‘Cars are not supposed to jump and fly’: They do at Nitro Rallycross debut in Arizona

The concept of cars flying high off the ground is one of the unique aspects of Nitro Rallycross competition that organizers are pitching to fans. (Photo courtesy of Nitro Rallycross)

Wild Horse Pass and all Nitro Rallycross tracks are different from one another, making it difficult to adapt in NRX. (Photo by Nick Zeller-Singh/Cronkite News)

Nitro Rallycross tracks place an emphasis on dirt, high-banked corners and large jumps. (Photo by Nick Zeller-Singh/Cronkite News)

CHANDLER – The high-flying jumps are dramatic, the turns unexpected. Nitro Rallycross, a new racing series featuring innovative courses, recently unveiled its unique format at Wild Horse Pass.

“Our biggest pitch is to see the excitement and things cars are not supposed to do,” said James Lavanway, a show car program manager. “Cars are not supposed to jump and fly. Travis has opened up that to the general public.”

That’s Travis Pastrana, a famed motorsports competitor and stunt performer who is the creative force behind Nitro Rallycross, or NRX. The sport’s stop in Arizona was the third event of a five-stop cross country tour that has attracted some big names.

Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch made his debut at the Wild Horse competition in mid-November. Chase Elliott, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, competed in the final round of the tour and finished first, only to be penalized for avoidable contact in the final turn.

The end of the tour was capped Sunday with Pastrana winning the first-ever Nitro Rallycross Series Championship, but only after sky-diving from a plane piloted by Elliott, a condition set by Elliott when he agreed to compete.

It’s all about bring more eyes to the sport.

“It’s been an amazing year,” Pastrana told reporters afterward. “It exceeded all my expectations as a driver. I want to win as a driver but even more I want Nitro Rallycross to be the best championship out there. Now we have a proven concept.”

The sport hopes its revamped atmosphere survives and thrives compared to similar platforms that previously failed.

Before NRX, Global Rallycross and Americas Rallycross Championship ran across the country. Although the organizations were similar, racer Conner Martell said there are specific differences that make Nitro, with its banked turns inspired by Supercross and head-to-head competition, stand out from the rest.

Driver Conner Martell believes Nitro Rallycross is high entertainment, with larger jumps and more excitement than American Rallycross. (Photo by Nick Zeller-Singh/Cronkite News)

“Rallycross is the same layout as Nitro except the tracks are completely different,” Martell said. “Nitro is a big show with more jumps and most of the tracks are dirt. Regular rallycross is very small jumps and mostly pavement.”

Lavanway, Pastrana’s show car program manager, said he thinks Pastrana is the reason Nitro will succeed.

“Travis is such a unique individual,” Lavanway said. “His genuine personality and the exuberance he shows are incomparable. He is an overall package. What he has done with the series, Travis is trying to package it to the people who are interested in it as well as attracting new members.”

In addition, Pastrana tries to add a drawing card to each race. At Wild Horse Pass on November 13, Pastrana raced alongside Busch.

Although Busch did not put up show-stopping numbers, he turned heads by adapting to the dirt racing scene on short notice.

“People were worried to see how Kyle Busch would do but he went out and looked great,” Martell said. “I did some oval racing this summer and it’s very difficult. The learning curve is steep but Kyle overcame it pretty quick.”

Haley Renfro, a fan of Nitro Rallycross who was on hand to witness the event at Wild Horse Pass, said she was impressed by Busch’s Nitro’s debut in the desert.

“He was dedicated,” Renfro said. “You watch him and it’s like art. He knows what he is doing with his car.”

All the racers, Renfro said, turn their experience racing into works of art.

Related story

NRX’s atmosphere has created a rapidly growing fanbase. High-flying cars are the wild excitement fans want, Martell said. Renfro said her passion for the sport is a family affair.

“My husband just got me in Nitro about two or three years ago,” she said. “I have a 2004 Mini and like to push it as hard as I can. So coming out here and watching these guys tear it up on the dirt track, who wouldn’t want to watch that?”

Although NRX has had early success, its popularity is still laps behind NASCAR. However, Lavanway said NRX is a unique and tough racing event compared to NASCAR.

“The changing surface of the track is tough,” Lavanway said. “People will water the track, which affects traction. It’s a constantly shifting format that you are adjusting to on a day-by-day basis. Each track presents its own set of challenges.”

Plus, every NRX track is different from the rest. Some tracks may be a more basic dirt track while others may have larger bank turns or higher jumps.

Overall, NRX looks to create its own pitch as an alternative racing event.

Fans watching at Wild Horse Pass believe it’s off to a strong start.

Nick Zeller-Singh neekh zel-ler singh
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Nick Zeller-Singh expects to graduate in spring 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in digital audience. Zeller-Singh, who interned with the San Francisco Examiner and contributes to Inferno Intel and FloSports, is working in the Phoenix Sports Bureau.