Travis Pastrana may have stolen the thunder with his recent recreation of the Caesar's Palace fountain jump, but Evel did things differently. I'm in Las Vegas right now for New Year's eve, and since Evel started it there has been a tradition of big Vegas motorcycle stunts at the turn of the year. But 51 years ago, Evel Knievel was not a household name, and there was no real science behind motorcycle jumping. Calculations were on the back of a cocktail napkin (if there were any), ramps angles and lengths were eyeball estimates, and speeds were judged by the seat of your pants.
The 16mm film of this failed jump, shot by actress Linda Evans, may be the second most watched home movie after the Zapruder Film.
Being in Las Vegas, got me curious about this jump and I found a great piece from last year's Las Vegas Sun detailing a bunch of the facts and legends surrounding it. Only nine months before, Evel had first tasted fame when Wide World of Sports broadcast his jump of 15 cars at Ascot Speedway on their weekly show (about 95 feet). In November of 1967 he landed his biggest jump ever, but that was still just 100 feet, and in order to clear the fountains it was estimated he was going to have to fly 140 feet,and as Travis mentioned in his special, get much higher than was needed to clear cars, nearly 15 feet.
We all know Evel was as much a madman as he was a biker, and he jumped the fountains (or failed to) because he knew even a failure would make him world famous. In order to make the jump happen he pulled the sort of con that is a trope of popular media: He called the casino using different names and voices asking about the jump, then pretended he was his own lawyer angry that Caesar's had been using Evel's name. According to John Derek (Linda Evan's husband, and a filmmaker making a documentary at the time), Evel confessed to him the night before that he didn't think he was going to land this jump successfully, but he still drank a shot of whiskey, strapped on his helmet and faced his fate.
Next time you get a bit anxious before a job interview or a flight in bad weather, just think of Evel stoically hopping on his bike to face injury or death, but maybe skip the whiskey for the job interview.