Travis Pastrana returns to motocross racing today at Red Bull Straight Rhythm

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With all that action sports icon Travis Pastrana has accomplished throughout his well-rounded career, it’s easy to forget that he was a national motocross champion 14 years ago.

Pastrana has since retired from motocross racing to focus on other passions. He has long been one of the most progressive riders in freestyle motocross but has also carved out a successful career in rallycross and even attempted a recent foray into NASCAR. This afternoon, he’ll be back on a bike for a brand-new event that will put him head-to-head with some of the top motocross riders in the sport today.

Red Bull Straight Rhythm is like a supercross track without any of the turns – or as the event organizers like to say, it’s “supercross unwound.” The course is a half-mile straightaway of rhythm sections, jumps, whoops and sand sections built on top of a drag strip track in Southern California. Although Red Bull held a test event last year, this will be the first time that it’s ever been done as a full-fledged competition.

Seeking an edge, Pastrana has loaded his #199 Suzuki up on horsepower. Whereas most of his competitors in the open class will be riding a 450cc four-stroke bike, he is mounted on a 500cc two-stroke. It’s a bike so powerful that Pastrana has dubbed it the “RM-Zilla.” (Suzuki’s 450cc bike is named the RM-Z450.)

Despite all the added horsepower, even Pastrana was not immune to the challenging nature of the course. “If you don’t get the first jump, you’re running a completely different rhythm all the way down the entire track than everyone else, which is awesome,” he said. “That’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s basically like a tic-tac-toe puzzle.”

Out of 16 riders in the open class, Pastrana qualified eighth in Friday’s practice session, putting him head-to-head with Josh Hansen in the opening round of today’s competition, which utilizes a best-of-three bracket format to decide a winner. Should Pastrana defeat the ninth-seeded Hansen, he would be on a collision course with James Stewart – the fastest rider in qualifying and the overwhelming event favorite – in the quarterfinals.

It’s a tough task, but Pastrana has made a career out of defying the odds.

To see how Pastrana fares in his return to racing, watch Red Bull Straight Rhythm live online starting at 5:30 p.m. ET today on RedBull.tv.

NBC will also air television coverage of the event on December 20.