Travis Pastrana gives driving lessons in the Subaru Family Huckster: this is how you drive Gymkhana

Just a normal driving lesson in a sensible family station wagon

I have a disease. It's one that a lot of other people have too, especially the kind who regularly read car magazines. Maybe you have it too. Let's call it 'that could well beitis'. Luckily I am being treated for it. In this profession you are regularly treated to rides as a passenger of people with more than exceptional driving skills.

Not long ago I was at a Ferrari event and had the opportunity to sit next to Carlos Sainz Jr. in a 296 GTB. About seven seconds after leaving pit lane, I knew in my bones that I would never be able to drive like him.

The aggression, confidence and control were as delusional and hilarious as they were soul-destroying. I've had similar experiences over the years with WRC drivers, former DTM champions and former F1 drivers. There is no doubt in my mind that administrators at that level operate in a completely different reality. Out of range.

Drifting in a drift car? Egg!

However, it's a whole different story when it comes to professional drifters and all that Gymkhana nonsense. This is also the area my disease focuses on. When normally sane people marvel at the fact that someone can drift a 1,000-horsepower flame-breathing monster with grace and precision, I wonder why they're so surprised.

Those cars are made purely for that purpose. They are stiff, relatively light, have the balance between power and grip radically in favor of the former and have a hydraulic handbrake. Even a three-year-old could upset them and throw enormous fits with them. If he could reach the pedals, that is. I understand the entertainment value of this art form and I quite enjoy it, but to say that it is really clever – meow.

Our man Jethro considers using his helmet as a puke bag. In case that

So, when our Editor-in-Chief asked if I'd like to learn from Travis Pastrana how to "Drive Gymkhana" in his gloriously insane Subaru Family Huckster, I just managed to stop myself from saying, "Learn?" To learn? Come on dude, I could do that with my eyes closed.' So I said I thought it would be fun, and yes I have time for it, and thank you for thinking of me. Those kind of things. But inside I was outraged. And, to be honest, very excited.

The Subaru Family Huckster is about the coolest thing on four wheels and, well, it has 862 horsepower and a hydraulic handbrake. The anticipation certainly did not diminish when Subaru announced that they would be bringing at least 36 tires. Finally! The stage and the means to prove 'that I could do that too'.

The famous video starring the Huckster

My homework consisted of watching and absorbing the video that made the Subaru Family Huckster famous, brilliantly titled Travis Pastrana's Gymkhana 2022 Vacation Shred. I've probably seen it before, but I wanted to look at the man behind the wheel, take in some of the scenes in case the man asks what my favorite part is, and simply get as much information as possible about the car in question .

And so I grabbed a cup of coffee, sat down, and prepared to be entertained and perhaps a little impressed. The first scene has Travis jumping from a hotel balcony, his parachute refuses to fully open and he crashes to the ground, suffering several hip fractures and broken vertebrae. It's a shocking start and says a lot about Pastrana's dedication to the cause. And believe it or not, the film only gets more incredible from this point on.

Travis Pastrana – master of drifts, donuts, jumps and disorienting passengers

Oh. Mine. God. There is no limit to the man and the Huckster is bewitched. To be honest, the intricacies of the heavily upgraded Subaru wagon are somewhat obscured in the shockwave of noise, tire smoke, jumps, disorienting active aerodynamics and the loose, unrehearsed feel that makes it almost impossible for the viewer to interact even briefly with to blink the eyes.

The danger is palpable and the free, flowing style is so different from other videos in this genre. Sure, every scene is just that – a premeditated stunt – but there is improvisation, there is skill. It's an incredible video. Sodeju. Maybe I'm not 'very good' at that after all...

The Subaru Family Huckster is Pastrana's favorite car

Pastrana is the first to arrive at Summit Point Motorsports Park, a vast area in wooded West Virginia with several tracks, rally areas and, of course, shooting ranges for various firearms. This is the location of my 'lesson'. Pastrana doesn't necessarily have to be here this early. The Huckster still needs to be unloaded, warmed up and checked.

We're filming here for our new YouTube series TG2: Cars and Stripes and the crew still has to 'set up cameras' (or so they say), a process that usually takes a full calendar month. It doesn't seem to matter to Pastrana. 'No, are you crazy?' he says with a huge grin. “It's never too early to ride this thing. I'm not exaggerating when I say that of all the cars I've driven, this is my favorite. He is perfect. Real. The perfect car.'

What has been done to the Subaru?

So what exactly is this perfect Subaru Family Huckster? The short answer is a purpose-built, overly powerful but perfectly executed WRC monster, hidden in the angular shapes of the Subaru GL Wagon as it was on sale in America in 1984. More specifically, the US Ski Team Edition.

It has a full WRC chassis and roll cage, a specially made carbon fiber body and a 2.3-liter four-cylinder boxer engine with a billet block (made from a single piece of metal) and a huge Garrett turbo, good for an output of 862 hp and 900 Nm of torque.

The engine sends that power to a six-speed sequential gearbox from Sadev and an all-wheel drive system that splits things 50/50 between the front and rear wheels, with a Sadev limited slip rear differential and a special front differential to help make all that smoke.

A complex system of active aerodynamics has been installed that is controlled both hydraulically (for the flaps at the front) and pneumatically (the wing on the roof). It helps with braking, but is not specifically intended to generate more downforce.

Instead, it mainly needs to be able to influence the angle of the car as it flies. A good example of why Pastrana loves this car so much. He is great for doing extremely extreme things and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

What makes the Huckster so good according to Pastrana?

