Even if you’re not familiar with the world of motorcycle stunt performers, you’ve probably heard of Evel Knievel. This name has become synonymous with daredevilry and recklessness because Evel himself was a daredevil and shockingly reckless. He enthralled generations of fans with his near impossible stunts and gained national and international acclaim.
Before he became a stunt performer and a daredevil motorcyclist, Knievel jumped from one job to another in an effort to get a solid career, support his family, and get the success he desired. Eventually, Knievel recalled a childhood memory of a Joie Chitwood Thrill show and decided to try his hand at performing stunts, only on a motorcycle instead of a car. His first show was entirely self-promoted and sponsored.
He handled everything from the press releases to the hosting and managed to attract a small crowd. That show became the turning point in his life, and he then started pursuing stunt performance actively. He started with a team and had a few successful performances before he went on to a solo career.
His Most Memorable Performances
His first successful performance was with his stunt performing team Evel Knievel and His Motorcycle Daredevils. It was held on January 3rd, 1966 and was a huge success. His next performance left him hospitalized because he attempted a new stunt and failed to get it right. This team broke up after a repeat and successful performance of the show and Knievel decided to embark on a solo career. To stand apart from other professionals in this industry, he decided to jump over cars instead of water or animals.
With each jump, he added more cars and that drew larger and larger crowds to his shows. He was relatively injury-free during this period until a performance in Missoula on June 19th. He tried to jump over 12 cars and one cargo van and failed, leading to a horrific crash with serious injuries. The accident did wonders to his career because it created a publicity windfall.
After he recovered, he was back at it and more people came to his shows. With every successful jump, people wanted more. They wanted more cars, more jumps, wilder stunts, and Knievel certainly delivered.
On May 30th in 1967, he successfully jumped over 16 cars in a show in Gardenia, CA. He tried to repeat the same stunt in Graham, WA but this resulted in a serious crash. After that, his career took off with an appearance on The Joey Bishop Show.
When Knievel saw the fountains at Caesars Palace, he knew he had to jump over them. He managed to gain permission to do so and had his wife film the stunt because he wanted ABC to air it. When he took off, his motorcycle slowed down unexpectedly and he couldn’t stick the landing. While Knievel couldn’t make the 141ft jump, it did take his career further and ABC purchased the rights to the footage of the jump.
Record Breaking Shows
Knievel wanted to perform a jump in the Grand Canyon but he couldn’t get permission; however, he still kept his career active.
- On January 7th and 8th in 1971, he organized two back-to-back performances at the Houston Astrodome and over 100,000 tickets were sold, setting the record for motorcycle performance shows.
- On February 28th of the same year, Knievel jumped over 19 cars and set a new world record at the Ontario Motor Speedway in California. That particular record was held for 27 years.
- His next record setting jump was at Kings Island, OH. He jumped over 14 Greyhound buses and landed safely on the 14th That record was held for 24 years and it was his longest successful jump that spanned 133ft.
Knievel had several other successful and interesting jumps over the course of his career and inspired many others to follow in his footsteps.
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