Fifty years after Evel Knievel so famously wiped out trying to jump the fountain at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, action sports wild man Travis Pastrana will try to nail the stunt Sunday night in the finale of a triple-header tribute to the late daredevil.
It’s a daunting proposition even for Pastrana, who is winding down a career in which he’s done some pretty crazy things.
If he sticks it, what a way to go out.
“For me, this is going to be really awesome,” Pastrana said in a phone interview. “All my family is coming out and so many of my friends are coming out. I literally get to live a day in Evel Knievel’s boots, if you will. I’m pretty nervous. It’s keeping me up a little bit at night.”
That’s a heck of an admission from Pastrana. But when the History Channel came to Nitro Circus, which Pastrana co-founded, looking for a live event that crossed a couple of generations, “it was pretty much a no-brainer. I thought, I definitely have to do something about the man who started action sports. He was the first one who showed that you could jump a motorcycle.”
Pastrana’s attempt to jump the fountain will cap “Evel Live,” a three-hour telecast on the History Channel.
Before he tries to become the first person to successfully clear the Caesars Palace fountain, the 34-year-old Pastrana will try to exceed two other famous jumps by Knievel. He’ll try to surpass Knievel’s jump over 50 crushed cars, done at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1973, and then beat by two the stuntman’s jump over 14 Greyhound buses, accomplished in 1975 at Ohio’s Kings Island amusement park.
The first two jumps will be behind Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Paris Las Vegas and Bally’s Las Vegas. Pastrana will then get a police escort to Caesars Palace.
Pastrana will attempt the jumps on an Indian Scout FTR750, a modern-day evolution of the flat track bikes of the past. He said it’s double the weight of the dirt bikes he normally uses in jumps, with three times the power and about one-third of the suspension travel.
“I got on the Indian and it was like, ‘Holy cow, it’s like jumping a tank.’ Now I understand why Evel crashed so much.”
Pastrana will jump the fountain in the opposite direction that Knievel did. Because the area is more built out than it was 50 years ago, he’ll have less space for the run-in and will have to accelerate as hard as he can.
“I literally have to hit 68 mph in under 200 feet,” he said. “With his high-heel dress boots, if I miss a shift, I’m in the fountain for sure.”
That’s right, Pastrana will even be dressed like Knievel, in a white jumpsuit with the blue V and white stars.
“Even down as far as the boots,” he said. “I went to a tailor and they’re probably the most expensive shoes I have. They’re made for going out, not for jumping.”
Knievel came up short on his attempt at jumping the fountain, hitting the knuckle just before the landing ramp and losing control. He flew head first over the handlebars and tumbled like a rag doll along the pavement. He crushed his pelvis and fractured several other bones.
“We’re saving the most infamous for last,” Pastrana said. “It’s probably the most infamous stunt location in the world not because of success but because of failure.”
Pastrana was the first to do a double backflip on a motorcycle. On New Year’s Eve 2009, he shattered the world record for the longest jump in a rally car when he traveled 269 feet from the Pine Street Pier in Long Beach onto a barge anchored in the harbor. He celebrated by doing a backflip off the landing ramp into the chilly water.
As part of the Nitro Circus TV show, he rode dirt bikes off a ramp into the Grand Canyon and parachuted the rest of the way down; and jumped out of a plane without a parachute, confident that a skydiver who jumped out at the same time would catch up to him and guide him to earth.
Pastrana announced himself to the action sports world when at age 15 he celebrated an X Games gold medal by jumping his motorcycle into San Francisco Bay in 1999. That stunt got him into a fair bit of trouble, and he lost his prize money and medal.
Pastrana said he met Knievel when he was 16.
“I’ve always been not necessarily a huge fan but I was inspired by him. My dad always kind of lived by Evel’s theory that you’re not a failure until you fail to get back up.”
Knievel died in 2007 at age 69.
“Evel was known for his showmanship. It’s really about the spectacle, to bring back some of that flash,” Pastrana said.
“This is going to be a huge challenge for me,” he added. “This whole night is kind of an ode to the stuntman. It’s not really about me, even though it’s going to be one, hopefully, if it works out the way I hope, an awesome capper to a career.”
Pastrana said his oldest daughter is about to start kindergarten so he wants to stay home more. He’ll continue working with Nitro Circus, more on the creative side.
“It’s the final step of me putting everything on the line. It’s scary but I think it’s pretty exciting,” he said.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson