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Article By: J. Ken Conte
Photos By: History Channel
Originally Published In The September 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s has heard of the iconic Evel Knievel and is familiar with his larger-than-life personality and brand. It is no wonder that a pro like Travis Pastrana, and his extreme entertainment company, Nitro Circus, chose to honor Evel Knievel by doing three of his most iconic jumps. Live on the History Channel in Las Vegas. I was fascinated by extreme sports athletes when I was young. People like Tony Hawk and Matt Hoffman. I understood they had been influenced by the first extreme athlete, Evel Knievel. Okay, okay, here come the haters. The ones who think Robbie Knievel, Travis Pastrana and every other extreme motorcycle athlete are riding the coattails of the original master of extreme entertainment. I didn’t go there to change peoples mind’s; I went to see for myself what the hype was about and, ultimately, to see if this was going to be the historic event it was billed as and if it truly paid homage to Evel. I mean, it was called Evel Live, so it seemed as though they knew exactly what they were doing.
Let me take a step back to 2004, when I worked with Robbie Knievel on his Knievel’s Wild Ride television show. He was doing his last jump for the reality show in Colorado, and I worked with the promoter to help with PR and marketing for the jump. It was hyped up beyond belief, and this was at the height of the custom motorcycle craze, with so many motorcycle television shows that it was hard to keep track of them all. What I found with Robbie Knievel was a true showman who crossed the boundaries of every demographic. Evel Live had that same vibe—there were so many people from all walks of life, young and old, who had descended on Las Vegas in stifling heat to be a part of motorcycle history.
Arriving in Vegas, I knew I wasn’t guaranteed all access just because I’m a member of the motorcycle media. But I was hoping I’d be in a position to view, photograph and take video of all three jumps. As I rode from the airport to the hotel, I got to pass by the car and buss jump site. The Greyhound bus jump looked long. Really long. The AC in the car couldn’t keep the cold sweats from materializing—this was a life-ordeath jump. I’d seen all the footage from Evel’s crashes, and, no matter how many times I viewed them, they always made me cringe. Was this going to be an iconic crash or a history-making trifecta of a day? As we pulled up to Caesars Palace I noticed the ramps, chain link and no-air fences and a very short take off ramp. I made my way through the lobby and was greeted by a wax replica of Evel, a cutout of his Indian FTR 750 and an awesome backdrop. I just happened to catch legendary skater Christian Hosoi as he was getting his picture taken in front of it. The History Channel, Caesars Palace and Nitro Circus were pulling out all the stops for this event, and it was great to see a mainstream media source backing our sport. After I got my credentials, some of us media members were shuttled over to a neighboring property to the first two jumps sites and led to the media bleachers, which thankfully had some shade and was stocked with ice-cold water. Out of all the media there, I was one of two motorcyclespecific outlets I talked to. Most were mainstream media outlets, like the AP, sports shows and local TV and radio. The heat index climbed steadily, and clouds started to roll in, threatening rain. The wind picked up, blowing in with gusts of over 15 miles per hour. The first jump was really a warm up for the second jump, which seemed to be the most extreme.
The first jump featured Travis on his Indian Motorcycle FTR 750, which had been highly modified, jumping over 52 crushed cars that stretched over 143 feet. If successful, he would exceed Evel’s 1973 record jump of 50 cars. He pulled it off, seemingly with ease. The live crowd and Travis were so pumped after the first jump that waiting for the second one felt like an eternity. The second stunt saw Pastrana soar over 16 Greyhound buses, for a total of 192 feet, which surpassed Evel’s 1975 jump where he cleared 14 buses. Immediately following the landing of the second jump, I headed out toward Caesars, hoping to get a good view of the fountain jump. I arrived at the media viewing area with plenty of time to spare and waited diligently with all the other photographers. We had prime spots, and the anticipation just added to the excitement in the air. The police had to close off Las Vegas Boulevard, in front of Caesars, because so many people wanted to see the jump live. There were an estimated 25,000 people watching the jumps on hand, and, as I took it all in, you could feel the energy and anticipation.
The fountain jump was not particularly long. In 2006, Mike Metzger had done a back flip over it. In 1989, Robbie Knievel had jumped the fountain on a Honda CR 500. This jump had different obstacles, though—Travis was riding a heavier V-Twin Indian FTR 750, with limited suspension travel and a limited distance to get up to speed. But, in typical Travis Pastrana fashion, he nailed the jump, although he landed pretty hard, but managed to pull it out. He celebrated with fans by jumping in the fountain afterward. I’m guessing he needed to cool off after having that leather suit on for hours in 102-degree heat. I had the opportunity to meet Travis after the jump and watch him interact with fans. Some kids were so overcome with emotion that they were crying. In my opinion, if Evel Live gets more kids out on bikes, celebrating motorcycles and risk taking, they accomplished their goal. We need more athletes and idols like Travis while paying homage to the past, that show kids that risk taking is good—sometimes it hurts, but when it works out, you can be king for a day, until you push yourself again