In roughly three weeks time, Travis Pastrana will attempt arguably one of his most impressive/iconic stunts all in the name of Evel Knievel. In a sense, Knievel paved the way for today’s action sports stunts, so TP199 is setting out to honor the Evel Knievel legacy by doing recreating three of Evel’s most iconic jumps. The first jump will be over a gap filled with more than 50 crushed cars, the second will see him fly over 16 Greyhound buses and for the third and final jump Pastrana will recreate Evel’s Caesar’s Palace fountain jump. Oh, and did we mention he'”ll be doing all three jumps aboard an Indian Scout FTR750, while wearing a cape and dress boots in true Evel Knievel fashion? We had a few minutes to chat with Travis about the creation of this project, so check out what he had to say…
*The event will take place in Las Vegas, NV on July 8th and will be a 3-hour live broadcast on the History channel.*
Travis, it’s good to see you again and it looks like you’re doing well. But let’s get down to business. Talk about this wild set up that you have out here and the stunts that you plan to complete…
Well, this is a classic case of be careful what you ask for ( laughs). With Nitro Circus, our goal is to build up the action sports community along with the motorcycle community and one of the things that we do is put on these live shows with a bunch of crazy stunts, so we have a lot of networks coming to us with ideas. When the history channel approached us and asked about a live stunt, we all got together and it sat in a room, and I think it was Dave Matais that said, “If this is history related there needs to be some sort of story.” With that said, we were left with the question of “Who started all of this for us?" and the majority of us all had one answer: Evel Knievel. So essentially I’m looking to pay tribute to the man himself! The world record now for distance jumping on a dirt bike is well over 400 feet, so obviously attempting something like that is very high risk because if something goes wrong you’ll likely die. So at that point you almost have to ask yourself “Is it even worth it? Do people really care about it that much?" Hypothetically speaking, if I were to do a distance jump and make it past the current world record by 10 feet or whatever it would be cool don’t get me wrong, but we wanted to go a different route by utilizing a different kind of machine; not just a dirt bike, which are basically made for jumping. We asked ourselves, “What were Evel’s greatest jumps?” Obviously Cesar’s Palace is probably the most iconic stunt location in the history of stunts, ever, so once we learned that we could probably get access to the facility, we then approached Greyhound busses. Evel wore a cape and dress boots, so at that point nothing is about safety. It was about the show, it was about the spectacle. It was a costume essentially (laughs). So we’ve decided to go that route. We’re aiming for a live spectacle in Las Vegas just like what Evel did. We thought, "Let's do a live three hour special where we bring in celebrities that grew up with Even Knievel as their hero." We want to have celebrities come in to talk about their unique experiences and memories of Evel. There are so many kids in the younger generation that have no idea who Evel is, so this is a Great way for us to honor him and to showcase what he was all about. With The resurgence of flat-track racing, Roland Sands is quite arguably at the forefront of that movement, so I wanted him involved in this project. We were then left with the question of what bike was I going to ride. Obviously when you think of Evel you picture that big number 1 on that Harley Davidson. That’s the bike that Evel was known for, but really he jumped everything. Roland Said to me, “Travis, if Nitro Circus is really about the resurgence of action sports and motorcycle riding in general, then it has to be Indian motorcycles." They're a manufacturer that really wants this to come back and they've been making it happen at events like X Games. And to be completely honest, the Indian that I’ll be jumping is about as close as we could get to Evel’s bike when we started with the stock platform. Obviously the bike has a few modifications to it and the ramps that I’ll be jumping aren't wedge jumps, so we are using the technology that we have to make this as safe as possible. At the same time, though, things changed when they asked me which of his jumps I wanted to do because my answer was, “All of them!” As I said before, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it (laughs) and I got it because I’ll be jumping a total of three separate jumps varying in distance. Jump number one will consist of a gap containing over 52 crushed cars, the next jump will take him over 16 Greyhound buses and the third and final jump will be over the Caesar's Palace fountains. I’ve got about a week out here to test and I’ve already jumped the bike to dirt (about 80 feet or so) so I’ve got a little better understanding as to how the bike jumps. Plus, I didn’t want to look like a joke when we invited out all of the press (laughs). We’ve got guys out here building each of the jumps and landings right now, but I’m going to take these on one at a time to build up muscle memory for each jump. I think we’re aiming for somewhere around the 160-180 foot mark to make this as exciting as possible, but I already feel like somewhat of a sissy compared to Evel because of all of the safety precautions involved (laughs). I’m going into these jumps with the same mindset as Evel; I’m doing them no matter the wind or whatever else! Three separate jumps in one night is definitely going to be tough for me. All of his bikes were geared up to go up to a specific speed to ensure that whatever the top speed was wouldn’t take him past the landing. Obviously I won’t have that luxury because the three jumps will require different speeds.
