast around the rally school course as if he had been doing this his whole life. Travis had an ear to ear grin, like a kid in a candy store. After a few laps of the slick gravel course Higgins got out of the car, pulled team owner Lance Smith aside and told him with confidence; “The kid can drive.”
We trust Higgins’ opinion. What a rally school instructor and multi-time British and American rally champ tells us holds a lot of weight. So after that successful day of testing Vermont SportsCar began working with Travis, his management and his sponsors on a plan to enter him into a few rallies in 2004 and kick-off his rally career. The rest is history…. Enjoy the photos. — Chris Y.