PALA, Calif. — It’s a circus, all right, and don’t think for a minute that three rings are anywhere near enough to hold action sports wild man Travis Pastrana and his merry band of daredevils.
After playing to big crowds Down Under, Pastrana will unleash his Nitro Circus Live on North America for the first time in a one-off show Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Billed as the “greatest live action sports show of all time,” Nitro Circus Live will include the standard fare of freestyle motocross, BMX and skateboarding while veering to outrageous stunts such as a guy nicknamed “Wheelz” doing flips in his wheelchair off the 50-foot Nitro Giganta Ramp.
If it has wheels or can otherwise be propelled down the ramp it will be, whether it’s a scooter, in-line skates, body board or the Nitro Circus standby, the Big Wheel. If that’s not enough contraptions, the Pogo Dudes will do flips on industrial-sized pogo sticks.
If Pastrana could get an organ grinder and a monkey on wheels and push them down the ramp, he would.
This really is like a circus.
“Sadly, yeah,” Pastrana laughed as he sat on the tailgate of a pickup and watched a raucous, freewheeling practice this week at a dusty racetrack in northern San Diego County. “We travel the world. We’re not sure if we’re more like rock stars or carnies. Kind of like a combo.”
After Nitro Circus gained a cult following on TV, Pastrana took it on the road for three tours through Australia and New Zealand. The Las Vegas show will be filmed for a 3-D Nitro Circus movie to be released in 2012.
“There’s no rules with Nitro Circus,” Pastrana said. “It’s how far can you push it, how far can you take it. You have a bunch of guys that when one guy tries something and gets close, instead of everyone going, ’Oh, that was stupid,’ you have six more guys dropping in the ramp, like begging to be next to try that trick, to try to be the first to do it.”
Among the all-star cast loaded with X Games medalists are freestyle motocross riders Cam Sinclair, Levi Sherwood and Todd Potter, as well as Jolene Van Vugt, the only woman who flips full-size dirt bikes. BMXers Chad Kagy and Andy Buckworth are in the show, as are skateboarders Jake Brown and Bob Burnquist, who push the limits on big ramps. Ryan Sheckler will make a guest appearance, and Pastrana’s girlfriend, X Games vert gold medalist Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, will ride a small motorbike on the Giganta Ramp, which is smaller but steeper than the X Games’ Mega Ramp.
“It’s an amazing live show,” said Brown, best known for his horrendous fall in the 2007 X Games. “We toured Australia and it was insane. It’s the best action show there is.”
Many of the tricks are attempted for the first time.
“I think that’s what separates our show, is that you don’t know if they’re going to land it or not land it,” said Pastrana, who’s the perfect ringleader for such seeming insanity.
In 1999, the 15-year-old Pastrana celebrated an X Games gold medal by jumping his motorcycle into San Francisco Bay. That stunt got him into a fair bit of trouble, and he lost his prize money and medal.
He was the first to do a double backflip on a motorcycle and has won four Rally America championships. On New Year’s Eve 2009, he shattered the world record for the longest jump in a rally car when he traveled 269 feet from the Pine Street Pier in Long Beach onto a barge anchored in the harbor. He celebrated by doing a backflip off the landing ramp into the chilly water.
As part of the Nitro Circus TV show, he’s done such crazy stunts as riding dirt bikes off a ramp into the Grand Canyon and parachuting the rest of the way down; and jumping out of a plane without a parachute, confident that a fellow skydiver with a parachute who jumped out at the same time would catch up to him and guide him to earth.
Pastrana is planning to make his NASCAR debut in the Nationwide Series in July.
Nitro Circus Live lasts somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2 hours. “If no one crashes and everything goes well, we’re a little quicker than if we’re cleaning up the carnage,” said Pastrana, who appropriately enough is sponsored by Red Bull.
Pastrana plans to be in the middle of the more spectacular stunts.
Only three people in the world have landed a double backflip. At the Vegas show, four riders will try to do it at the same time.
“If the first guy crashes, we’re all done,” Pastrana said.
In another stunt, a dozen riders will be lined up four wide, “where everyone’s basically doing no-handed backflips, high-fiving in the air, in theory,” Pastrana said. “We’ve had one guy crash and that sucks. And you come around for the landing and it’s, ’Ooh, bikes...’ “
The motocross stunts are done off ramps separate from the Giganta Ramp.
One of the more remarkable performers is Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham, who does flips in his wheelchair. His credo is: “Concussions are temporary, backing down is permanent.”
One trick that hasn’t been nailed yet is doing flips off the ramp on a snowboard. So far, those trying it are 0 for 3.
“On the first tour the guy shattered his ankle, the second tour the guy got knocked out, third tour the guy broke his wrist. The fourth guy, he’s been crushing it,” Pastrana said.
And who might that be?
“Sorry, I just met him today,” Pastrana said.
And the real highlight?
“Big Wheels steal the show,” Pastrana said. “We’ve probably had more of our injuries on Big Wheels because we always try to put someone on the Big Wheel that’s never ridden the Big Wheel before and send them down first. Dusty Wygle does Lazyboy backflips on the Big Wheel. About 50-50 on the landing. But that’s kind of exciting either way.”