Saturday, July 21, 2012

The coaching of Travis Pastrana

Travis Pastrana during practice at
Chicagoland. Credit: Jonathan Daniel/
Getty Images
Since Travis Pastrana announced his foray into NASCAR, one person has been at his side throughout his wild ride: his driver coach Matt Crafton.

We've followed closely the Pastrana/Crafton relationship in the Skirts and Scuffs driver diary, Riding Shotgun with Matt Crafton, where Crafton has talked exclusively with us on his role as not only coach to Pastrana but friend as well.

Speaking to the media today, Pastrana and Crafton were asked about their respective roles as driver and coach and how their relationship began.

Asked about the learning curve he has faced in NASCAR versus other auto sports, Pastrana said, “I think the more competition you have, the longer the learning curve. Jumping in this first race in the Pro 2 truck two days ago and because there’s not as many people, you can be more competitive quicker. When you look at NASCAR, there are so many guys that are so good.  I went to just a local track and qualified 21st and less than two-tenths of a second off pole.  The fine line in this is so precise, so the learning curve going to take time. But motocross, I started driving motorcycles at four and didn’t win a championship until 16. There were years and everything.  This one is a lot more -- if I make a mistake in NASCAR, it’s the next day as opposed to Rally where we had one full year of crashing and one year of outside the podium every race and the next year we win the championship. That was a faster progression than this learning curve is going to be because there is a lot more really great drivers with great teams.”

For Pastrana, patience is the key to his progress but that's one thing he admits to struggling with in the learning process. “...That’s one of the difficult things that Matt (Crafton) keeps -- I see that carrot in front of me and he’s like, ‘Just slow down your entry.’ I’m like, ‘They’re pulling away.’ He’s like, ‘Look, this is how fast of what you setup the car, this is as fast as you can come in and you have to beat them coming off the corner.’ I want to just come in, like in Motorcross and everything else has been about aggression. So, for me to be patient with the driving and keeping from burning the right rear completely off the tire and not being sideways. The harder I try to drive these cars, the slower I drive. I want to keep getting in there and keep getting more experience. Everyone is like, ‘Your results aren’t really proving.’  Well, the first time I had no expectations, I just jumped in and kind of cruised around and didn’t make mistakes.  Now, as I try to go faster, we’re going slower.  It’s interesting and we had a lot of testing and went to Milwaukee and was able to really try a tight car, try a loose car. I've go a hand on it right now and Matt’s trying to give me the tools to be able to drive more than just one type of car.”

Crafton also spoke to the media and was asked how he was "the chosen one" to work with Pastrana.

“Gary Bechtel called me a year-and-a-half ago at least and asked if I wanted to go help (Travis Pastrana). I went down to some race track in Florida and tested with him the first day, I didn’t know what he was going to be like. I didn’t know if he was going [to be one of those] airy famous guys. The first day working with him, this guy’s alright and after the second day he asked if I wanted to keep helping him. It was definitely a very easy decision to keep up and very good to work with and learn and wants to do this -- I mean really truly wants to do this and he will get it.”

Teaching someone to drive a race car at fast speeds is no easy task, but Crafton's resume as a driver speaks volumes about his talent. Taking his experience and transitioning it to working with a rookie perhaps is the greatest challenge of his career. The goal is simple, Crafton is there to speed up Pastrana's learning curve as he explained during the media session.
Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR

“He knows how to drive the race cars. Just learning some of -- breaking some of his bad habits.  That’s some of the biggest things that I’ve seen him have in some of the Rally stuff. They go in and use a ton of brake and back-ping the corner and let off the brake and stay in the gas. That’s 100 percent what you don’t want to do in a stock car. You want to be smooth with the brake pedal, you’re modulating the brake pedal on a lot of the short tracks. With all the telemetry, he can see exactly what I’m doing with the brake pedal and with the throttle pedal. All it is, is speeding up his learning curve. I’ve been racing go-karts since I was seven, I’ve been racing the Trucks going on 12 years, so I have a lot of experience in that stuff. I think that’s what is going to speed up his learning curve. I don’t think he’s going to have quite as long to figure it out because he is kind of getting old.”

Taking on the role of a driver and teacher, Crafton said, “Honestly, I didn’t know if I was going to like it. He’s (Travis Pastrana) been so willing to learn and wanting to learn so much, that’s what is so awesome about it...That’s one of the biggest things, how willing he is to learn and wanting it so bad.  It’s a lot of fun.”

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