Motor-sports star to recreate daredevil's stunts

Evel Knievel jumping over 10 Mack trucks (left) at Dragway 42 in Cleveland in May 1974. The motorcycle daredevil (right) died in 2007.
Evel Knievel jumping over 10 Mack trucks (above) at Dragway 42 in Cleveland in May 1974.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Evel Knievel jumping over 10 Mack trucks (left) at Dragway 42 in Cleveland in May 1974. The motorcycle daredevil (right) died in 2007.
The motorcycle daredevil (above) died in 2007.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK • Evel Knievel was an American daredevil who always jumped at any opportunity to stretch the limits of motorcycle stunt-making.

With his signature patriotic jumpsuit and audacious leaps over buses, cars and sharks, he became one of the defining figures of the 1970s, putting the fear of death into sold-out audiences.

In this case, the death they were afraid of was his.

To be fair, he did not always crash. But he was as famous for his failures - such as the New Year's Eve jump over the Caesars Palace fountain in Las Vegas in 1967 - as he was for his successes, such as his 1971 vault over 18 cars and a van at the Ontario Motor Speedway in California.

The stunts made him famous - spawning films, late-night talk-show appearances and merchandise for his growing fan base.

Yesterday, one of the world's biggest extreme-sports stars was set to pay tribute to the man, born Robert Craig Knievel, in a special for the History channel.

Motor-sports competitor Travis Pastrana will attempt to recreate three of Knievel's jumps on live television as part of Evel Live - the Caesars Palace one; a failed attempt to clear 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in London; and a successful jump over 50 stacked cars at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

All of Pastrana's jumps will take place in Las Vegas.

"He wanted to put on a show," Pastrana, 34, said of Knievel's allure. "He said he was going to do something. Even if the bike wasn't fast enough or if it was too big, he did it anyway."

Until New Year's Eve in 1967, Knievel had mostly performed in front of small crowds.

The Caesars Palace jump was the event that put him on the map.

He was attempting to, with a Triumph motorcycle, soar over the fountain at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in front of his largest crowd to date. Amazingly, he had landed the gig via a con.

He repeatedly called the owner of Caesars, Mr Jay Sarno, pretending to be lawyers and businessmen asking when the jump was.

Finally, Knievel called, pretending to be his own representative - and threatened to sue Mr Sarno for using his name without permission to promote an event he knew nothing about. This got him a meeting with Mr Sarno and a real event.

Knievel fell short on the jump and suffered several broken bones, including a crushed pelvis.

But the moment became immortalised in pop culture because footage of the event, shot by actress Linda Evans, went the 1967 equivalent of viral. ABC repeatedly played the video - setting the stage for Knievel's rise to household fame.

In 1975, he needed to make a big splash after another much-hyped stunt flopped. He went to Britain.

In front of almost 100,000 people at Wembley stadium in London, he tried to clear 13 buses.

"He was kind of used up in America, so he thought, how could he sell himself again?" Leigh Montville, author of The High-Flying Life Of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil And Legend, said.

"Nobody knew who he was when he got there, but he created such a demand with the English press."

At Wembley, Knievel hit the 13th bus and was hurled over the handlebars. He fractured his vertebrae and was carried off in a stretcher.

But before he could reach the ambulance, he stopped and addressed the audience.

"Ladies and gentlemen of this wonderful country," he said. "I have to tell you that you are the last people in the world who will see me jump. Because I will never, ever, ever jump again. I'm through."

He then eschewed the stretcher and walked off on his own accord.

But his retirement did not last, with him calling it a day only years later in 1980. He died in 2007.

Yesterday, Pastrana attempted to rev up the daredevil's reputation again - and TV viewers were once again put in fear.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2018, with the headline 'Motor-sports star to recreate daredevil's stunts'. Print Edition | Subscribe