This week’s conversation is with Travis Pastrana.

If you’re a fan of action sports, you know the name.

By four years old, Travis was already riding a one-speed motorcycle.

At the age of 14, he won the world freestyle championship.

Travis continued to display his versatility into the early 2000’s racking up numerous Supercross and Motocross podiums as well a Motocross of Nations Championship title.

In 2001, Travis was awarded Motocross Rider of the Year at the ESPN Action Sports & Music Awards.

He has since accumulated 17 X-Games medals, including 11 gold medals, plus five golds from the Gravity Games, as well more wins at other events including Dew Tour and Red Bull X-Fighters.

At the 2006 X Games, Travis redefined what was possible in Freestyle Motocross with his groundbreaking double backflip on a motorbike.

As one of the founders and ringleader of Nitro Circus, Travis is committed to the progression of action sports as a whole and has set his sights on redefining the sport of rallycross with the evolution of Nitro Rallycross.

Travis is highly skilled at risk – and I think you’ll be fascinated to learn why he’s comfortable in high consequence environments.

“Maybe I simplify my life way too much, but there’s just not a lot of things that bother me. It’ll work out at the end of the day.”

In This Episode:

His Optimistic Framework

Did I want to be a Supercross champion? Yes, that was my goal as a kid, that’s all I wanted to do, but every time I got hurt, I got to ride go-karts, or four wheelers, or stuff that ended up leading to rally, to rally cross and cars. Everything that happened led to the next thing. Every mistake I’ve made has been really the door opening for something else. What can you take from what you’ve learned, and how can you make that into something else?

His Purpose

To wake up and feel I’m useful, wake up with something that I’m passionate about, wake up with something that I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about, even if it’s not the thing that makes the most money. I do what I love and see how far I can make it. I throw myself in the deep end.

What his dad taught him growing up

This mentality that no matter what happens to you, you are somehow in control. Even if you’re not, and it’s completely out of your control, you’re still in control of how you react. That allowed me to not have too many enemies along the way, and not having enemies in racing is a really good thing. His dad made it clear that, “If you put everything you got into it, I’ll put everything I got into you.” But it was never about winning.

Why accountability matters

Accountability has gotten me the furthest. Understanding what you can change. Instead of worrying about, “My bike’s not as good as it could,” or, “They didn’t do this,” or, “I got unlucky here,” “Okay, what can I be accountable for? And let me make sure that before I do anything else, let me be accountable for that.”

How does he overcome his fears?

That’s easy. It’s practice. It’s knowing every possible outcome that could happen. The scariest thing you could ever do is saying, “I’m prepared for it.”

Why did he go for the double-back flip at the X-games?

Everything you’re dreaming of accomplishing in the future is sitting right in front of you. And you’re going to do something that could possibly jeopardize everything that really in the scheme of things, doesn’t make you any more money or make anything different. I did it because I believed it could be done and that I could do it. I would rather get hurt doing this than to not know if I could have.

The worst thing you can do in a high pressure situation

Panic and lock up. That’s the difference between the guys that make it —  even in the NFL or any contact sport, or racing. It’s not that you’re able to make better decisions. It’s that you’re able to make decisions when most people lock up. And that’s pretty cool.

His team at NitroCirus

It’s not about the money. It’s about the experience. It’s about being able to push the limits and prove not to anyone else, but to yourself that you can, in that moment, do what you know you can do and make the impossible become a reality.

How does he approach risk-taking?

I think my job was always to mitigate risk. That’s what’s interesting. Everyone says you have to be crazy to be an action sports guy, but at the end of the day, the crazy one never get good enough to be… they get hurt too fast to be good. They never become great.

Does he care about what other think?

What I hear on the internet, what people tell their say about me. What they think about me, it doesn’t really have any bearing on my decisions for risk. If you look at that and you say, “Okay, public speaking.” Well, were you scared? What’s the worst that can happen? I trip on the way up the steps. Everyone laughs, has a good time. That sounds all right. There’s no real risk there. And that’s what I’m trying to teach with my kids now is they’re not afraid of so much they should be.

What happens when things go wrong?

If it goes wrong, are you going to have the mental capacity and the information that you need as a human to make it out of that okay. are they going to be able to adapt to that? That’s why I feel like we did so many tests at Red Bull. They wanted to know what their athletes were capable of. They wanted to know when those bad situations happened, are they going to come through? And they did a lot of physical and mental training, but with that, you just realize that people aren’t all the same. Just because you can do something and want to do something, doesn’t mean that you are mentally capable of doing it.

What’s his current focus at NitroCircus?

World games, which is taking all the stuff that we learned with ramp safety and innovation, how to make it bigger and crazier, but also keep the riders healthy from night to night, doing shows in different places. And bringing that into a world championship of big air. It’s pretty much the big air of action sports. You want to see the biggest craziest tricks that no one’s done before in the safest way possible. The world games is the place that where everything new happens really, and that’s an honor and something that’s been really awesome.

His concerns about social media

I make a living on social media now and I understand the importance of it, and I see how great it is that you can be connected. But I also see how distances it’s putting in people and making everyone really feel like the fact that they don’t have what someone else has. Even if you look at our videos that we make, we don’t show the 10,000 failures, the Thomas Edisons of the light bulb to the world, we showed the successes and they think, “Oh, well, it just comes natural to these guys,” when it doesn’t.

What does he hope the next generation gets right?

I would hope the next generation understands that nothing comes easy. And that you have to be appreciative for what you have because we have more than any generations ever had before us and our kids will have more than we had.

What would he ask another master of craft?

Do you still enjoy the journey? Because if they’re still in it and they’re still a master of it, I would assume from my experience that they enjoy the process. You’re probably never going to win the Tour de France if you don’t like spending millions of hours on your bicycle and peddling, even when everything hurts and you’re sore, and you’re miserable, but some people actually enjoy that. For whatever reason, some people enjoy whatever, but for me, I enjoy the journey and I would want to know is that the way to success or was I just lucky?

What does he enjoy about the process?

The process of challenging myself. I enjoyed the process of figuring out if I had what it took to process of trying to be the best that I could be. And I never had that put on me that it had to be the best of anyone else. I never expected to make it. I just wanted to know. I loved waking up in the morning and saying, how can I be better at, and that’s why for me, it’s changed. How can I be better at, for while I was racing motorcycles, how can I be better at doing freestyle? How can we be better at driving a car? How can I be a better husband and father? Is where the process is now, where you wake up and you’re like, “Okay, this is a challenge and it’s not easy.”


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Related Episodes:

  • Finding Mastery 215: Levi LaVallee, snowmobiling legend, on Being a Student of Progression
  • Finding Mastery 210: Mark Mathews, world-class big wave surfer on The Relationship Between Fear and Motivation
  • Finding Mastery 184: Vicki Golden, Nitrocircus freestyle motocross athlete, on Driving Through Fire


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Travis Pastrana is an American professional motorsports competitor and stunt performer who has won championships and X Games gold medals in several disciplines, including supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross, and rally racing.