Rev Up: Evel Never Dies

October 15, 2009 11:04pm | by:

"Sure, I was scared. You gotta be an ass not to be scared. But I beat the hell out of death." - Evel Knievel 

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Rev Up. 

It's been busy in my neck of the woods (Charlotte, NC) with the induction of the first five members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In its wake, ESPN has been running movies like Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story and Dale, the titles of which need no explanation. I watched both of them last night and as I laid in bed with a heavy chest I began thinking about some of the stories in motocross that could tell such a tale. Of course, car racing is a much grander scale, but it isn't the size of the story that matters. It's the story itself. 

What if Tom Cruise and the best writers in Hollywood sat down with Doug Henry and learned about "What's Stopping You?" What if they sat down with the Carmichael family and learned about the years they spent living in a motorhome, then later watching their son become the greatest motocross rider that ever lived? They are remarkable tales that I think would move people immensely. 

Then I got to really thinking about the greatest hero on two wheels. My hero. Long before Dale Earnhardt was "The Intimidator" lived the person I call the last true American Hero. 

On March 25, 1967 in Gardena, California, a man by the name of Craig "Evel" Knievel jumped fifteen cars during halftime at a TT motocross event on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Read that again: He jumped 15 cars in 1967. What would become of that? Was he just some sideshow freak? 

90 feet is still a big jump today, so imagine doing it on a 1967 Triumph.

Eight years later Evel performed in front of 80,000 inside Wembley stadium. This was no halftime event. That crowd was there to watch Evel alone. Before his leap he asked the broadcaster, "What does a man have to do bring 80,000 people together?" To which the announcer replied, "You're doing it Evel. You're doing it." As you Evel fans are aware, he crashed. But crashing never deterred the man. In fact, Evel jumped knowing that his machine lacked the gearing to get him enough speed to clear his jump. He lived and thrived off of the energy of a large crowd. They were the reason he jumped. He lived to inspire.

He also lived hard and rough. He drank his way through his millions at least two times and knew the inside of a jail cell. In 1971, the man fist fought a group of Hell’s Angels inside the Cow Palace, sending a few to the hospital. He was the essence of the term "badass."

One of the first stories I remember my Dad telling me was after the time he watched Evel jump at the Kansas State Fair. At Christmas time I always ran to my uncle's room and played with his wind-up and release Evel toy. I got a 1982 PW50 and the first thing I did was use a piece of wood to jump my sandbox. 15 years later I jumped an RM250 200 feet across a [202 foot] ravine in Chile. Evel Knievel has always been there with me. 

Bowyer's own famous wreck is at 3:15.

What do the kids today have for inspiration? I suppose Peyton Manning, Jimmie Johnson, and Ricky Carmichael are pretty solid American heroes. But will their efforts be so vivid 40 years from now? I hope so, because I've enjoyed living with the inspiration of my heroes. 

This Saturday is Evel's birthday. He has been gone for three years but he will never, ever be forgotten. "EK" is the reason I can't stop riding motocross. As long as I am financially and physically able I will never stop riding and jumping. 

That said, I'd like to urge you guys to watch Together and Dale this weekend. And if you're looking for a good read try The Last American Hero by Tom Wolfe. Until they make a real movie about motocross, those three stories will put some steam in your step, I promise.

Or just spend a few hours watching YouTube clips of Evel Knievel. Evel never dies.

Thanks for reading, see you next week.