At the end of the day, Travis Pastrana made leaping over 52 cars, 16 buses and the notorious fountain at Caesars Palace on two wheels look easy. Even in 100-plus-degree weather. Even using a heavy, stiff, flat-track bike unlike anything the action-sports stunt icon is used to jumping with.
The three back-to-back motorcycle stunts were planned as part of an ambitious night of daredevilry and endurance called "Evel Live!" Produced by HISTORY® Channel in conjunction with Nitro Sports, the event was designed to honor Evel Knievel, the history-making stunt cyclist and showman who became a pop-culture sensation in the 1960s and 70s—and inspired Pastrana’s own stunt-performance career, along with others of his generation. Pastrana sought to nail three of Knievel’s most outrageous jumps over a single, three-hour period. It’s something not even Knievel himself ever tried.
It was a daunting proposition even for the 34-year-old freestyle motocross and X-sports legend, who has done some pretty crazy things in his career. Among them: the first-ever dirt-bike double back flip, stunning crowds at the 2006 X Games; backflipping a motorcycle between two rooftops; and skydiving without a parachute. He won his first motocross title at age 14, and has been a dominant force in the sport ever since.
Looking relaxed and confident throughout the three-hour live event, Pastrana alternated highly demanding stunt performances with quick hits of on-camera commentary.
What inspired him most about Knievel? “Evel was never afraid to fail,” Pastrana said. “He never had a regret that I could see… He lived every day to the fullest.”
The Car and Bus Jumps
The first two jumps took place at a site set up behind Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Paris Las Vegas and Bally’s Las Vegas, For his first attempt, he leapt 52 cars, arrayed 13 abreast, as red-white-and-blue pyrotechnics shot up on either side. Host Matt Iseman announced the distance as 143 feet. In 1973 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Knievel had jumped 120 feet, over 50 cars.
“I’m actually feeling pretty good,” said Pastrana after completing the jump, despite the fact that he is rehabbing a wrist injury.
Pastrana made the jumps not on a lightweight dirt bike like the ones he has used throughout his celebrated motocross-stunt career. Instead, to best simulate the historic jumps, he rode a custom-built Indian Scout FTR750—an American motorcycle with a V-Twin engine that’s a modern-day evolution of the big, stiff Harley flat-track bike Knievel rode half a century ago. At 340 pounds, Pastrana said, it’s more than 100 pounds heavier than the bikes he normally uses in his more acrobatic jumps—with far more power and far less suspension.
“This bike is not meant to fly,” said Bob Sorokanich, deputy online editor for Road & Track during the broadcast. “It’s hard to accelerate, it’s hard to launch off the ramp.”
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For his second jump, Pastrana soared 192 feet to clear 16 buses, compared with Knievel’s leap over 14 buses and 133 feet in October 1975 at King’s Island in Ohio.
Nearly five months before that feat, at Wembley Stadium in London, Knievel had attempted to jump 13 single-decker buses—which didn’t go well. He hit the last one, crashing in spectacular fashion and breaking his pelvis and his back. At King’s Island, after successfully spanning 133 feet, Evel announced to the crowd that he’d “jumped far enough.” He would continue performing, but never any longer distances.
In Las Vegas, the 16 Greyhound buses that Pastrana cleared are each 5 inches wider and 5 inches taller than the ones Evel leaped. Of the three jumps of the night, this one required the highest speed and the longest run-in.
The Caesars Palace Fountain Jump
After successfully completing his first two stunts, Pastrana was police-escorted through the streets of Las Vegas to the final jump site of the night: Caesars Palace. Along the way, he was high-fiving and taking selfies with passers-by, popping wheelies and spinning burnouts.
In 1967, Knievel missed the jump over the Caesars fountain, but made a splash nonetheless. It was the longest attempt of his career—140 feet—and perhaps the most notorious. When he missed the landing, crashing at around 90 m.p.h., he tumbled head-over-heels, over and over. In the process, he crushed his pelvis, broke his left hip, right ankle, hands and wrists. And he suffered a concussion that put him in the hospital, in a coma, for nearly a month. After that, TV and promoters came calling.
And after that, jumping the fountain at Caesars Palace became a holy grail for stunt motorcyclists. “This is the most iconic jump in stunt lore….because he never landed it,” said Pastrana, who’s no stranger to injury himself, having sustained more than 200 fractures during his career.
While not as long as the other two jumps, this one was seen as far more dangerous and far more technical—since the area has been built up significantly shortened since Knievel’s day, shortening the ramp-up distance. “I will need every ounce of speed,” said Pastrana, who had roughly half the room Evel had to ramp up ahead of the water. He estimated that he needed to get the bike up to 70 mph in less than 200 feet.
Right before the final jump, technicians were blowing cool air into the motorcycle’s engine, which was overheating due to the high air temperatures. Pastrana made a quick practice run on the fountain’s steep approach ramp before his final run. Then he sped up the ramp, sailed over—and landed hard, losing his footing on the right side of the bike and snapping his head forward hard. But he kept his balance and finished out the jump, which clocked in, distance-wise, at 149 feet.
“It’s such an honor to live a day in Evel’s boots,” Pastrana said of his three-part feat. Then he peeled off and took a celebratory dive into the fountain.