Every modern motorcyle and extreme sports daredevil since the 1960s and 1970s stands in the long shadow of stunt rider Evel Knievel. The Butte, Montana, native and international showman built a legacy of thrilling audiences with death-defying leaps on his motorcyle over long distances. From the grisly televised crash at Caesar’s Palace in December 1967 to jumping 15 buses in Wembley Stadium in London in May 1975, Knievel conquered the public’s imagination. He had spectacular failures and reportedly broke more than 400 bones in his battered body over his long years as a showman extraordinaire and one-of-a-kind daredevil.
Knievel completely invented himself, his persona, and his brand of entertainment from the ground up, with his imagination knowing no boundaries. His first recorded jump, according to the new documentary on his life called Being Evel, was over two cougars and a box of rattle snakes in Moses Lake, Washington, and he crashed open the box of snakes who got away. He then built up his reputation the hard way, show after show, and also crash after crash. His greatest media stunt, and failure too, was attempting to jump in a specialized vehicle over the Snake River Canyon on Sept. 8, 1974, with him crashing yet again in the canyon floor. But he got back up and kept at it.
As a kid, I likely fell under the Kneivel spell, and saw him many times on TV, on lunch boxes, and on tabloid newspaper covers. He made more than half a dozen appearances on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in the 1970s, when I was growing up. He personified a type of fearless recklessness that excites nearly every young boy, and inspires a few to try such feats later in life. The current climate of Red Bull fueled stunts, jumping from outer space to leaping from cliff faces in wing suits, owes it all to him. Knievel proved you can become a legend if you are willing to put it all on the line and entertain the masses while doing it. Knievel died in 2007 at 69 years of age, a badass to the end, being totally himself.
The photos above were taken at the Omak Stampede in August 2013. I took these shots during practice for a great half-time event at the stampede later that night. Three daredevils, whose names I now cannot find, put on a show with multiple leaps on their dirt bikes and four wheeler. The best rider did a back flip during the show on his bike and totally nailed the landing. They had all of their gear in trailers they hauled by trucks, a bit like Knievel. All three of these guys were accompanied by a trio of totally beautiful women, who stood proudly by their sides. In that way, nothing has changed since Knievel’s day. The daredevil is made of different stuff, and it is the stuff that still appeals to women who like dangerous men. As Knievel may or may not have said, “bones heal, pain is temporary, [and] chicks dig scars… .”