'The previous Gymkhana car I had, the Air Slayer [based on a WRX STi rallycross car, ed.], well, it just had too much aero, which made it difficult when it started to slide. You were basically fighting against what he was made to do,” Pastrana explains.

'This car is so progressive. Plus, that square makes it great for millimeter work – I can see and feel every corner of the car. He's just great.' The Huckster was conceived, designed and built by Vermont SportsCar, Subaru's semi-factory rally team in the US.

The interior is at least as special as the outside

It's easy to overlook all the lovingly crafted details – the original-style carbon fiber dashboard, which has been given a blue tint to resemble the original Subaru GL Wagon interior as much as possible; the 3D printed original Subaru badges; the tape deck.

Even the roof rack is shaped to supply air to the rear radiator. Everything you see exudes brutal functionality with a wry nod to that simple, user-friendly approach of the original. You should take the word 'Family' in the name with a few muds of salt.

Vermont SportsCar installed a racing fairing in the passenger seat for the filming, but squeezing through the cage and squeezing my body into the cramped seat is borderline humiliating. I'm sitting low, my legs are kind of folded against the dashboard and a growing claustrophobia is starting to take over me. “Let's start with launch control,” Travis grins.

Pastrana demonstrates how to drive the Family Huckster

We are on a course that could have been made for a Gymkhana for Beginners course. It consists of three parallel straights connected by two large grassy roundabouts at either end.

In this layout there are smaller circular sections of grass that form figure-eight obstacles – providing a perfect opportunity to master all the tricks in Pastrana's incredible video, but on a much smaller scale and without all those terrifying jumps.

Travis starts the Huckster and unleashes all 862 horsepower on the rough asphalt. With shorter gears than in the Gymkhana video, the Huckster can now probably reach 130mph at most (and not the usual 165mph), and we're already hitting the limiter by the time we reach the far roundabout.

Sitting next to Pastrana in the Huckster is no fun

It accelerates uncomfortably hard, the noise is dominated by the screech of the turbo and loud bangs on upshifts, and the whole experience is physical and frantic. Travis, on the other hand, is economical and precise. The Huckster dives alarmingly when braking, but that also takes weight away from the rear wheels. A touch of countersteer and a firm movement of the carbon fiber lever of the handbrake, and the Huckster flies backwards into the bend.

This is a car for big gestures and Travis does not hesitate to spread the word. He slams the accelerator to the floor, the tires melting into smoke as we're launched onto the next straight, and he slams gears into the maniacal boxer as fast as his arm can handle.

Do you want more excitement in your life? Then simply add one Pastrana and a thunderstorm of tire smoke

The next two minutes are completely fantastic; Travis scrubs the entire site, dragging the Huckster from one mighty drift to the next, while flames burst from the 3D-printed exhaust. Then the tires run out. Those were the first four. In two minutes. And now it's my turn.

The launch control is easy

The launch control is easy to activate. First move the gear lever backwards to select the first gear (from here it is your turn to upshift, forwards for downshifts, no need to engage anymore), pull the handbrake firmly while pressing the small button on top with hold your thumb, accelerate and wait for the pressure to build as the little angry engine hammers pound against a limiter set to around 4,500 rpm.

The entire car shakes, vibrates and rattles under the forces that are not yet allowed to be released. Release the clutch and handbrake at the same time and the Huckster is freed. All four wheels spin for a moment, but you have to be alert immediately to shift to second, then to three and to four, then brake hard, push the lever forward to downshift, then apply the handbrake briefly. , feel the car rotate, let the angle build up until it looks like you're going backwards and then: full on the gas.

There is now a lot of wheelspin, but still enough traction to turn the car and keep it that way. Don't be tempted to counter-steer to correct the angle. 'More gas. The answer is always more gas,” shouts Travis. He is right. The engine is phenomenal.

Despite a specific output of 375 hp per liter, it is so tractable, and the throttle response is wonderfully accurate. Not that Travis notices. He just uses it like it's a button, and I really notice that my old habits are getting in the way.

The Family Huckster eats tires

I treat the accelerator like fluff and mainly try to hold the angle. That works, there is less smoke, but of course also less of that YouTube-breaking shock & awe. Travis will later crush a new set of tires in no more than 45 seconds, while with my more conservative driving style they last a full four minutes. What a world! I'm almost ashamed that I give a set of tires four minutes of life.

If F1 drivers wore out their tires that quickly, it would be a lot more exciting...

The Subaru Family Huckster is a dream. Its intimidation factor lasts one full lap of those big connected roundabouts, with smoke and big flames coming out of that screaming pipe. After that it's pure entertainment.

Is drifting in the Huckster really as easy as we thought?

Even Travis, who by his own admission is a terrible passenger, enjoys himself. “Look at you going, man,” he says as I let one impulse turn into another. 'This is amazing!' My brain somehow translates this to 'you're amazing'. There goes my illness again. Somehow I think I've been proven right.

I don't go off the rails with the Subaru Family Huckster. I crush several sets of tires in glorious fashion. I'm increasingly able to connect drifts together and after some coaching I can even manage that reverse part quite well (backing into a corner and sliding in one direction, and then out of it sliding in the other direction. It's difficult to visualize and from the driver's position I didn't really notice what was happening).

I can do this. It's even easier than, say, drifting a Porsche 911 GT3 around a corner on a closed road for the camera. But I can't do this like Travis Pastrana. With so much dedication, with the added danger of unyielding walls, guardrails, the edge of a lake or a monster truck driving only on its front wheels, and with so much carelessness and style. Nobody can do that. Travis Pastrana is completely unique. Meeting him was a treat. Driving his favorite car ever was unforgettable.