Let’s talk about the machine that you’ll be jumping. It sounds like this was almost a collab of sorts with Roland Sands, as his input is obviously of great value when it comes to these bikes…
This creation is mostly Roland. I told him right off the bat that I don’t know very much about these bikes. It’s twice the weight with a third of the amount of suspension travel that I’m used to riding on and jumping with, but I’ve jumped a lot of different stuff (laughs). Buses, four-wheelers, cars, everything kind of flies so I wasn’t worried about the actual jumping aspect because I feel that I have that covered, so I asked Roland to be the man when it comes to wardrobe and motorcycle authenticity. I gave that creative freedom to Roland and this is what we’ve come up with. I like it because it still has that cool feeling about it and it will still stoke out the guys that race and ride these bikes. I mean I’ve even got my bend of ProTaper bars on there (laughs)! We’ve also made some modifications to the foot pegs, but ultimately it’s still a bike that is a tank that’s not meant to fly.
A few minutes ago, I heard you giving someone a rundown about the bikes weight and suspension travel and all that because this machine is in stark contrast to what you’re usually jumping…
Yeah (laughs)! This bike is twice the weight and it only has a third of the amount of suspension travel as a regular dirt bike. Obviously that is something that I’ll have to acclimate myself too, but the other thing to keep in mind is that this bike puts out a ton of power. It’s been cool working with the guys on this bike because I’m learning so much. This bike is extremely linear and smooth which is what makes it such a good modern dirt-track bike. However, I don’t really have time for linear and smooth because I need as much power as I can get right off the bat since my run up to the jumps is somewhat limited. In all reality, today is a test day of sorts for me on this bike. We are figuring out what parts deliver the most amount of power. We are seeing what speeds we can get up to and how quickly we can get there. On the final jump it will basically be one simple plan; go as fast as I possibly can and don't miss a shift. That’s it! I mean that does make things a little simpler for me, (laughs) but it’s a little scary at the same time. It’s kind of gnarly because if I miss a shift there really isn’t any time for me to stop, so I need to make every move count. Maybe I can aim for the water if I get lucky (laughs).
You briefly touched on your attire for the nights events and it sounds like you’ve got something pretty cool planned out…
I’m wearing a cape, dude… (laughs)! The hardest piece to attain for the whole outfit were the boots. They had to be custom made, and to be completely honest they’re made for going out to the club (laughs). Evel must not have cared about the jumps because he was way more excited for the afterparty if he was jumping in those (laughs) I'm just kidding. It’s no secret that I’ve broken plenty of bones and that includes my ankles, which are both fused from past injuries, so that’s another reason why the boots had to be custom made. Again, I don't want to miss a shift in these boots, so I was talking to my team and we’ve been considering starting off in second gear and shifting to third instead of 1st to 2nd because there’s a chance I could click into neutral accidentally. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m thoroughly looking forward to the event.
Roughly how long ago did this idea popped into your head? Were you able to get right down to business or did you sit on it for sometime before telling anyone else?
It’s taken roughly a year, and I think that’s about the time that the History channel showed real interest in the idea. It’s really cool being involved with Nitro Circus because of the place that it’s at right now. From one side of the spectrum to the other, you have everyone from the Olympics to Weedmaps creating these live, one-off stunt shows. Networks have been coming to us constantly for stuff like this so it’s cool to see that happening. Every day, ideas are thought up by these networks and obviously a lot of them aren’t doable, but occasionally we come across on that really makes us think! A lot of those thoughts look really good on paper, and to be completely honest this stunt just might fall under that category because this is going to be a true challenge from every aspect. However, we’ve got a great crew out here and a great bike! The other challenge is our lack of time for preparation because I really only have a week to figure out how to fly this thing.
Yeah, talk about the amount of preparation time you’ve had for these jumps in Las Vegas. It’s not very extensive, right?
