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Evel Knievel

Brian D'AmbrosioBrian D'Ambrosio is a writer/editor living in Missoula, Montana. D'Ambrosio is the author of more than 300 articles and five books related to Montana history, people, and travel.

On May 27, 1975, after a night of revelry with fans in London, Evil Knievel knew he couldn't make the 13-bus jump.

But with 70,000 spectators gawking, the Montana daredevil tried anyhow.

He thudded hard on the front wheel on the plywood safety extension that covered the top of the last two buses. The motorcycle sprung high in the air. He was flipped forward.

Knievel’s guts and hard-living lifestyle left an indelible impression on subsequent generations of daredevils and uncontrolled renegades committed to testing – and exceeding – boundaries. Not too many people understood the benefit of branding the threat of danger more than Knievel.

Knievel’s residual celebrity value is strong.

The 14th Evel Knievel Days prevails as a testament to the Butte-born father of extreme sports. Between July 23 and 25, five extreme world records could be set. One of which features daredevil and filmmaker Gregg Godfrey, who plans to jump Evel’s fully restored Mack semi-trailer in front of the Finlen Hotel, 100 E. Broadway. The Mack was plucked out of a hay field several years ago. Godfrey hopes to smash the 60-foot jumping record by clearing 100 feet.

Godfrey said that he will even wear the blue and white suit Knievel wore when he violently miscalculated his landing at Wembley Stadium. What a crash it was. He struggled to hang on. He landed and spun over and spun again. When he stopped spinning, the motorcycle rolled on top of him. Announcer Frank Gifford saw a bone jutting out of Knievel’s hand. He saw blood leaking from his mouth. Gifford later said that he didn’t believe that anyone could ever survive such an impact.

Carried toward an ambulance, Knievel refused medical service. He wanted to walk to the ramp to talk to the people. He wanted a microphone. He asked to be helped up. Groggy, bloodied, and imbalanced, he made his announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen of this wonderful country,” he said, “have to tell you that you are the last people in the world who will see me jump. Because I will never, ever, ever jump again. I’m through.”

“Yeah, he went down hard on that day,” said Godfrey. “Evel got knocked out and concussed, but he still got up and talked to the crowd. He was literally broken. But he got up and said, ‘you are the last audience to ever see me jump.’ It’s an honor. And I’m not going to lie: I’ve been wearing the suit out and showing it off to my kids. This is a great jump, and I’m going to nail it in the spirit of Evel.”

Godfrey and his family have become famous for their high-risk aerobatics; he travels the country performing in Nitro Circus Live, a pop culture jamboree with action sports athletes who perform loud, precarious tricks and stunts on anything with wheels. A native of Utah, Godfrey’s earliest memories are of track strips, racing motorcycles, and falling in love with the power and speed of cars. Sometime in the mid-1970s, he remembers seeing Evel Knievel.

“He had such a mystique,” said Godfrey, 46. “It shook my foundation and changed my core. He showed up, I was something like 8. It was at a national motorcross race in Utah called the Widowmaker. It was so dramatic, the stairs came down, and he walked out. He had the name, the presence, the showmanship, and the actual balls to do it. Nitro Circus was built off that same format. All of that came from the idea of how can we excite and inspire just like the man from Butte, Montana.”

After graduating from film school Godfrey said that he went to work at Disney, but he said it just wasn't the right environment. He reverted to motorcycle, and began making films about his adventures, casting Utah as a backdrop.

While Godfrey compliments Knievel as the personification of a glorious era of showmanship, the Knievel family is thrilled that Godfrey attached himself to the latest Evel Knievel Days.

“I think it's awesome,” said Alicia Knievel Vincent of K and K Promotions Inc. “Just like my dad was proud of the competitors he inspired at the X-games, he would have been honored that the guy who invented the Nitro Circus wanted to wear his leathers to attempt a world record-breaking stunt at Evel Knievel Days.”

Godfrey said that jumping with a semi-trailer is much more difficult than jumping with a car. He will need to strike the ramp at between 75 and 80 miles per hour. He once launched a school bus with eight people inside. It flew 180 feet at a top speed of 80. Despite sitting in a protective cage, the impact broke several of his teeth.

“Anything at a certain speed is going to fly the same distance,” said Godfrey. “Why is it that nobody has yet jumped a semi? I’m not sure. Maybe I can make it big and gain respect.”

In 2008, Godfrey set a world record for the longest ramp jump by a truck cab, which measured 50 feet 6 inches. Rain or shine, hot or cold, his appetite for battering intensity rarely changes.

“It’s all completely stupid and illogical,” said Godfrey. “But I have five world records and I want six. It’s just about creating danger in an element of suspense and excitement. Evel created the phenomena that he did, and I’ll forever try to understand and mimic what he did.”

Instead of fear or consternation, Godfrey has found fulfillment.

“It’s fun to do stuff that nobody else will do and put on a show,” said Godfrey. “It’s pretty simple: you pin it, you get the speed and you go for it. I love that feeling. And if it gets people stoked for the moment, well, it’s worth it. I am a little nervous about the truck slamming down at that weight and that speed. That truck is heavy. It could land on me and destroy me. But I think it’s worth it.”

Sentiments spoken with the ‘Evelist’ of intentions, indeed.


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Evel Knievel