Writer's Ramblings

Evel Knievel Visits Worth Harley-Davidson North

Written by  September 30, 2005

Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good. The bad would be hurricane Katrina and all the havoc and devastation she created. The good would be the folks at Worth Harley-Davidson North organizing something extra special to benefit the hurricane victims. The icing on the cake for me was meeting a man who was not only my childhood hero but also a national icon. I am of course speaking of the one and only Evel Knievel.

Worth Harley-Davidson North brought Evel to town to meet fans and sign autographs on Friday and Saturday, September 9-10, and, as a finale, to lead a ride from their store to the Platte City End of the Trail festivities. All proceeds from the benefit ride went to hurricane Katrina victims. Evel had a trailer on display in the Worth Harley-Davidson North parking lot showcasing several bikes and various memorabilia from his daredevil days. The two bikes I found most interesting were the Triumph he crashed at his famous Caesars Palace jump and his steam-powered rocket engine sky-cycle.

We came to see Evel the first night to get some items autographed for our kids, Joshua and Alyssa Porter. The line was long, but surprisingly, the kids were patient. They didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to meet this legend. It was quite apparent that Evel’s many missed jumps have taken a toll on his body, but his mind is as sharp as a razor. He took the time on several occasions to entertain those standing in line with amusing stories from his colorful past.

I came back to Worth Harley-Davidson North the next day to interview Evel and to take Joshua on the benefit ride. Prior to the beginning of Saturday’s autograph session, Evel met with me for a few moments, then went in to greet his fans. He talked to the crowd for an extended period of time, and I'd like to share the following transcript of his thoughts with you.

Transcript of Evel’s opening remarks:
I think it’s worthwhile that Harley-Davidson has made such a step in the motorcycle industry that they have. You know, when I rode their bikes in the 70s, they were cast iron heads and they had no shock absorbers to speak of. In fact, the first ones that I jumped were rigid frames. No shock absorbers at all. I remember how the kids, and I was one of them, rode the Trimphs, BSAs and the Nortons, AJSs. I remember how we used to laugh at the Harley-Davidson riders. Their motorcycles wouldn’t start. They’d always be kickin’ them. You would always see one along the highway every 20 miles on a ride.

I’m glad that they came so far. I’m glad that I was one of the guys that stuck with them. I was with them for eight years. I was friends with the old man, William H. Davidson and Don who is now retired and Willie G. and Bill Davidson who was about this tall…. I was the only one who would sponsor him in the diabetes races in Milwaukee. He has diabetes. He is now the marketing director and vice president of Harley-Davidson. He is a wonderful guy, and I hope that those of you who rode Harley-Davidson for you are as glad as I am to see beautiful new stores like this go up because you were as much a part of it through the years sticking with them as I was, so, I would like to say congratulations to Worth and all their customers for being so faithful.

Now, Harley-Davidson makes the best motorcycle in the world without a doubt, they absolutely do, and if I had had one of the rinky-dink 2-bangers these kids jump today… you know when I got on my XR750 and it got out 150-160 feet. The torque on that XR750 started to move the motorcycle from right to left, and when I landed, I always landed crossways because there was so much power. And all these kids riding these Hondas and Yamahas and Suzukis, they said, “well that guy can’t ride very good.” Well those little ding dongs they had, they went through the air straight as an arrow and they had about this much suspension…. About like this…. They could land flat if they wanted to. If I had had one of those motorcycles to jump in 1970 like they jumped today, believe, me, I could have jumped over the moon. I would have had no problem whatsoever.

Anyway, have most of you been out to see the trailer? (clapping). I brought my slot machine, which is made by IGT and is in most of the casinos throughout North America, and the painting on the wall that you saw there is a self-portrait that I did myself. I paint. I have ever since I was about 7 or 8 years old. The leather jacket that is hanging there is one that I wore several times.

The Triumph motorcycle that you see the first one coming up to the trailer, I had three of them. That is one of the ones I jumped over Caesars Palace and missed. I should have left the front wheel on and seat like it was. It is pretty well damaged. I’m going to put them back on so it looks like it did after I got off of it in that parking lot, fell off of it. Anyway, the second bike that’s out there is one that California Motorcycle made for me years ago and they made a couple of thousand of them and sold them all. The third one is the XR750 I made my last three jumps with, one in Chicago over some sharks, one in London, England over 13 London buses, and one back here in the United States over 14 Greyhounds. I thought 13 was an unlucky number so I came back here and jumped 14 and I made it, so I decided to quit. That was the last jump of any significance that I made.

All of the airbrushing on the walls was done by a fellow named Von Otto in Waco, Texas. He is sure a find painter. He did that whole wall in a week. Boy he sure worked hard. I’d catch him… I’d go in there at 4 o’clock in the morning and he’d be sleeping in a chair trying to get a half hour of sleep while he was painting to get that thing done for me for a show in Phoenix.