I’m not exactly working with the ideal amount of time for preparation, as we are about three weeks out from the jumps, but that’s fine. I’ve obviously been riding the bike a little bit today for some testing and I’ve done so for about 10 days total, but after today that’s it until it’s showtime! Essentially this is my last day of testing. I’m just going to take this one jump at a time obviously starting with the smallest of the three. I think for added safety we'll even utilize the Nitro airbags that you see during our live shows. Eventually I’ll move up to the final jump, which is the most challenging because we are starting on a platform with only a limited distance for a run-in.
This ramp set up that you’ll be using is pretty unique in that you’ll be up on a platform the whole time, right?
Right! We would’ve done it flat on the ground just like he did, but there is a lot of infrastructure built up around the fountains now. We are just trying to make it as big as we possibly can with what we have to work with.
So it turns out you actually had the pleasure of meeting Evel Knievel. Can we hear that story?
(Laughs) I had just won the Daytona Supercross and I was 16 years old. That was my first Supercross win! I had the ultimate introduction to Evel (laughs). Somebody introduced Evel and I, but this person was talking me up like crazy since I had just won my first race. The guy stopped talking so I said, “Hello Evel, it’s so nice to meet you…” and halfway through my first sentence he interrupted me and said, “That’s great kid… Go get me a beer!” (laughs). Oh! And the best part is that He was judging a Hawaiian Tropics Bikini Contest! So after hearing that Evel was thirsty, I went and found my dad and told him that Evel Knievel told me to get him a beer. My dad did a double take at me and literally ran to the front of the beer line telling people that the beer was for Evel (laughs). So my dad hands me the beer and I took it over to Evel just to hear him say, “Thank you!” This day and age you wouldn’t exactly want that to happen if you actually met your hero, but with him I guess it was expected (laughs). I thought to myself, "That man is living life to the fullest!" Obviously that is defined differently for each person, but that was him! He definitely held true to what I was expecting (laughs).
In your opinion how does this stunt compare to the rest of the crazy things that you’ve done over the course of your life?
I think what makes this gnarly – as is the case with any live event – is that you have to go when they say go regardless of the wind or any other weather condition! Normally, if it’s just a little windy you can sometimes wait it out, but that’s not always the case. For me, I’m taking pride in the fact that I have the opportunity to represent the legacy of Evel. He was the kind of guy that if he said something, he was going to follow through with it. Even if he knew he wasn’t going to make it, he still did it. He was a man of his word in that sense, and I want to uphold that very same value. To be a man of my word like that, I think is my biggest fear. Hopefully the weather will be perfect and we won’t even have to worry about it, but we'll be prepared for it otherwise. This is about representing an icon! In the case that something does happen on the first or second jump and I’m still capable of continuing, then you better believe that’s what I’ll be doing!
This is off topic, but can we talk about your friend Phil Smage that went long on a distance jump in a Razr? That was stomach-turning to say the least, but it appears he’s finally headed in the right direction with his recovery. Can you give us any updates?
That was seemingly one of the biggest fuck-ups in modern stunt history, and being the stunt coordinator on that I feel responsible. To see one of my best friend get really hurt like that has been really tough. The toughest part, though, is that all of the numbers were correct from our initial testing, too. He was going about 12mph over the intended speed, plus the skid-plate acted like a wing, so Murphy’s Law kicked in. Yes, the 12mph would have taken him further than what was intended, but because the Razr caught lift and essentially flew for a second or so Phil was just taken way too high. At that point, the front end lifted and all of that weight came down on just the rear tires instead of all four, which is obviously more ideal for weight distribution, plus he landed on the brakes. Essentially everything that could’ve gone wrong, went wrong. It just sucks, man. At the end of the day, distance jumping can be catastrophic if there’s even the slightest miscalculation, and unfortunately that was the case with Phil. Of course the Internet and social media were quick to jump to conclusions on everything, and if you can believe it I even received a hand-written letter that was dropped off in my own mailbox from someone stating that they hope my kids get paralyzed just so that I can know how it feels. What I’m saying is that I have received hate on basically every level. I mean I’ve spent almost every dime that I’ve made trying to build this industry back up. This is dangerous shit and obviously we want to make it as safe as we possibly can, but when something goes that wrong and people jump to conclusions too quickly it doesn’t make things any easier; especially when pain is wished upon innocent people. The whole thing has changed my outlook on the future of things, but at the same time the industry has been extremely positive. Road 2 Recovery has been chipping in along with Weinerschnitzel, so it’s extremely great to see that positivity. Obviously I’m feeling pretty negative about the whole situation, but as many have seen Phil is one of the most positive people on earth. At the end of the day things went wrong and everyone knows their responsibility.