A 1971 issue of the New Yorker described Evel Knievel as “a thirty-two-year-old native of Butte, Montana, who makes his living by riding a motorcycle at high speed up a wood-and-steel ramp, off the top, and into the air, with the intention of landing it on another ramp some distance away.” Today, we’re all familiar with the images of videos of the famed daredevil jumping over things on his Harley, but 45 years ago, Knievel was making his first trip to NYC.
Madison Square Garden was hosting an event called the Auto Thrill Show, and as part of it, Knievel jumped over 10 vehicles, nine cars and one van–the max that could fit in the space–to a crowd “worked up to a point of high tension, apprehension, and excitement.” These feelings weren’t based on the length of the jump (he had set a world record earlier that year when he made it over 19 cars in Ontario, California), but rather the mere 75 feet of concrete between the end of the takeoff ramp and the beginning of the landing.
Video of Knievel’s jump via mattm/Youtube
When Knievel did his first test run at 70 miles per hour, he smashed into the concrete wall, injuring himself and damaging his bike. Despite talks of cancelling the event, he repaired his motorcycle and had strips of corrugated rubber taped to the floor in the hope that they would slow him down before he hit the wall. The New Yorker describes the main event:
Knievel’s Harley can be heard, and then suddenly he is tearing out of the wings—a flash of white suit and gleaming white helmet—and up the ramp, and he is free; he is in the air, standing over his motorcycle, flying in a graceful arc over the ten automobiles; and he lands smoothly, halfway down the far ramp, and is almost instantly out of sight again in the wings. The crowd roars, screams, cheers, applauds, and then Knievel rides back into the arena, one arm raised to receive the wild adulation of the crowd.
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Lead image via Evel Knievel