The rocket that you see in there is the one that I actually tried to go across the Snake River Canyon in. The jet was steam powered, and it has a nozzle on the back of it and it only burned for 5 seconds when I pushed the fire button it only burned for 5 seconds and if that parachute hadn’t have come out, it would have gone all the way across that canyon a half a mile. It put out 8000 pounds of jet horsepower, and when we first tested it, it blew rocks out of the ground on the edge of that canyon as big as a Volkswagon. Boy, you talk about some power, that thing had some horsepower. But, the parachute malfunctioned, and I came down in the rocks close to the river. You know, if I had made it, people would say, “well it was easy, I could have done it.” And if I had missed it and got killed, the would have said, “Well, that’s what’s supposed to happen to Evel Knievel—he got killed.” And some guys say, “That’s easy. I could have really done that myself. I’d have got in it.” Well, I’ll tell you something. It’s 30 years since I jumped that canyon and God has not moved it once inch, and I don’t see any big long line of loud-mouthed daredevils up there wanting to zoom across it on Sunday afternoon. (Clapping). So, we’ll let that lie. Even my son Robbie, he’s been saying he’s going to jump it, but I bet a million dollars he don’t jump it, believe me.

Last but not least is I have a new bicycle in there that Matt Hoffman built for me, he built 2000. Matt Hoffman is 12 times world bicycle champion for those of you who don’t know, freestyling; he’s the best there is. The V-Rod that I have in there I just got from the factory. They give me a new one very two or three years. I love that motorcycle. That V-Rod is absolutely so much fun to ride. It isn’t quite the road machine that those of you who ride the Softail or the Road King or their different motorcycles, but if you get a chance, ride the new V-Rod. You’ll be so glad you did. I’m going to go for a ride with all of you this afternoon out to Platte City and mine will be the one that sounds like a thundering bullet when it goes by because I’ve got some great exhaust pipes on it.

All my life I’ve lived by six or seven things that I feel that are really important to a human being to be a success in life. I’d like to go over those things with you for just a minute; they’re very short.

Your belief in God. I’m not talking about organized religion. I think that Oral Roberts and Peter Popoff and Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker and this Benny Hinn, I think they ought to be put in federal penitentiaries and left there for the rest of their lives. I think that they are people who just suck money out of people who don’t know what they’re doing. You don’t have to give any money this morning to this guy for telling you about God, because I’m not that way, but they are absolute thieves, and it is our government that’s letting this happen, letting these people advertise on national television, so if you care to, write your congressman or your senator. Tell them to try these people, try them in court and get rid of them. But you must believe in God, the spirit of God. Sometimes I disagree with my wife so much I wonder if God’s a woman.
The second thing is your health. Put things into your body that are good for you. Not that are bad for you. It is absolutely going to catch up with you. You just cannot beat it. Put things into your body that are good so you have good health.
The next thing is to have somebody to love in life, somebody that loves you. If you can’t get along with your wife, if you wives can’t get along with your husbands, get a puppy. My wife and I got two of them. If she goes away, I got one; she takes one with her.
Try to get a job that you love to go to work to, that you won’t have any problems with, nobody will have to make you get out of bed ago, that you can get up and go to every day,
Do the right thing by your fellow man because it’s right. That’s just the way you have to live. You gotta look in the mirror. Now if you run into Osama Bin Laden, I suggest you treat him right to. But as far as your neighbor is, treat him the way you would want him to treat you.
The next thing, which I should have said earlier, is to get a good education. You young people that are here, if you get a good education, the more you know about the place you go to get a job, the better you chances will be that you get the job. In fact, if you know more than the guy you’re going to go get a job from, he’ll say, “I’ll hire this person because he help me, or she’ll help me, and I’ll be able to go ahead and learn things from them that the younger generation knows, and I’ll be able to impress my boss more, and therefore, I’ll go higher on the totem pole. So learn as much as you can in life through the education that our government is providing to you.
The last thing and the most important. Follow your dreams. Don’t ever get up. Just follow your dreams no matter what they are, no matter what you think you want to be, follow that dream. Don’t give up on it.

So, I’ve had a dream all my life to be a motorcycle performer. When I raced, there wasn’t quite enough money in the main events when I raced in the 60s and the 50s to where I could make a down payment on a hamburger if I won the main event, but I thought if I could get a show together, maybe I could make a few dollars where I could support my family. I never dreamt that I would walk into Wembley Stadium in London, England clear across the ocean and have 100,000 people come to see me perform. I never dreamt of that. I was thinking of going to little racetracks and having 2000 or 3000 come to see me perform. I never dreamt I’d try to jump a canyon, but I dreamt about having wonderful show to entertain and to ride my motorcycle and make a living and look what it developed into for me, just because I followed my dream. I hope your dreams come true for you just like mine have for me. Thanks so much and God bless all of you.

I want to extend special thanks to Ken Stone and Miki Schroeder of Worth Harley-Davidson North for all their help in setting things up for me to cover this wonderful event. The experience is something I as well as a certain 10-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl will never forget.

Story and photos by Loney and
Stephanie Wilcoxson