Knievel has had five major accidents as a result of making (or, in some cases, missing) his jump. The first of these mishaps occurred in Missoula, Mont. "I had skipped from 10 to 13 cars," he recalls. "Boy, oh, boy! I hit the 13th. That was a panel truck. I always put a panel next to the landing ramp. A panel gives. The landing ramp doesn't give. It will cut your head off. I didn't have enough speed. When I hit, it knocked me unconscious. I went up in the air and slammed down on the ramp and rolled to the bottom. My left arm was completely broken in half. My ribs were nearly all broken, and I had head injuries. After two weeks I regained enough strength for an operation.
"In Graham, Washington I tried 16 cars. I made 15. You never know the sensation of going through the air when you make it, but you sure know it when you miss. I had an awful brain concussion, but I heal up fast. A month later, in a return appearance in Graham, I couldn't hold on when I landed and broke my left wrist, my right knee and a couple of ribs. In Seattle I overjumped and broke my lower spine. I landed too hard. A motorcycle coming down from 30 feet at 70 mph gives you a terrible jolt."
On New Year's Eve, Knievel jumped the ornamental fountains in front of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which are billed as the World's Largest Privately Owned Fountains. Several weeks earlier he had said, "I know I can jump these babies, but what I don't know is whether I can hold on to the motorcycle when it lands. Oh, boy, I hope I don't fall off."
Knievel's fears were justified. Shortly after the motorcycle hit the landing ramp, he fell and rolled 165 feet across an asphalt parking lot. Knievel is now in Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital, recovering from compound fractures of the hip and pelvis. "Everything seemed to come apart," he said. "I couldn't hang on to the motorcycle. I kept smashing over and over and over and over and over, and I kept saying to myself, 'Stay conscious, stay conscious.' But, hey, I made the fountains!"
Knievel was—spectacularly—aloft for 50 yards. This, he claims, is a world record, which is undoubtedly true; of course, as he says, "I'm the only guy in the world doing what I'm doing. I'm a jumping son-of-a-bitch. I'll jump anything. This summer I'm going to jump at Circus Circus, a new casino they're building in Vegas. They want me to jump the scoreboard in Soldier Field. I can jump Candlestick Park. I'm probably one of the most brilliant guys in the country so far as trajectory is concerned. Man, I can leap with a single bound."
Evel Knievel decided to jump the Grand Canyon sight unseen. "Some guy in Kalispell, Montana told me it was only 600 feet across," he says. "I figured I could jump it. Of course, once I said I was going to jump it, I thought I might as well look at it." When he did, he found the narrowest place suitable for jumping was more like 1.1 miles from rim to rim. "Actually, there is a place on the Little Colorado which is a quarter of a mile across," he says. "But that's not the Grand Canyon. You can't say you're going to jump the Grand Canyon and then jump some other canyon."
Knievel proposes to take off from the Navajo Indian Reservation and parachute to earth in the Kaibab National Forest. Although the rim of the Canyon where he expects to land is about 600 feet lower than that from which he will take off, in order to gain enough altitude to clear the gorge Knievel is going to build a dirt ramp 735 feet long and perhaps 200 feet high. For the jump he plans to ride either a Triumph 650 cc or a new Triumph Cub 350 cc equipped with a streamlined shield and shell designed by Alex Tremulis—who did the styling for Walt Arfons' rocket car—a pair of delta fins, a small gyroscope, and two Turbonique jet engines, which deliver a total of 200 pounds of thrust and 2,000 jet hp. For greater stability, the front wheel will automatically lock and hold the front forks dead center when he reaches the ramp.
Knievel hopes to hit 120 mph over the quarter-mile runway that will lead to the ramp. When he starts up the ramp he will throw on the jets. Within four seconds he should accelerate to between 280 and 300 mph—the speed he feels he needs to hurtle in an arc from rim to rim. He will be strapped to the machine with a safety belt, his hands will be latched to the handlebars and he will wear a space-type suit, an oxygen tank, a helmet with a radio receiver and a 26-foot parachute manufactured by Paranetics, Inc., which may be released either by a drogue gun or by pilot chutes. As Knievel approaches the far rim and is jerked from the motorcycle by the billowing chute, a lanyard connecting him and the bike will fire a drogue gun releasing another parachute that will let the motorcycle down. (When Knievel appeared on the Joey Bishop Show to publicize the Canyon jump, Dan Smith, the director, asked him, "Let me get this right, as you do this you sing The Star-Spangled Banner?")
"The motorcycle will not fly," Knievel says. "It will drop like a rock. But if the center of thrust and the center of gravity and the center of lift coincide at a center point, and if the thrust is set in the right position, and if the right amount of thrust is being applied to the back of the motorcycle, this machine will stay stable.
"What could go wrong? One, upon leaving the runway area the machine could come apart and tumble and kill me. Two, when I hit the bottom of the ramp and throw the jets on, one might not fire and I'd go cartwheeling off the ramp at such an incredible speed I don't think a man could keep his equilibrium. Three, if the motorcycle's not basically stable and starts to tumble or spin at 300 mph, I better be in damn good shape. Four, when it comes time to get off I hope I have my senses so that I can get off. I'd also like to come off on top, so that when my parachute opens the motorcycle doesn't come through it.