The comparison between Evel Knievel and Travis Pastrana is almost too easy to make. Both men jumped motorcycles, broke bones, and pushed boundaries. While that comparison is easy to make, the further deeper you dive, the more the two men start to look like one. Pastrana isn't a copycat, he's the second coming.
It's less that he chose to recreate some of Evel’s stunts in the upcoming Las Vegas “Evel Live” show on July 8, and more that the universe did.
Robert Craig Knievel Jr. was an all-around athlete and mischief maker in his early years. He participated in rodeos and ski jumping events and competed as a pole vaulter on the Army's track team. He worked as a big-game hunter and motocross racer. He gave himself the nickname “Evel Knievel” after being thrown in jail when a police chase ended in a motorcycle crash which put him in a cell next to a guy named William Knofel, who was also known as “Awful Knofel.”
Evel was a Jack-of-all-trades but found that he could support his family by performing stunts, through both admission fees and as marketing events for dealerships. He took his show on the road but, after a series of copycats also began jumping water features or live animals, Evel introduced the idea of jumping cars. In order to entice people to come back and see him when he’d return to cities, he’d add more cars to his jump – often with disastrous results.
Over the course of his career, Evel completed all sorts of insane jumps – earning him records both for jumped distances (19 cars stacked end-to-end, as well as 14 buses stacked end-to-end) and broken bones (it may have been as many as 433 fractures).
One of the more notable quotes that Evel was known for is, “You aren’t a failure until you fail to get back up.” It was also the mantra by which Robert Pastrana, Travis’s father, raised his son on (who began riding motorcycles at the age of four).
However, Pastrana's path towards jumping motorcycles has been a little more traditional. Pastrana raced as a kid, earning a series of 125cc championships in 1999 and 2000, and his stunt career kickstarted simultaneously with the very first MotoX Freestyle event at the 1999 X-Games. Pastrana is credited with landing the first backflip on a motorcycle.
Since then, Pastrana has had his hands in just about anything that will get his adrenaline pumping and that he can push to the limits. He's raced rally cars, NASCAR and monster trucks. Nitro Circus, the “action sports collective” that he's the figurehead of, has grown into a TV show and massive stunt show that tours internationally, and his home in Maryland has become ground-zero for all things insane.
We were with Travis for the first day of testing and practice for his next endeavor: a series of three jumps recreating some of the most famous stunts done by Evel Knievel. The July 8 event in Las Vegas, Nevada will see Travis jumping over 52 cars, then over 16 buses, and finally a recreation of Evel's ill-fated Caesars Palace fountain. He'll be making the jumps on an Indian FTR750 flat track race bike which has actually only had minor adjustments to stiffen the suspension and adjust the handlebar and footpeg positioning for comfort and ergonomics.
This stunt, as dangerous and harrowing as it is, is more of an homage to Evel rather than a continuation of his legacy. Sure, simply standing on top of the almost 12 foot takeoff of the bus jump and looking at the 150 foot or so gap to the landing was enough to make my knees shake—but these are stunts Evel did (or did close to) 50 years ago and on much worse machines with much poorer planning.
This stunt is more about things coming full circle. A thank you and a sign of respect from one man who's lived with the throttle pinned wide to the next, and from an entire community of enthusiasts and riders to the guy that showed us we could do more if you just refused to accept defeat.
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