Clobbering his biographer in 1977 landed Evel in jail for six months. Within two years Robbie, who had dropped out of high school in 1978, was outjumping him and starting to perfect his look-Pa-no-hands act. He quit Evel's act for good in 1980. "I left Dad because I couldn't stand watching him go down the strip on one wheel at 100 miles an hour," says Robbie. "If he'd gotten into a crash, he'd have broken into a million pieces."
Robbie didn't talk much to Evel over the next few years, but he didn't give up the Knievel trademark. He wore Evel's emblematic red, white and blue leathers, took the somewhat dented Sky-Cycle with him on the road and adopted Dad's high-speed philosophy. "Only a lunatic would want to be an English teacher," Robbie says. "An accountant? Pure insanity."
"A lot of kids look up to Robbie," says Evel. "He's got a chance to make a real contribution to society. Just like me and my artwork."
Robbie floats so free that all he needs before a jump is an occasional shot of tequila. Evel used to knock back a fifth of Wild Turkey a day, but he gave up booze and refined sugar a few years back. Maybe that's why he claims he no longer thinks with his fists. He does look pretty good for a man who's held together mostly by steel pins and epoxy.
Evel is paying off the $5 million he says he owes the IRS partly by hawking his paintings in department stores. But he's got a long way to go because his prices start at $19.95. Evel also picks up extra change on golf courses. "I don't play for fun," he says. He keeps a certified check for $50,000 at the center of a roll of $20 bills in his pocket, in the event of an emergency that hasn't yet come up. "I play golf five days a week," Evel says. "I find that if I play seven days a week I get stale."
Evel travels from course to course in a custom bus only slightly smaller than Iowa. It has a trailer hitched in back rigged with video surveillance equipment that's backed up by a magnum with a barrel the size of a vacuum-cleaner nozzle. Inside, Evel keeps a bronze bust of John Wayne and his limited-edition prints—just about everything from Chief Teal Duck to Mother Teresa to Bambi.
A few months ago Evel's caravan stopped in Los Angeles to see Robbie break his own no-hands bus-jumping record before 35,000 at the Coliseum. Evel holed up in his rig, worrying. He worried about Robbie's hands-off technique. He worried about Robbie's approach. He worried about the number of buses—13. When Evel tried to clear 13 buses in 1975, he crushed a vertebra, fractured his pelvis and broke his right hand.
His fears were not eased when Robbie barely made a practice jump over 11 buses, landing on the near side of the safety ramp and bouncing up in a dangerous front-end wheelie. "What's he trying to prove?" Evel asked.
Robbie announced his presence to the crowd with a nod toward responsibility: "I'm proud to carry on the great name and great legend of my father, Mr. Evel Knievel. I hope you'll all do what my father taught me: Wear your helmet."
Then he jerked the front end of his cycle in the air and tore around the arena on the back wheel. Van Halen's Jump poured from the P.A. Again and again Robbie zoomed past the takeoff ramp. Finally he hit the throttle and howled up the 40-foot finger of plywood. Spreading his arms like gull wings, he arced gracefully over 13 school buses, landed halfway down the far ramp, took control of the bike again with his fists and disappeared beneath the stands. A proud Evel watched his son roll back into the arena like a triumphant Roman charioteer.