Evel begets Evel as the daredevil son of Knievel outjumps father's record

Amol Rajan
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:28

When, on 30 November last year, Robert Craig (Evel) Knievel died in his bed aged 69, not just America but the whole world lost a legend. He was, after all, the most daring and the most successful stuntman ever to have lived.

It seemed certain the like of Knievel, who earned his sobriquet from local police in Butte, Montana, where in his youth he had been a notorious thief and vandal, would not be seen again.

But on Saturday night, at the scene of one of the daredevil's most famous stunts, a maverick motorcyclist with more than just a sartorial resemblance to the late Knievel broke one of his most cherished records. The usurper even had the same name.

At least he kept it in the family. By jumping over 24 delivery trucks at a theme park in Ohio, Robbie "Kaptain" Knievel, aka Evel Knievel II, broke his father's record and proved himself to be a chip off the old block.

"Hopefully, I'll see you after the jump," Knievel Jnr told an enthralled crowd of several thousand before he lined up his bike and tugged at the accelerator.

He had publicly declared that he would need to be going at 95 miles per hour (153kph) at take-off for the 220ft (67-metre) jump, which began from a three-storey tall ramp at Kings Island theme park near Cincinnati.

In the trademark white overalls, a stars-and-stripes-themed helmet, and sunglasses, he successfully completed the jump, spending around two-and-a-half seconds in the air before landing to shooting flames, booming music and wild cheers of adulation from the crowd.

After his successful landing, Knievel Jnr, 46, gave the crowd a thumbs up, rode back and forth giving high-fives, and conducted a celebratory wheelie.

"He took a really hard shot at the landing," Jeff Lowe, Knievel's business partner, said. "But he's thrilled. We're all thrilled. He was a lot more nervous about this jump than he let on."

Thirty-three years earlier at the same venue, the original Evel Knievel had jumped the much shorter length of 115ft over 14 buses, in an event watched by more than half of the nation's television viewers.

Relatively speaking, it had been a more minor achievement in the extraordinary career of one of America's most beloved public figures, a man who over nearly seven decades lived his very own, leather-clad, adrenaline-fuelled version of the American dream.

Evel Knievel, whose long hair, tight trousers, shoulder cape, white leather and gold-topped cane did much to propel him to stardom, said that he rode bikes because life without them was boring. Even now, he retains a place in Guinness World Records – for the person who broke most limbs (35 in all).

In his poverty-stricken youth Knievel had sold newspapers, worked as a miner, stolen hubcaps, cracked safes, sold insurance, burgled, and run a hockey team, the Butte Bombers, before allegedly absconding with the money from their biggest game.

He turned to stunts in a desperate attemptto raise cash, jumping over boxes of rattlesnakes and mountain lions to establishing his reputation.

His two most-watched jumps were both abject failures, which only added to his appeal. In 1967 he smashed a hip, femur, wrist, and both ankles attempting to clear the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Seven years later he almost drowned while failing to clear the Snake River Canyon, a quarter-of-a-mile wide, in Idaho, having strapped two rocket engines on to his Harley Davidson.

Robbie Knievel, the third of Evel's four children, has completed more than 250 jumps, setting 20 world records along the way. He doesn't have quite the authenticity of his father, however, preferring to use specially designed Honda moto-cross bikes rather than a Harley.

But his father's patriotic instincts certainly have been passed on. Yesterday, Knievel junior dedicated his latest stunt to his father, US war veterans, and those serving in the military.

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