"He was famous for crashing, but he usually landed," writes Shawn Vestal, about the one and only Robert "Evel" Knievel, in an article published this week at . When Knievel crashed his Skycycle X-2, landing in the Snake River, he didn't blame the weather, or his crew chief, or God, or capricious fate. He blamed , the former Navy engineer who had designed and built the Skycycle. "I was so mad at that engineer," he once said, "That guy was an idiot."
For Robert's son Scott, that was a personal affront. He was not going to let it slide. And he would spend four years and $1.5 million to vindicate his father.
Scott is attempting to redo Knievel's jump over the Snake River Canyon. Four years ago he moved to Twin Falls, Idaho, right next to the fated spot, and began building an identical rocket, faithful to his father's original plans. The $1.5 million project was funded partly with his partner, stuntman Eddie Braun. When Knievel's rocket jump happened, Scott was six. He grew up watching his father build the star-spangled Skycycle in the family garage in Saratoga, California.
He wanted to make the goal of jumping on September 8th, 2014, exactly 40 years after the original jump, but it should come as no surprise that plans like this always fall short of their intended deadlines.
The whole point of this endeavor is simple, he told Vestal. It was to prove that his father's rocket design would have worked.
Just imagine one of the most flamboyant and famous celebrities of the Seventies calling your father "an idiot." That would set you up for some Revenant-style revenge—but Knievel, frail and hooked up to a respirator, died in 2007. He was no less sharp-tongued in his later years, , as Knievel was Hammond's childhood hero, among others. He was Vestal's too, who grew up playing with the 1973 Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, building ramps, and jumping them on Huffys, getting sent to the ER, another victim of the "Evel Knievel Syndrome."
Truax's ultimate goal in life was to create affordable space travel, an idea whose time has come. He was one of the era's premiere rocket scientists, and worked on liquid-fueled rockets that could send civilians into orbit. He sold Knievel on the Skycycle over a regular motorcycle by telling him he'd be an astronaut. Who wouldn't want to be an astronaut?
On September 8, 1974, Knievel took off from the south side of the Snake River Canyon in the Skycycle X-2, reaching 200mph in 2.5 seconds, on to a top speed of 394 miles per hour. Knievel made it across the nearly mile-wide distance, but a parachute released early, slowing him down. Winds blew him nearly back to the launch site, and down, down to the canyon below. Rather than become an astronaut, Knievel landed in the bottom of the canyon and never found out.
Strangely, Scott remembered, Knievel and his father remained friends even after the jump. They even worked on future projects together. So the harsh words caught him off-guard. But three rockets later, all that money, a Hollywood stuntman's partnership and a faithful recreation of his father's work, we see the ongoing process of a no-holds-barred effort to honor one father's legacy—and of Knievel, son and father Truax, and of the writer himself, who grew up in the shadow of the cult of Knievel.