Evel Knievel shared a long and colorful history with Harley-Davidson– professing that his very first motorcycle was a Harley that he stole when he was just 13 yrs old. Legend has it in 1960, Evel Knievel strapped his day-old son Kelly to his back for the boy’s first motorcycle ride. The 22-year-old Robert (not yet the larger-than-life Evel) Knievel fishtailed the brand new Harley on their maiden ride home from the maternity ward to the family trailer in Butte, Montana. He was so shaken by almost wrecking with his newborn baby in-tow that he promptly sold the bike.
A great shot of Evel Knievel showcasing the beauty of his white leathers with navy and red trim. Knievel was buried in a leather jacket like the one you see here when he passed away in 2007. Pal Matthew McConaughey offered this eulogy– “He’s forever in flight now. He doesn’t have to come back down. He doesn’t have to land.” And yes, McConaughey was probably stoned. A bit of an odd pairing if ever there was one, but I ask you– Who doesn’t love Evel Knievel?
Circa 1920s– Lillian La France in her early Motordrome riding days. This must be 1924, or so. She looks a little green, and that signature smile and exuberant confidence is not quite present.
“It was the thrill of risking my life that made me to take to drome riding. I was the girl who flirts with death. From childhood I was inspired by wanderlust. I was always alone, dreaming of adventures– how to ride a pony out West, to follow my calling to fame. This was my secret. I shared it with no one.”
Circa 1929, Wall of Death, Revere Beach, MA
With the quickly improving build quality, speed, and more oil-tight engines, motorcycle racing was able to move from dirt tracks onto the motordromes of the 1910s– large wooden board tracks used for streamlined competition with banked turns of 70-80 degrees. Riders soon learned a neat trick– that with a little speed, centripetal force made it possible for them to stick their bike sideways in turns on a completely vertical wall.
Motordrome racer on an Excelsior motorcycle, circa 1914
Motorcycle companies here and abroad (Indian and BSA, to name a couple) found that the public loved the thrill of peering down just a few feet away from the gunning biker beneath them, and thus it quickly became a highly promoted spectacle as manufacturers used it as a vehicle to advertise their brands, and daredevil riders upped the ante at breakneck speed to make a name for themselves and solidify their reputations on the infamous Wall of Death.
With roots that can be traced back to New York’s own Coney Island, the Wall of Death attraction morphed into a motordrome on crack. Motorcycles, carts and yep, even lions— simultaneously racing and criss-crossing in a raucous blur of fumes, fury, and fur inside the equivalent of an over-sized wooden barrel. The sport had a strong run from the 1930s- 1960s (with Indian Scouts being the over-riding bike of choice), but there are still hardcore enthusiasts to be found all over keeping it alive today.
Dick Monte with two handsome-as-hell Wall of Death riders, circa 1945. The rider on the left is Elias Harris, and on the right is Tornado Smith. Photo from the late Carrie Tindale collection.
To say that Bullitt had a car chase scene is like saying Steve McQueen was a good actor. Both are arguably gross understatements. The history-making car chase from Bullitt is still considered the gold standard for which all such scenes are held to today.
McQueen hadn’t planned on a driving double– in fact, he firmly insisted on doing all the Mustang stunt driving himself. But that all quickly changed– while shooting an early scene (that can be seen in the film), he missed a turn pretty hard and nearly lost it. The studio exec’s immediately pulled the plug on McQueen’s plans and tapped professional stunt drivers with a little more practical experience and skill. As fate would have it, main driving duties were handed over to none other than McQueen’s good buddy (and auto and motorcycle racing legend) Bud Ekins.
The story behind the filming of this ground-breaking scene (I hate to say it) is more fascinating to me than the whole of the film itself. Read on for great behind the scenes details on how history was made in pulling-off this incredible piece of work– the likes of which had never been attempted before.
Pictured above is daredevil Robert “Evel” Knievel on his Harley davidson, 1971.
If you were a boy growing up in the 70s, then this guy was probably at the top of your hero list. Man, one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got as a kid was the Evel Knievel action figure and motorcycle that I’d launch across the room- off ramps- down the stairs- off the porch- wherever. I completely idolized him. And how great was the white leather stars-and-stripes stunt suit? He was like an awesome combination of The Fonz and Captain America.
The other cool thing about him is that Evel Knievel never backed out of a jump, never made excuses, and never showed any fear. He had to know some jumps were going to end badly- didn’t matter. If he said he’d do it, he did it. He had 433 broken bones during the course of his career to show for it.
Sadly he passed away on November 30, 2007, but his legend will definitely live on for a long time to come.
I found his classic jumps on YouTube today and introduced him to my boys. The verdict was– Whoa, awesome!
Steve Mcqueen is an icon– and I still don’t think we appreciate this guy enough for all that he did in his lifetime. McQueen personified the “anti-hero”. A true man’s man who raced cars and motorcycles, and had a very enviable collection of both. He even flew his own plane, for cryin’ out loud. What a life this guy had. He ran away from home at 14- joined the circus- joined the U.S.M.C.- went AWOL- was eventually honorably discharged- worked in a brothel- on an oil rigger- and was even a lumberjack. Later he was an avid martial artist and friends with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. It was McQueen that convinced Norris to take acting lessons, which could be considered a somewhat dubious distinction, but one that I’m sure Chuck greatly appreciates to this day.
As seen above, McQueen was no stranger to the workout room and had an exercise regimen of two hours a day, everyday. I love this shot for two reasons- McQueen of course, and his irrepressible charm- but also for it’s statement on simplicity. It reminds me of life when things were simpler, and in my humble opinion- better. To workout all you needed was an exercise bike, free-weights, jumprope, a chin-up bar and of course- a rope hanging from the ceiling.
I remember when this was a part of phys. ed. class. All of us anxiously lined-up in our tube socks, waiting our turn to try to pull ourselves up that rope. If you could, you were the man, and if you couldn’t, well… And look at what else- he’s wearing simple, classic grey sweatpants and they fit. No fancy– wicking, moisture management, antimicrobial blah, blah, blah. Cotton was the original, and still the best performance fabric.
Steve McQueen was, and still is the one that every guy wants to be, and that every gal wants to be with. Sometimes you just can’t improve upon the classics.