The Popcorn Stand: Evel Knievel — the real Rocket Man

In Tuesday’s sports section of the Nevada Appeal there was a story on “Mad” Mike Hughes, a 61-year-old limo driver who plans to jump over a California ghost town on Saturday in a rocket he built at about 500 mph.

When I read this story I immediately thought of one of my boyhood idols, Evel Knievel, who was one of the ’70s biggest anti-heroes. Of course when I read about Hughes’ rocket, I thought of Knievel’s ill-fated attempt to jump over the Snake River in a rocket north of Twin Falls, Idaho in 1974.

Knievel and Hughes sound a lot a like in that they don’t seem to be the most meticulous of planners. Whenever I watched Knievel, I always thought he planned out his stunts meticulously. Apparently not so.

Frank Gifford once told the story when Knievel attempted to jump over 13 buses at London’s Wembley Stadium on his motorcycle. According to Gifford the day before he was to jump, Knievel looked over the buses and said there’s no way he could make the jump.

But Knievel wouldn’t back out and with Gifford doing the commentary for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Knievel as he predicted failed in his attempt in a spectacular crash that was captured in super slo-mo by ABC.

Of course Knievel’s other most famous crash happened in 1967 at Caesar’s Palace — another spectacular spill captured in super slow motion.

But Knievel definitely struck a chord with his fans and particularly young people like me during a cynical time in the 1970s when people were looking more for anti-heroes who challenged authority more than traditional heroes.

Evel Knievel was the original Generation Xer.

— Charles Whisnand


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