Sunday, July 8 at 5 p.m. Travis Pastrana will perform his latest stunt. Broadcast live on History Channel, the affable Nitro Circus frontman will recreate three of Evel Knievel’s most iconic jumps. He will jump 55 crushed cars, 16 buses, and the famous (or infamous) Caesars Palace Fountains—all in the space of three hours on live TV.
Just before a testing session in June, we caught up with Pastrana to talk out the impetus of the project, how he connects to Evel Knievel and what is it going to be like jumping a 450-pound Indian Scout FTR750.
How did this whole idea come about from the get go? Was it yours or was it somebody else? Nitro Circus? Indian?
Well, what's really interesting is Nitro is going in a bunch of different directions—basically in any way, shape or form to try to grow motorcycles or action sports. And we’re growing as a media company as well as a live show company, creating products and stuff like that. So a lot of the networks are coming to Nitro and saying, “hey, we want live stunts.” We really had to sit down and said “well, you know, there's so many big jumps but it's getting less and less people interested.” If you jumped 400 feet or 420 feet the crowd is not really into it. And then if anything goes wrong it really is life and death. Any stunt these days, I mean, it's big.
So we thought when History Channel came to us and said, “What can we do that we can tell a story that's been around for a while?” And that's still a challenge that can hopefully help grow motorcycles and get your stunts back into the public eye. Also something that hasn't really been done before in this way or hasn't been done recently. Dave Matias was actually the one that said “well, what about a tribute to the man that kind of started stunts?” What people think of him and what he's done. They think of the Evel Knievel "V".
We jump dirt bikes for a living. This is what he did. So let's get a special where everyone's talking about Evel's past and kind of how this all started. And when we start thinking about that, Evel jumped a lot of different motorcycles. Obviously the XR750 was what he was probably most known for. But we started looking at who's really pushing the motorcycle industry. We talked to Roland Sands, and Roland said, "Man, Indian is it right now." There's a resurgence of people who want to go work on stuff.
Even NASCAR did a study, and they're like, "Why is the next generation not coming around as much?” And it's because fathers are working on their cars in the garage. They're not talking about racing as much or not working on the stuff. That's what's so great about these bikes. They're simple; you can customize it, and you can modify it. You can make it street legal and go drive it on the road. If you want you can go race it. You can go dirt track it, and yeah, they're not meant for flying. But that's the challenge for me. I thought, "How hard was it?" And then he was like, "Well, how far do you want to go?
I said to Roland, "Did he really wear dress boots?" It looked like it, and then we found the same manufacturer that he did his boot and got him. Be careful what you ask for!
So you are not wearing moto-boots?
No. Dress boots! They're high heels. Top to bottom: Leather suit. Cape. Man. The whole thing. But that's what it used to be—it was about a show. He was a salesman. And at the end of the day that's what has kind of been lost.
You're selling the excitement of jumping motorcycles so people down the road say, "I remember when Travis Pastrana jumped."
One-hundred percent. This is still a tribute. So why am I going bigger? Because at the end of the day he was the pioneer—the first one. We have a motorcycle that is similar, but let's face it, it's lighter, it's better, it's faster. We have more experience jumping stuff. The ramp angles are not a wedge. So we've done the most that we can to make it as similar as possible but also use a lot of the modern technology. I mean, Evel would have never set this up (pointing at the practice ramps). Our goal is not to crash, but if it does happen to be as prepared as possible. Like people say, "You're not a failure till you fail to get back up." So I get three jumps; if I crash on the first one I better get back up and finish this stuff out!
So you haven't ridden this bike much?
I've had one day out here (Perris testing grounds). We just set up real short before we really told anyone about it just to make sure that it was something that was possible before everyone gets out here, and then, I'm like, "nope! I can't." Now we're in. Which is scary because we've only got next week for testing out here. I've never flown it taking off and landing on a ramp. There's a lot that's yet to be done.
How do you expect it to fly? Do you expect it to fly old-school Evel-style with the front in the air and you hanging off the back? Or will it be more like a dirt bike—flatter and with more control?
I've seen a lot of flat track jumps, and honestly my first jump I took over there was only about 60 feet. I say "only" but considering what we're going to have to do...the front end was straight up and down. I was like, "you've got to be kidding.” I was just giggling in my head. Yup, full Evel. We were going to do wedge ramps, which is why his front end was always up. But as we found that with cars and anything else, if you have a constant radius that helps get the front end down. So using our technology, we should flatten that out.
Which jump is going to be the biggest challenge?
The car jump is going to be the flattest takeoff to the flattest landing. We've got plenty of run-in and enough run-out there. I don't know exactly where the final spot will be on location but that should be the easiest.
The next one, the bus jump, is going to be the steepest takeoff. It's going to be the highest landing, not the highest air because obviously at the Caesars Palace Fountains we have a pretty big step-down. But for me that's going to be the most hang time and that will be different.
But Caesars—I want to get it back to at least as big as Evel jumped it; I'd like to get it back to 180 feet. Metzger did it at a sweet spot of 120, so you can build over the fountains. But this being a tribute, it’s not to go smaller than he did in the ’70s. It's to go bigger. That's not to undermine what Evel did, obviously. This is more just to kind of stay with his mentality. How far can we fly with circumstances?
What's your first memory of Evel Knievel? Is there anything that stands out for you as a kid?
I have pictures of me before I can remember playing with the Evel wind-up toy. His character was broken by the time I can remember it; I really only remember playing with the motorcycle and not the actual Evel toy. But before my first memories there was Evel, and as far as I can remember through my whole life. Not to say it's been based around Evel but he has been a part of it in many ways.
How has Indian been throughout this project?
That's what’s been really cool. I went to Roland first to just kind of make sure. Everyone thinks of that number one symbol associated with Harley and with Evel. I asked them “do we want to go away from that?” But Evel jumped a lot of stuff. It's not our main goal, but our secondary goal is to help build up the motorcycle industry. And the company that is doing that the best right now, the company that is helping and supporting the motorcycle industry, and the company that has the most modern of the Evel-era kind of dirt track bike is definitely Indian.